Sexto Sentido
Vocal group

Considering the youth of Sexto Sentido’s members, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that this acclaimed Cuban vocal quartet already boasts a 17-year career and the recognition of jazz heavyweights like pianist Chucho Valdés or saxophone player Steve Coleman. 

It all began back in 1997 at Havana’s Amadeo Roldán conservatory when four classmates— Arlety Valdés, Yudelkis Lafuente, Eliene Castillo and Melvis Estévez—began getting together to sing and perform at small venues. “We were students so we weren’t allowed to do professional work. Some of friends like El Greco, an excellent musician, would help us by lending us spaces so that we could be guest performers at certain concerts,” remembers Yudelkis. 

Sexto Sentido’s breakthrough came in 2001 when they won first place at JoJazz, Cuba’s premier festival for young jazz musicians. Along with the recognition that comes with the accolade, Sexto Sentido received a proposal from choreographer Santiago Alfonso to sing in Monaco for four months with the Tropicana cabaret. “It’s very hard work. We really admire dancers and choreographers— those who are really in show business. But it was a wonderful experience to work with the company.”

On one of their free days, the four girls hopped on a train and headed to Paris to visit their friend Steve Coleman, whom they had met in Cuba and who had gone to see them perform in Monaco. “They invited us to Paris and we sang at La Cigale. A lot of people in Paris asked us why we didn’t stay and pursue a career, but we were missing Cuba. Not to mention that we had to get back to the show,” remembers Arlety. 

Back in Havana, the girls were able to concentrate on shaping their sound. “Vocal quartets were in vogue at that time—there was Destiny’s Child, Boyz 2 Men, and Take 6, which is the group that we drew all our inspiration from,” explains Yudelkis. “Because most of our influences were North American, we had a hard time finding our audience. At first it was difficult for people to accept a Cuban group singing in English, doing R&B. But the arrangements were very contemporary and different from those of other choirs in Cuba. That’s what ultimately got people’s attention.”
 
Sexto Sentido has four albums to its name. They made their debut with Bossa cubana, which dates back to 2004 and it combines covers of international artists (The Beatles, Stevie Wonder…) and Brazilian music. My Feeling was produced by Joaquín Betancourt and features Cuban boleros and more elaborate musical arrangement. In 2009, the quartet went one step further with The Way by composing their own songs and authoring the lyrics. Brujas, their latest work, is a more experimental endeavor where the group and flirts with electronic dance music.   

In the past few years, the group membership has undergone a few changes. When Melvis Estévez decided to pursue a solo career in 2010, she was replaced by Wendy Vizcaina, who had been working with the group for some time. A couple of years later, María Karla Pérez joined the group after an arduous audition process following Eliene’s move abroad. “I feel very blessed,” says Karla. “When I was 14, I would listen to My Feeling and loved it. So the fact that life gave me the honor of being part of the group is just wonderful.”

The four women know that it will be difficult to stick together while pursuing individual careers and starting families. In the long term, they envisage a format similar to that of Habana Abierta, a loose association of likeminded Cuban artists that comes together every one in a while for a joint project or performance. “But we still have many things we want to do with the quartet,” assures Wendy. For one, there’s talk of a Cuban music album as well as an a cappella project. “So if any producers are watching, take our number and please call us. We’re more than willing!” concludes Wendy with a laugh.