Gilles Peterson explores Cuba with the Creative Class

Be sure to watch the final episode here.


The Creative Class, otherwise known as the award-winning series by WeTransfer, is back with its third (and final) episode. Shining a spotlight on local creative industries and their relationship with technology, Gilles Peterson interviewed five budding creatives at the heart of the Cuban scene. Having held a relationship with the country for over eight years now, the world-renowned DJ and creative director of WT was keen to share his love for the island and its people. Opening our eyes to a whole new world, we talked to Gilles about creative Cuba’s battle with technology.

What is it about Cuba and its heritage that you find so interesting?

For me going over to Cuba has been quite a privilege. I got to go there for the first time eight years ago, a little bit out of the blue because I was asked to go and work on some music. It wasn’t a place I had been immediately working with as a DJ. Even though I was aware of Cuba’s music and I liked a lot of it, I didn’t really realize how much. When I got into this relationship with the country about eight years ago, I started putting out lots of records—in fact, I’m just about to put out a collection of stuff from working there.


Gilles Peterson

The thing about Cuba that really struck me when I went there, was the fact that it’s a whole different life. Living in London and travelling around the world, I’ve gotten used to a certain lifestyle. Going there was so refreshing, yet also made me appreciate what I had. Working in Cuba was great because everybody was very enthusiastic and professional, and up for the exchange. It’s been really great to be able to start some good, strong relationships with people over there. In a way, being able to do it without the Internet took me back to the days when you actually had to go and meet people and interact. Being able to go to Cuba for the Creative Class was really interesting; it enabled me to appreciate all aspects of creativity, not just the music side.

How did you pick the five people you have chosen to focus on for this season’s Creative Class?

I knew a couple of them already and then for the others we did a bit of research and found people who we thought were really interesting. We wanted to show people who hadn’t been featured before and it was important to represents different aspects of creativity. Edgar Gonzales is particularly interesting; he’s spent some time in New York and is now back in Cuba with his own studio. He’s trying to do a lot of stuff with musicians from America coming over, he’s really important in the world of music. Susu Salim is super young, she’s 22 or 23 and has already done so much; working on a magazine and putting on events. She’s representing the next generation by being quite subversive, but is still in keeping with the rules and regulations of the country. That is quite a hard thing to do. There is one group I dealt with called Los Aldianos, they are the most politically active Cuban hip-hop group. I think they found themselves in a bit of trouble because at the end of the day, the government probably doesn’t want people walking around saying potentially negative things about Cuba.

Having Obama as president was very beneficial to Cuba and he’s worked hard to help improve conditions. What do you think will change now that Trump has been elected?

Obviously over the last few years things have changed significantly, I’m quite interested to see what is going to happen now that Trump is in power. I think it’s probably too far down the line for things to reverse and go back to what they were. I think the fact that Trump is all about money will probably result in him seeing a good opportunity with Cuba.

What sort of effect has not having easy access to the Internet had on creatives living in Cuba?

The fact that they don’t have much means they are so hungry for information; there is this real appetite amongst people who are passionate about whatever it is they are into. They have found the information and went that extra mile to go and get it. I think it has really encouraged them go that extra mile. One of the things the Internet can’t do is give you that human experience. Human exchange within the creative industry is really important, and that is something that Cuba has bucket loads of, especially the people that we spoke to in the Creative Class

You’ve mentioned how in Cuba many still use outdated media like CDs to make music. How do you think the lack of new technology affects not only the outcome of the work, but also the mindset of the creatives?

It’s already evolving; there are many Internet cafés popping up, which is one thing that has been a huge change in the last two or three years—before that you’d struggle to get Internet in hotels, and if you did it would cost a fortune. The people that I came across were people that would somehow have a connection with people abroad, so there was a lot of international exchange going on already.

Do you think having Internet access will change the way things are created?

Yeah! I think it’s amazing; these creatives are going to come at it with so much hunger. The thing that I find really interesting is about Cubans is that as a matter of principle, they have always focused on what people’s skills are. If you are going to become a musician, you get the full treatment. You get the full schooling, you get the full “This is it, this is your career and we are going to make you brilliant at it”—it’s the same for a doctor, teacher, everything. I think that with music, Cubans already have an incredible foundation, so if they have the freedom of the Internet to really go out and experiment and listen more, it’s going to be amazing! For quite a small island, Cuba has already given us a lot of music; it’s come up with most of the foundations of what Latin music is today. Now that there is this whole other possibility with the Internet, I think it’s going to be great.


Words by Lottie Hodson

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