YAITE RAMOS: “MUSIC IS THE MOST PASSIVE FORM OF COMBAT WE HAVE”
Name: Yaite Ramos
Zodiac sign: Virgo
LATINNESS: You’re Cuban, but based in France. What brought you to Europe?
YAITE: I’ve lived here for 20 years. In reality, I got stuck here. I came to earn a living, in search of luck. I wanted that change for my family, and well… I did the opposite: I got pregnant; life kept me here, and music as well.
At that time, music was strong in France, salsa and everything. I found a very good way to earn a living. I stayed in a wonderful country. I was very lucky to arrive here.
LATINNESS: Both countries are quite different. Did the French welcome you from the start?
YAITE: It was music that opened my place in this country. The diversity of music, that desire to develop. Cubans come from a fairly broad school, although we can work with all kinds of styles.
LATINNESS: What was your start in the music world like?
YAITE: It was very obvious to me because I come from a family of musicians, and it was everyone’s favorite hobby: getting together and making music … harmonizing bolero. I wanted to be like the grown-ups in my house, and at the age of eight I began studying classical flute. Then I graduated, but I always had the ambition of playing alongside my family, my father, and my uncles.
LATINNESS: We know that your father, Jesus “Aguaje” Ramos, is part of Buena Vista Social Club. Have you ever played with them publicly?
YAITE: We’ve shared many moments with music, but I’m the ugly duckling. They haven’t taken me around the whole world with them. “We’re going to take the other one, we’re going to leave this one because she’s impossible.” I’m the ugly duckling of the house.
LATINNESS: Why do you say that?
YAITE: I like the idea, because in reality, no one ever invited me to play, and I was the one who insisted on being the musician that I am. It was me who said: “No, I’m not going to keep quiet.” And well, like the ugly duckling, one day I’ll have to turn into a swan. I love it.
LATINNESS: The ugly duckling has things to say…
YAITE: Yes, yes, yes, there are always things to say, especially if you’re a musician.
LATINNESS: When did you realize the importance of the Buena Vista Social Club legacy?
YAITE: I was already living here. It was a big surprise for me. The thing I remember the most is seeing my first baby, who is the eldest now, as a small baby in front of them, because I wasn’t expecting it. We were at the L’Olympia theater, which is one of my favorite venues here in France, and there I saw my father with those costumes. It was a big surprise.
LATINNESS: How old were you then?
YAITE: At that time, I was about 23 or 24 years old.
LATINNESS: How many children do you have now?
YAITE: I already have two. An older one named Celia and the little one, Rachel.
LATINNESS: Do they also like music?
YAITE: They like the music their mom makes, but to study music theory or say “let’s sit at the piano”, no, no. They don’t have much time. They don’t want to study music like I did.
LATINNESS: Everything in due time.
YAITE: It will come.
LATINNESS: How have these two countries, Cuba and France, influenced your music?
YAITE: Very much so. The fact of having come to this country has built the musician that I am with my ups and downs, with the ebbs and flow of life. La Dame Blanche came in a moment of despair, where I had to come up with an idea to make a living from what I do. The only thing I know how to do. Well, I know how to clean and stuff, but I don’t know how to make a living from that.
The only way, the revenge of my life, which allowed me to tell everyone that I had not said my last word, that I wasn’t going to stop being the flutist that I’ve always been, was to arrive in this country. It’s not for fun that I’m doing hip-hop when I’m a girl who comes from classical music, both as a singer and as a flutist. Today I find myself doing a powerful hip-hop that represents me in my own way.
LATINNESS: Of course, you have a very unique sound.
YAITE: I try. To each his own. Every madman has a world apart.
LATINNESS: You’re part of a new generation of creative talents that have emerged from Cuba. What responsibility do you feel and what do you aspire to accomplish?
YAITE: There are many responsibilities, not only as an artist, but as a rapper. We rappers always have a mission. The message must be firm and clear. I’m Cuban, and right now, I need to sharpen my lyrics to be able to say things by name without any problem … To be able to get home every night without difficulty. Our mission is very important, because music is the most passive form of combat we have, to face whatever it is. It doesn’t mean there’s no fear, but lately music can do many, many things.
