I was lucky to catch them playing Latin Music one evening at the Le Meridian and got drawn to it. Not that I am an aficionado of the genre but I sensed a natural flavor in their music.
“We are Cubans, and we love Latin music,” said Rolando when I met them a few days later. To which Jessica agreed with “totally.”
Jessica Rodriguez and Rolando Morales a.k.a Mixtura Duo are amazing talents from Havana, Cuba. As accomplished musicians, they churn out heart-strings twanging as well as foot-stomping music which I am sure music lovers won’t mind lending their ears and hearts to.
Jessica started singing professional since she was 15. And it shows. A graduate with Bachelor in Humanidades e Instructora de Arte en la especialidad de Música from Eduardo Garcia Delgado, Jess has an elaborate portfolio that includes working with names such as Pablo Milanés, Descemer Bueno, Raúl Paz, Lynn y Haydee Milanés, Yanicc Noa (France), Antonio Carmona (España), Francis Mbappe (Africa). She has also lent her voice in “Contigo” in a tribute album to Joaquin Sabina, the renowned Spanish singer/songwriter and poet. She released her debut digital album 22 in bandcamp.com in June 15, 2015.
Rolando Morales Arencibia is a computer engineer who found his passion in music. This multi-instrumentalist has an equally impressive musical repertoire. He has toured several European countries and participated in various international music festivals such as Tom de Festa, Tomdela (Portugal), Roskilde (Denmark), Tilburg y Terschelling (Holland), Chalons on Champagne y Tempo Latino (France), Goa Boa, Latinoamericando y Umbria (Italy). Apart from collaborating in various recordings as a musical hired hand in guitar, arrangement, composition, and production, Rolando’s contribution has found its way in film productions such as Operación Fangio, Barrio Cuba. He has also worked with Spanish director Benito Zambrano in Habana Blues and La voz Dormida. Rolando’s Jazz-Rock fusion group LEGO is featured in the rock music history book Hierba Mala: Una Historia del rock en Cuba by Humberto Manduley Lopez.
Interestingly, the two met in the UAE on Facebook in 2014. Before that Rolando was with a 3-piece band playing in Mai Tai Trader Vic’s in Ras Al Khaimah while Jessica was singing at Anantara, Eastern Mangroves. Over the months, the two exchanged musical ideas as well as romantic ideas. Jessica made frequent trips to RAK from Abu Dhabi to be with Rolando. And Rolando did the same. Realizing that the commute was taxing enough, the duo decided to be at one place instead and make music together.
From pop hooks to album covers, they incorporated their handpicked songs to start the Mixtura Duo journey.
Although they use music tracks (most of them rearranged by themselves) for the songs that they play, what makes it interesting is Rolando’s immaculate live guitaring and Jessica’s flawless vocals and percussion accompaniment. To jazz up the tracks, Rolando uses the FX processor for interesting guitar tones while Jessica keeps the groove with bongo, maraca, tambourine, shakers, and cowbell. Both take turns for the vocals but most of the songs are sung by Jessica.
For both, Brazilian music is their strongest influence; however, Rolando cites the likes of Tania Maria, Toto, Steve Lukather, Pat Metheny, Chicago, Journey and hard rockers like the AC/DC, Deep Purple and others as his favourites. Jessica likes to listen to songs of Amy Whinehouse, Nina Simone and the likes. But when it comes to Latin music, you name it – Bolero, Salsa, Merengue, Cha Cha Cha, Son, Bachata, they play them all.
Coming from Havana, where there is no dearth of good musicians but a whole lot of red tapism to deal with when it comes to doing concerts, the duo feels that playing in Abu Dhabi has given them a sense of freedom to perform without being judged.
“We play all kinds of popular songs but when people know we’re from Cuba, they want us to play Latin music and that’s really great and people enjoy it,” says Jessica.
“We improvise a lot to suit the requests made by our audience. For instance, once I had to sing “I Shot The Sheriff” for the first time, although I had listened to the song many times,” laughs Rolando. “But it’s fun.”
When it comes to staying focused and motivated, the two follow a steady regimen. From adding new items in the songs list every week and improvising tracks on their Digital Performer to keeping fit and healthy, they do it all to keep themselves on top of their chosen profession.
“I like to sing songs in my own way because it’s me who’s singing, not the songwriter and that I think is the essence of singing. I love listening to old singers but keep myself open to listening to all kinds of music. Making music as a career is not easy, you have to be in competition all the time and you have to practice as hell before you get somewhere,” stresses Jessica.
“We come to life to learn. I have been playing for so many years but there’s always room to learn more. I find myself listening to the likes of Chick Corea, Pat Metheny every now and then and discover new things every time,” says Rolando.
While Jessica has already released her album 22, Rolando admits that he hasn’t come up with one yet. So is the duo planning to cut an album anytime soon?
“Well, he (Rolando) has quite a few songs written down and hopefully we can work things out it that direction,” says Jessica.
Until then, we won’t mind shaking our legs over a salsa coming from the awesome twosome! Will we folks?
Mixtura Duo currently performs at the Le Meridian, Abu Dhabi.