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Yilian Cañizares

A violinist with a groundbreaking faith in tradition

The German philosopher Walter Benjamin argued that all new generations have a responsibility to the past ones: What your great-grandmother couldn’t achieve because of her oppressors, we have to complete.

He would probably have taken a liking to Yilian Cañizares. Where other musicians drink themselves into bravery before a concert, the Cuban violinist honors her ancestors through a ceremony that involves candles, offerings and prayer. The backstage ritual – true to the Santeria religion that is prevalent in the otherwise secular Cuba – leaves her completely sucked into the present.

Yilian carries this energy with her onstage, where she and her accomplices merge jazz, classical music and Afro-Cuban rhythms. Her West African descent is also channeled through her music: Particularily when she sings in Yoruba – tied to the Nigerian river delta – you can sense how centuries are whiped out in a jiffy.

The reason she masteres this craft, is not only due to her zen-like presence but also her classical training. At age seven she joined the venerable Manuel Saumell Academy in her hometown of Havana; later, as a music student in Venezuela, she was taken under the wings of a Swiss mentor. Since the millennium shift, the European mountain kingdom has been her home.

On Invocación, Yilian’s acclaimed second album of 2015, she sharpened the gaze on her roots. One can get far by reaching for the stars, but maybe it’s our prehistory that hold the greatest answers to who and what we are.

Text: Kim Klev

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