LATINNESS: You are absolutely right, and music has driven many of these recent changes.
YAITE: Have you seen? It’s true that music is a very important element in Cuba, for the Cuban, in his daily life. That’s why I’m not surprised by what is happening with this song about Patria y vida, and this revolt by the Cubans.
LATINNESS: Have you played in Havana since you left?
YAITE: Look negra, I’m going to tell you something. Before this Covid and pandemic thing started, the night before they closed the borders, I had my suitcases ready to do my first concert in Cuba. It’s never late if the joy is good.
LATINNESS: You’re from Pinar del Rio, but lived in Havana, right?
YAITE: I’m from Pinar del Rio. I studied in Havana and worked there until I came to Paris. Although today, when I go to Cuba, I go straight to my mother’s living room to smoke tobacco and drink rum, which I miss so much.
LATINNESS: In addition to music, we’ve seen that you have an important link with fashion, a strong, memorable image, with your tobacco always in hand. Can you talk to us about your relationship with fashion?
YAITE: I respect the stage a lot. It’s a place that I idolize. Which is why I cannot go on stage dressed as I do in everyday life. I don’t invest that much. It is not the first image I want to give, of being at the top of fashion, but I respect the setting. So I go out into the suburbs of Paris to find fabric, something sheer, anything that I can tie up and make a statement. This is the way I work. I have many friends who also advise me, help or send me pieces. In fact, I once worked with Mariana, a stylist from Paris, to assist me. However, I go where the wind takes me. I’m a seamstress, seamstress, seamstress.
LATINNESS: Are you guided by instinct a lot?
YAITE: By instinct and the character too. La Dame Blanche feels good when she has something sheer, tobacco, a little color, white. I have to follow what she tells me.
LATINNESS: How would you describe La Dame Blanche in three words?
YAITE: Hope, strength and beauty.
LATINNESS: What do you love the most about your Latin heritage?
YAITE: From my Cuban heritage, what I love the most is my writing. I inherited a very beautiful legacy from my grandmother Adela, which is knowing how to write and rhyme. That is the greatest pride I have.
LATINNESS: Can you tell us briefly about your grandmother Adela?
YAITE: Ah, do we have until tomorrow?! My grandmother Adela, a guerrilla, did not show fear of anything or anyone. She was always very humble, but her house was open-door. She collected the good and the bad, who was and who was not… It was her great defect. And she wrote very beautiful poems.
I have an uncle who is a great singer, something like the voice of Cuba, Mario Rivera. He was in Los Van Van. She wrote songs for him and he also inherited that gift of being able to write and rhyme constantly from her. Adela Godina was a character who always wore a negligee with two pockets, everything that happened was hers. Everything, everything, everything that happened was hers. I miss her so much.
LATINNESS: How wonderful! Is there a song that reminds you of home?
YAITE: Yes. Tres Palabras, do you know it, it’s a bolero: “With three words I’ll tell you all my things and those words are …”. Do you know it?
LATINNESS: No, but we’ll look for it now. Our parents are Cuban. My dad and Kelly’s mom, too.
YAITE: Oh yeah?! Boy, we’ve polluted the planet. The thing is that we cannot leave Cuba, because if we could leave Cuba, we would transform the planet!
LATINNESS: There’s nothing like that contagious Cuban spirit.
YAITE: We carry it with us! You suffer, but it teaches you and makes you stronger. It’s impossible to see these things that are happening and not react. It hurts. The Cubans have a lot of pride. A lot, a lot, a lot.
LATINNESS: Is there a dream that you wish to fulfill?
YAITE: Ah yes, I have many, many, many left. I’m dreaming of a Grammy. I have a lot of things to do … learn how to swim.
LATINNESS: Amongst other things! What are you currently working on?
YAITE: Now I’m finishing an album called Ella; I want to release it. I’m trying to organize all my ideas to write another one a little more classic. It will always be hip-hop, but the intention is to accompany it on strings. Direct and use that skill that I haven’t used yet.
Portraits by Maxi Guterman, courtesy of Yaite Ramos.