Bristolatino’s Music editor and joint Editor-in-Chief Phoebe Hopson tells us why X Planet’s first album Xistence is on her most-played tracklist. When the group performed at Bristol University’s Semana Cultural over a year ago, we were all impressed by the music, but also inspired by the unique story behind this Anglo-Cuban partnership.
Every year Bristol University’s Semana Cultural puts on a diverse programme of events, providing a platform for the appreciation of Spain and Latin America’s infinite cultural richness. Featuring in the musical side of last year’s event was a performance and talk by X planet, a group formed by ex- Bristol student Holly Holden and Cuban rapper Alain Garcia (Alayo Style), aka Cuban fly. The group successfully managed to melt the ice in the University’s common room, a venue not often associated with laid-back Cuban vibes. Holly Holden, the group’s female vocalist, kindly let me interview her about the group’s intriguing story and sound.
The story began in June 2011, when Holly was researching her masters in Santiago de Cuba, the Island’s second largest city. Here she met Alayo Style, and the first sparks of inspiration flew, leading her to return to Cuba in January the following year to embark on their first 11 track album, Xistence. This album, as Holly explained, is about harmony, freedom and fun, all of which are palpable in the group’s unique sound.
The album finds its individuality in the band’s vast range of influences and rhythmical inspirations, aided by producer Kiki Pro, a key name on the Cuban reggaeton scene. The track Embora, which means ‘urge to leave’ in Portuguese, showcases this. While Alayo Style effortlessly raps, switching between Portuguese, Spanish and English (which Holly revealed is a “tip of the hat to Brazil”, where he lived for six months), Holly’s beautiful, soulful voice leads the chorus. The song has a distinctly tropical feel, pulling its influences from kei somba, a rhythm originally from Haiti that landed on Cuban soil through Haitian immigration to the sugar plantations. Lyrically, the track captures the frustrations of wanting to get out in a catchy, light-hearted manner.
As ifthis delightful tropical influence wasn’t enough, there are also aspects of Jamaican raga and dub music to be found on the track, making it impossible not to sway along.
Each song is original in theme and sound, making Xistence a colourful listen overall. The soulful tribute track to Santiago, named after the city, differs immensely from the upbeat, more commercial-sounding Slow Down Sugar. According to Holly, the band’s eclectic sound is in part due to their shared ambition to dodge being pigeonholed by a set musical genre and the unjustified snobbery that anything commercial sounding can’t be good music.
X Planet have successfully gigged in Cuba and the UK despite unending tribulations of visa bureaucracy. Undeterred by these added complications, a second album is hopefully on the not too distant horizon, and according to Holly’s blog (http://hollyholdenincuba.wordpress.com/), it seems that the X Planet project is very much alive. If future music is anything like that found on the first album, it too will deserve a place on your most played track-list, ready for when you need cheering up on a gloomy British day!
To watch The Story of X Planet, a mini documentary by Will Teddy, CLICK HERE