Jose Lorenzo Renya has always been a risk-taker. As a teenager in Cuba in 1994 he was nearly arrested for painting anti-government murals in Havana. That same night, he and his cousin decided to leave Cuba by swimming for 3 days straight to Guantanamo Bay. Jose was 17 at the time, and he had big dreams of coming to America. After coming ashore at gunpoint, and eleven days of interrogation, he was finally allowed to come to the U.S. as an asylum seeker.
More then a decade later, Jose is living the dream. As founder and lead singer of one of the most respected Cuban bands in the Virginia-Washington, DC region, Jose is changing the musical landscape with his band Timbason.
Timbason covers both the traditional and new sounds coming out of Cuba. Like salsa on steroids, it incorporates traditional salsa with modern Timba music popular in Cuban dance clubs today, creating a truly Cuban sound that is more authentic than most Cuban-American bands, and also more up-to-date.
“Cuban music is hard to play,” says Jose. “You really have to grow up surrounded by it, or you have to have studied it quite a bit. There are basic recipes: mambo, cha-cha, salsa, son, boleros, all of which can be butchered in a cheesy Doris-Day way. Or you can get the real spine-tingling effect of a dozen instruments playing layer after layer on a basic rhythm of a Guaguanco (Cumba – cun-cun – Cumba-cun-cun), until the room rocks.”
I’m like an old man,” Jose says, laughing. “I don’t smoke. I rarely drink. My only vice is black coffee.”
Not surprisingly, Jose works as the band’s booking agent and manager, and the work was tough, especially in the beginning. Connecting audiences in Richmond, Virginia to the sounds of a mambo was tricky work, especially when Latin clubs were so scarce. But times are changing, and the people have caught on.
“What I see now when I play is groups of people dancing and having fun, and that’s it. It’s not really important that I’m singing in Spanish, or if they’re American or not. If you can transmit your energy through the music, you’re speaking a universal language. Besides, Cuban music is really just beautiful music.”
Timbason takes its name from Son, the most influential form of Latin music in the late 1800s, and Timba, a Cuban version of America’s soul and funk. The newest and most controversial music out of Cuba, Timba is like salsa on steroids. It incorporates Brazilian music, R&B, hip-hop, Latin jazz, and Cuban salsa. Son, on the other hand, is a style of dance music that originated in the Oriente province of Cuba. It is the foundation of modern salsa. Timbason combines all of this in a unique hybrid of modern Cuban music that is more up-to-date and more in tune with the real music that Cubans listen to today.