¡Que equivoca'o! That's your answer if you think Telmary Diaz is just another street-schooled rapper on the mucho flow, Afro-Cubano tip. How wrong you are! She describes herself as "a jazz poet, a communicator," and that's closer to the mark. But if that description leads you to believe her music isn't some of the most danceable hip hop on the planet, here's the same answer back at you: ¡Que equivoca'o!
"Que equivoca'o" one of the standout tracks on her debut album, A Diario (2007) is a good introduction to Telmary. The song shows how funny she can be, as she takes men to task for setting their sights on a woman "who waits, who cooks, who mops". You think you can dance to it? How right you are!
Telmary wrote "Que equivoca'o" herself, but one of the many virtues of A Diario is the breadth of Cuban musical talent sharing songwritng credit with her. Descemer Bueno, Kumar and William Vivanco join Telmary on the album, which was produced by Roberto Carcassés and Yusa. Among the other musicians she invited to play with her are Cuban legends Los Van Van and a Flamenco ensemble from Spain called Ojos de Brujo. A Diario won Best Hip Hop Album at the Cubadisco awards in 2007.
She was born in Havana and now lives in her new home in Toronto, where we interviewed her during her appearance at the second annual Havana Cultura tour. (Watch closely during the concert footage and you'll see her on stage with "sonero" Francis del Rio, a former cohort from Interactivo.)
Unlike other Cuban musicians who seem predestined to carry on a family tradition, a music career was far from an obvious choice for Telmary. "I wanted to be a journalist, then one fine day I tried rapping at a freestyle event. After that I knew that's how I wanted to express myself."
She rose to prominence in 1999 with seminal Cuban rappers Free Hole Negro. Then she joined Interactivo in 2002 and spent five years touring with the likes of Yusa, Vivanco and Del Rio and Carcassés. It was with Interactivo that Telmary developed her distinctive rapping-crooning delivery, and this collaboration helped the 26-member supergroup score an historic double win (Best Debut Album and Best Fusion Album) at the 2005 Cubadisco awards. Telmary has also played and toured with fellow Cubans Gema & Pavel, Pío Leyva, X Alfonso and Kelvis Ochoa.
In addition to recording and touring Telmary has started appearing in films. She played herself in both German Kral's Musica Cubana (2004) produced by Wim Wenders' and Benito Zambrano's Habana Blues (2005) just to confirm that her kind of larger-than-life talent and personality need no embellishment for the big screen.
The moment I enjoy the most is the moment when people understand me. It's not important if the audience understands the words, if they speak Spanish. What counts is whether they pick up on the energy, on the roots of the Cuban experience, of Cuban music. When I see people getting into what I'm saying, it's really magic for me.
"One idea I've been working on is a hip hop play for the theatre. I don't know how it's going to turn out but I'm working on writing it."
She has also become an effective cultural ambassador for her country: "Cubans have incredible strength. I think there's nothing in the world better than being Cuban. That's why I defend my roots. I go around the world trying to show people what it really means to be Cuban."