Havana Cultura — DJ and producer Rukaiya Russell shares her favourite young Cuban musicians, photographers and dancers from a creative new generation.

Cuba is a melting pot where African rhythms collide with European classical traditions and the echoes of this musical cross-pollination can be found far and wide: from disco to Chicago house to UK bass culture.

South London-based DJ and producer Rukaiya Russell was one of the emerging electronic artists from around the world who won Gilles Peterson’s remix competition and travelled to Cuba to collaborate with the brightest local talent on the Havana Cultura Mix: The Soundclash compilation album.

“There’s such a variety from the hip hop to soul artists, there’s such quality and they’re coming from a different place.” Rukaiya explains. “You have the Afro-Cuban elements, the political and social issues, which some artists express in their music and then there are influences like jazz, salsa and soul. Daymé Arocena, who appears on 3 tracks on the album, embodies this: she’s Afro-Cuban, she’s jazz and she’s soul. When we saw her perform at an open mic night, everyone was mesmerised. She’s definitely going to shake things up.”

Under the guidance of Gilles Peterson and his production partner Simbad, Rukaiya recorded two tracks for the album and spent close to two weeks in Cuba exploring the island’s music and culture.

We asked Rukaiya to share her insight and give us tips on who to look out for in a creative new generation of young Cubans.

Sexto Sentido

I worked with this group on the song ‘Para Ti’. They also appear on two other songs by Kerkstra. These ladies have such beautiful voices and harmonies, they often get called the Cuban Destiny’s Child. They sing in Spanish, English and Yoruba, which is part of the Afro-Cuban heritage. They’re so gifted and they do such a range of music – I found out later they had worked with Fatboy Slim a while back.

Barbaro El Urbano

He appears on the song ‘Volar En Lo Profundo’ on the Havana Cultura Mix album produced by DJ Monokey.  He hosted the open mic night and really had the crowd going when he performed. I also had the pleasure of hearing him do a freestyle one night when we were all out – he definitely has skills. His raps touch on social issues in Cuba. There are also El B, Etian Brebaje Man and Charly Mucha Rima who are big players in the Cuban hip hop scene.

Kike Wolf

Kike Wolf is a producer who has a song on the Havana Cultura Mix album called ‘La Vida No Vale Nada’.  His music has depth and feeling and he’s an example of contemporary Cuba: he’s an electronic producer and also a DJ with great knowledge of Cuban music which he fuses together in his music.

Jorge ‘Jorgito’ Aragon

I worked with a young up and coming pianist called Jorge ‘Jorgito’ Aragon who appears on the song ‘Para Ti’. He plays everything from traditional jazz salsa piano to modern synths. We had a quite a long session and he played both piano and synths. At one point when he was playing the synth he reminded me of George Duke. It was great, really enjoyed working with him.

Alejandro González – Photographer

I worked with a photographer Alejandro González while I was out in Havana who took a lot of shots of us and the trip. He’s from Havana and his style is very real, his work revolves much around the city of Havana and its subcultures.


There’s a well-known dance group called Danza Contemporanea de Cuba. I worked with a really good percussionist Dayron Echevarria Gallardo who plays on both my tracks and is also part of a Cuban dance company called Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba, who mix contemporary and traditional dance.

Find out more about Havana Cultura Mix: The Soundclash.