Qva Libre
Rock band

Carlos Díaz Soto looks surprisingly happy to see the Havana Cultura crew, here for an early morning interview with him at his home in the Fanguito quarter of Vedado. QVA Libre, Carlos's band, is the most popular alternative funk-rock band on the island. They just got back to Havana a few hours earlier, after a solid month of playing packed concerts in the Cuban provinces. The other bandmembers are somewhere else, getting some much-needed rest before their big show later this evening in Havana's Teatro Karl Marx, but Carlos Díaz Soto is, clearly, too excited to sleep.

"We're a different kind of group," Carlos says with some understatement. "We're Cubans, we grew up with Cuban music, but we have a different vision, a more advanced vision, more experimental, and our image also reflects that. That's QVA Libre– it's Cuba today, Cuba beyond all the clichés.

"Clichés don't interest us," he continues. "We're interested in transmitting positive energy to Cuban people and to everyone. We want our concerts to be an explosion of joy. That's what people need."

Back in 2000 the four original members of QVA Libre were playing their first gigs at El Patio de María like every other fledgling rock band in Havana. "In the beginning I think our musical style was angrier, heavy metal – hard rock with a few touches of Cuban music," Carlos says. As the three other bandmembers gradually drifted off to do other things, Carlos stayed put, and QVA Libre evolved musicially. "We developed our own sound, clearly defined, mixing rhythms like funk but with the heavy bassline of Cuban music." The lineup went from four to ten to, as of today, 14 musicians on stage.

Carlos had no formal music training and he had never played in another band before or since QVA Libre. He and his bandmates went through some very lean years. They repeatedly had to sell their music equipment and other belongings for food. "It took a lot of effort," Carlos says. "We had to rely on the support and help of a lot of people. We had to deal with the departure of various musicians because obviously life changes and ambitions change."

QVA Libre self-financed four tracks for their first demo, Que todo sea para nada, in 2004. The following year, they gained traction by performing with some well-known Cuban musicians, among them Telmary Díaz, Kumar, William Vivanco, Interactivo. They appeared in the film Habana Blues and began working with the film's musical producer, Juan Antonio Leyva. In 2007 their first album, Resistencia y reciclaje, gained some notoreity in the rock world, but Carlos Díaz Soto had reached the conclusion that it was time to leave the rock world behind. "I imagined something crazier," he says. "Like KC and the Sunshine Band, with metalheads, funk musicians…."
A QVA Libre concert today is part street party, part mass psychosis, and part Alice in Wonderland. Think of a psychedelic Cuban version of early Red Hot Chili Peppers with a bigger wardobe budget. Carlos is the one at the front of the stage in the Mad Hatter top hat and giant white sunglasses, playing a distorted guitar solo on his knees or wailing on a sax.

The band's second album, Viva Qva Libre, was a breakthrough. Songs like "Superhero", "Buena suerte", "Kumbia funky" and "Azúcar" made QVA Libre the top concert draw that it is today. In 2011, the album scored both Cubadisco and Cuerda Viva awards. 

After an uncertain existence that lasted more than a decade, it would seem that QVA Libre is finally here to stay.