The archetype of an Afro-Cuban jazz drummer would probably be Chano Pozo, the pioneering “conguero” whose influence on jazz was heard around the world. He wrote “Manteca” while he was with Dizzy Gillespie‘s band. He had forearms the size of tree trunks. He died in 1948.
Somewhere near the opposite end of this spectrum, in the small Havana flat she shares with her parents, siblings and grandmother, Yissy sits down behind a modern drum kit. That’s right: she’s not playing congas today. She’s not yet thirty years old, has the sinewy good looks of a supermodel, and plays as if she were already the legend she seems on her way to becoming.
Just home and giddy with joy after a tour in the United States — “the motherland of jazz!” —, where she was received with open arms, Yissy is excited about the upcoming release of Última noticia, the album she recorded with her project, Bandancha, after a successful online crowdfunding campaign. Their unique concept? Making people dance with jazz and rejuvenating the genre by fusing it with rumba, reggae, funk and electronic music. She even added a DJ to the permanent line-up.
“A long time ago, I saw a concert by a pianist that I love, Herbie Hancock, and he had a DJ in his jazz format,” she recalls. “That had a great impact on me and I said to myself that I wanted to do the same when I had a band of my own.”
Born in the very musical neighborhood of Cayo Hueso, Yissy is the daughter of Bernando García, one of the founding members of the legendary Irakere orchestra. Following her father’s footsteps, however, was not in the cards for Yissy – who was enrolled in ballet lessons as a young child —, but rather for her brother. Call it irony of destiny, it was her sibling who became a dancer and Yissy took up the drums.
Collaboration comes naturally to Yissy, who has been involved with Maqueque – an all-female Afro-Cuban jazz ensemble put together by the Canadian soprano saxophone player Jane Bunnett — as well as Interactivo, the experimental band lead by pianist Roberto Carcassés. “I’m curious as a musician,” she says. “I find nourishment in the richness of other projects.” Her new album is no exception and she invited the likes of Danay Suárez, Yusa and Kelvis Ochoa to be part of the adventure.
At her drum set, Yissy lays down a solid clave pattern, a nod to the Yoruba percussive tradition that forms the basis for so much of Cuban music, but it’s only a point of departure for her. Yissy’s drumsticks hit altitude with a flourish that would make her stand out in any rock band. Then she cruises into a more relaxed series of bebop riffs that recall the playing of Kenny Clarke or Max Roach. If there’s anything Yissy can’t play, you’d never know it.
Move aside, Chano. There’s a new drummer in town and she’s ready to take on the world.