Cubanito 20.02
Cuban Ragga Trio

Buenos Aires had the tango, Chicago had house music, Goa had trance, and Havana – well, Havana has more kinds of party music than you can probably handle. You'll hear a lot of timba, which has been electrifying the city's dancefloors for the last decade or so, but then there's reggaetón and, if you're feeling nostalgic, the mambo and the cha-cha-cha.

Rather than try to pinpoint Havana's definitive party sound, let's focus on one band that has been heating up more than a few of the city's parties.

Cubanito 20.02, formed in 2002 as their name suggests, burst on the scene the following year with their first album, "Soy Cubanito". They might have been mistaken for a hip hop trio, with their b-boy posturing in photos and on the album's title track ("I'm a rapper first and foremost, whether you like it or not..."). But "Matame", which instantly became a huge radio hit in Havana, told another story. With its whooping refrain ("Uh Laca Laca Lah!") and romping ragga beat, this was Cubanito's announcement that they had come here to party.

In fact, hip hop was where Cubanito's three members began. In the mid-1990s, Haniel Gonzalez Martinez, Javier Duran Webb, and José Angel Sastre Perez were listening to rap sounds coming from the U.S. They shortened their names to Flipper, El Doctor and White, and they got themselves some bandanas, baseball caps and extra-baggy jeans. Their first group was called Primera Base and they scored a direct hit with their performance at the Havana Rap Festival in 1995. 

"We wanted to do something New-York-style, something danceable, but also something Cuban," recalls Flipper. "We are a group from the barrio, from the streets. We were all friends, and we still are. We used to rap together when we were taking the bus."

For this interview they've come back to the street where they started out, in Guanabacoa, about a half hour east of central Havana. White and Flipper are the first to arrive. When an old Fiat 650 pulls to a stop outside the house where Flipper grew up, they say, "Here comes El Doctor, in his Audi." In other words, don't come looking for bling-bling in Guanabacoa.

"We don't play any instruments," says White. "We create everything together, the three of us. A melody here, a verse there."

So far the formula has been working. Their second album "Tócame" released in 2006, rises to the challenge of keeping the party going. Is it hip hop? Not exactly. Is it reggaetón? That's closer to the mark, but Cubanito isn't entirely comfortable with the label. "It's Cuban music, that's the only thing you can say for sure," says Flipper. "We sing about love, about being in love with our times."

As the interview ends, the Cubanito crew is asked where a party might be found on this particular Wednesday evening. "Follow us," they say, almost in unison. "You'll never have a better night in Havana."