Rising Star Maria Bacardi: “All micro actions influence macro effects; Influence begins in seemingly menial actions on a day-to-day basis”

I believe that all micro actions influence macro effects. Influence begins with one’s own curiosity and in the sharing of ideas, generously, with others, in all fields. In seemingly menial actions and interactions on a day- to- day basis with everyone — and I mean everyone — in our paths, to fervently empowering those who have a wide and […]

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I believe that all micro actions influence macro effects. Influence begins with one’s own curiosity and in the sharing of ideas, generously, with others, in all fields. In seemingly menial actions and interactions on a day- to- day basis with everyone — and I mean everyone — in our paths, to fervently empowering those who have a wide and vast vision combined with the determination and ability to influence multitudes.

As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Maria Bacardi. Renaissance creative Maria Bacardi was born in Cuba in 1957. She left the island as a young child and was brought up and educated in Europe. Throughout her career, she has mastered multiple artistic expressions as part of her quest to explore the seminal rupture that occurred in her life when she fled Cuba for Spain as a child in the 1960s. The artist has been living and working in East Hampton and New York since the 1990s. Early on, Bacardi made her mark on the theater world by founding the Oddfellows Playhouse created in the spirit of her migrant experiences without a permanent home. Then, she bewitched gallery patrons with her stunning fine arts projects including her vibrant collection of three-dimensional “stages” called “Troves,” which harken back to her artistic awakening as a young girl examining the wildlife in the display cases at the Museums of Madrid. After mastering theater and fine arts, she recently shifted her keen artistic sensibility to music. The move comes as a natural progression in her journey to use art, in a variety of mediums, as a platform to explore the fullness of her multi-layered roots, from Cuba to Europe to New York, and the lessons learned from the encounters shared by global transnational migrants. Maria Bacardi’s first album, Deseo, was released in 2013. An exploration of the traditional Cuban songs sung by her mother while in exile in Spain, Maria delved deep into her relationship to her native country and the tensions associated with being forced into exile as a child. She just released her second album, Duele, which is a fusion of Cuban master composers’ old school tunes and contemporary beats.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Maria! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in Havana, Cuba. My family left in 1961 and we moved to Spain. Even though I was a child and do not have memories of my childhood in Cuba, the trauma of the exile was thick in the air of my home in Madrid. My mother had to pack just a few things in a hurry and she stored her many record albums in her blue trunks, which she played over and over again during my childhood and youth. She was very musical. All her Cuban friends in Madrid would gather in our home on weekends, and she played the guitar and they all cried and sang and drank rum. I learned many many boleros, as a tiny child, in my pajamas, listening in the dark, my bedroom door ajar.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I always loved to sing those boleros for myself, by myself, to my sons — rocking them to sleep — and was not aware at the time, that I began to sing on stage, when my mother, already elder, had a tracheotomy and lost her voice.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I was searching for a new way to re-invent these old school Bolero ballads, leaving behind the facile “Vintage” flavor that is so often lent to Cuba. I expressed that to a friend who told me that, by chance, a young Cuban hip hop artist and producer friend of his was coming up from Cuba to the US on a scholarship to Berkley School of Music and that I should check him out. That was Edgaro, Productor en Jefe. I looked him up, and we hit it off immediately, since. He too, was interested in exploring the genre of Boleros, which had been shoved away during his youth in Cuba, because they were deemed too anecdotal and not revolutionary enough. Together with my Grammy nominated maestro, guitarist and singer David Oquendo, alongside a smashing cast of all-star Cuban musician band, we began to explore this new, contemporary approach to the Bolero genre and what I call the “Neo-Bolero” was born.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?

I made many mistakes — and still do — and the funniest part was recording in Onel Mulet’s Brooklyn tiny recording booth, where I had to sing on a stool with my legs up on the walls, like a kid, because I barely fit in the space. Some of the more serious, dramatic and gut wrenching songs of my first album, ‘Deseo’ were recorded like that, with me, upside down in that little booth. We laughed.

Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Ya don’t need a big space to sing big songs.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

We have completed and launched my second album, Duele, in trio with Edgaro Productor en Jefe and David Oquendo and I now am embarking on a series of translations in French of the great American Songbook. Songs of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cole Porter… I am seeking, as well, to renew those songs with a contemporary twist.

I’m very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in music and entertainment?

3 reasons are not enough reasons: I have always been touched and have lived-by all kinds of music from all places in the world in addition to my native Cuban music: throat songs of Mongolia, chants of the Pigmees, music from Mali, Guinea and Nigeria, Reggae, French ballads and pop songs, Cante Hondo and Flamenco, Bulgarian women’s choirs, South-African stomp, American classical and contemporary Jazz, contemporary Classical compositions, Tangos, Motown, Funk, Baroque and Romantic European compositions, Ancient Japanese music, Hawaiian Kahiko, Hip-hop, Water Drumming songs, Russian Balalaika ballads, Italian film music, Canary Island Whistling, Arab Prayer calls, Lakota songs, Sioux songs, Shinnecock songs …to name a few. When I began listening to these many many ethnic genres, long ago, they were not yet called “World Music”: they were simply “good music” to my ears. I cannot imagine a world where all these — and many more genres — would not be inclusive.

How can that potentially affect our culture?

In our world, especially in our current Western Political Culture, diversity is feared and integration forced. This is the most dangerous state of being. Culture contamination is what the world needs. We are one. As Walt Whitman wrote: “I contain multitudes”.

From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

Seek, financially support and produce emerging artists, composers and musicians from all parts of the world. Nurture them for all youth to experience. Diffuse their art intently through the widest of platforms, social media, television, movies. Bring their music into schools, include it in our education and celebrate it in our politics.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I really can’t think of what are the things that were excluded from the teachings as I began to sing. The lessons were all there if my ears were open to guidance. The learning was all up to me. The exploring was organic and as I asked all the questions I had from my colleagues, they were answered. My motto is to surround myself with people who know more than me and to observe them with intention. I do wish I had the ability to read music, which I don’t, and it’s not for not trying. I wish that there was a different music notation system for those of us who are bad at Math.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Keep on making sounds that have not been made before. Keep curious. Keep making combinations that have not occurred yet. Play with voice and effects. Invite collaboration.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I believe that all micro actions influence macro effects. Influence begins with one’s own curiosity and in the sharing of ideas, generously, with others, in all fields. In seemingly menial actions and interactions on a day- to- day basis with everyone — and I mean everyone — in our paths, to fervently empowering those who have a wide and vast vision combined with the determination and ability to influence multitudes.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am very grateful to my first teachers, the exquisite duo Carlos y Marta. They embraced my emerging voice and nurtured my love of our Cuban traditional music. They supported me and believed in me. I would not be here without them. They travelled from Miami to New York to import their teachings to me and put me in the hands of David Oquendo when they returned south. Together with David, Carlos Gomez is one of the last Encyclopedias of Cuban traditional music. Marta Ramirez’s voice is incomparable and caressing. Their embrace gave me wings.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There are many “life lesson quotes” that I try to abide by and one of my favorites was written by the 13th century Persian poet

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī


Like every other day,

We wake up empty and frightened.

Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.

Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways to

Kneel and kiss the ground.”

Too much thinking keeps us rigid. Let your Intellect embrace your Emotions and be led by your Spirit. Only then will we act with an open heart.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

I would have liked to have tea with Maya Angelou; her poetry, grace, strength and womanhood. I am lucky enough to be able to break lunch bread with Robert Wilson; his vast creative vision, magnitude and elegant minimalism. I would love to share a long, delightful dinner with Pema Chodron. Her wisdom, humor and practical benevolence.

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