Haydée Milanes
Trova singer

In Cuba it's not unusual for a celebrated musician to be descended from another celebrated musician - happens all the time. Still, it's always interesting to watch how the torch is passed from one generation to the next and... And that's how most introductions to Haydée Milanés begin: with her lineage. As every Cuban knows, Haydée Milanés is the daughter of Nueva Trova superstar Pablo Milanés, but she has worked hard harder than you would believe necessary to establish her own musical identity, and she has more than earned the right to be known for how she sounds, whoever happens to be her father.

How Haydée Milanés sounds is sultry, airy, jazzy, lovely. Her singing has drawn frequent comparisons to Norah Jones, but that could very well be another sly nod at filial good fortune (Jones is, herself, the daughter of sitar legend Ravi Shankar). As it happens, Haydée never imagined a life for herself that didn't involve music. She was born in Havana in 1980. At six years old she began studying piano and singing at the Manuel Saumel conservatory and went on to study music theory at the Amadeo Roldan conservatory. As a teenager she went around the Cuban capital singing anywhere she could, and wound up in Ernán López-Nussa's jazz quartet.

"My father was my first influence," Haydée says. She grew up watching him practice, perform, write. But the difference between the two is remarkable. Pablo Milanés and other proponents of the Cuban "new song" movement had their heyday at the end of the 1960s, singing songs of protest. Haydée's songs are as quietly introspective as her father's songs were overtly political. She started out singing other people's songs but she says her next album will be all her own — her lyrics, her arrangements, even her production. "As I'm just starting out, [my songs] are mostly about me," she explains. "About my experiences, about moments I've lived, about family situations, too. Things that could happen to anybody." And more than a few of her ballads touch on affairs of the heart.

To be fair, Pablo Milanés had a thing or two to say about love; his touching "Yolanda" became one of his biggest international hits. With Haydée, though, it's never really about what she says; it's how she says it. Or sings it.

In 2000, after a successful stint in Brazil singing with López-Nussa's band, she started to perform regularly at La Zorra y El Cuervo club in Havana. She frequently came onstage for jam sessions with Roberto Carcassés, director of the legendary Interactivo music collective (she would contribute a song to the groundbreaking Cool Cool Filin compilation produced by Carcassés in 2003). Her first solo album, Haydée, came out in 2005 and was produced by Descemer Bueno, who also wrote all the songs. "I've known Descemer since I was a kid," she says. "He had a jazz group that used to rehearse in my garage". During our interview in her Vedado apartment, Haydée sits down at her piano and plays one of the songs from that first album, "Mi Pasión, Mi Vida."

Her live album (Haydée Milanés en Vivo), released in 2008, includes performances with her father and her sisters Lynn and Suylén Milanés. (Haydée has another sister called Lyan, and three brothers, Mauricio, Fabiàn and Antonio. Her mother, Zoe, is a photographer and a former model).

In the summer of 2009 Haydée embarked on an extensive tour of Cuba with her new band. If you happen to be in the audience at one of her concerts and if you're very lucky, you might be treated to a father-daughter duet. Pablo Milanés has been singing to Haydée since she was a baby, since he dedicated to her the achingly beautiful "Son Para Despertar a Una Negrita". The first time Haydée stepped onto a stage it was to accompany her father on one of his songs, when she was 10 years old. Seeing them singing together today — Pablo, 66, who is said to have a bone disease that makes it painful for him to perform as much as he'd like, and Haydée, the soulful voice of a new Cuban generation — is to watch two distinct eras of Cuban music ebbing and flowing together. That's the kind of evening you're unlikely to forget.