Hip Hop Duo
Edrey is the one with the movie-star smile who can sound like James Brown (“get funky!”) or Snoop Dogg (“I got my baby…”) when a lyric calls for some convincingly sung African-American English. Ulises sticks to Cuban Spanish and exudes the kind of patient intelligence that might seem more adapted to teaching university classes than rapping in music videos. They call themselves Ogguere, a Yoruba word that translates as “soul of the earth,” and they’re the elder statesmen of Cuban rap.
In fact Ogguere has been around only since 2004, but their partnership began a decade before. Edrey and Ulises got together in the early 1990s in the Santos Suarez neighbourhood of Havana, where Edrey lived (and still lives) with his grandmother on Avenida Serrano. Ulises grew up in El Cotorro, the site of the old Modelo Brewery, and he had to travel two hours to come to Santos Suarez every day. The two would hang out in Parque Policía , a public playground where people from all over Havana came to rap and breakdance. “I know Alamar gets credit as the site of the first rap festival, and I respect that, but people should know about Parque Policía.
In 1996 Edrey and Ulises started working with Pablo Herrera, Cuba’s premier rap producer, who also happened to live in Santo Suarez, on Calle Zapote. Somehow they managed to resist the temptation to slide into the potentially lucrative reggaeton niche, as many other Cuban rappers had done before and have done since. “Our idea is to use all the rhythms that we have in Cuba – mambo, son, chachacha – and bring them into rap music and mix it up with funk, rumba, and the music that all our ancestors were listening to in Cuba,” says Ulises. “We want to make folkloric music, as far as the way we ‘poeticise’, the way we rap. We want our grandparents, despite their age, to feel like they can share something with us, and us with them.”
A case in point would be “Cha Cuba”, the track that Edrey and Ulises recorded in 2001 with Orquesta Aragón, a traditional charanga band that has been around since 1939. Reputed to be the first meeting of cha-cha-chá and hip hop, “Cha Cuba” helped earn Orquesta Aragón’s “En Route” a Grammy nomination for “Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album”.
Ogguere came into their own a few years later with “¿Como esta el yogourt?” and with an accompanying video clip directed by renowned Cuban artist Alexandre Arrechea. So what exactly do they mean when they ask “How’s the yogourt?” “That’s something my mother always said to me when I was young,” Edrey recalls. “She was always saying I drove her crazy. So one day we decided to make a song about it, and now it has become a really Cuban thing, a national thing, even international.” But most of all it appears to be a Santos Suarez thing. “Ask people in the neighbourhood ‘¿Como esta el yogourt?’ and everyone knows how the yogurt is”,” Edrey says with a laugh. “Here in Santos Suarez, we’re all family. One big family.”
At the time of this interview with Havana Cultura, Ogguere were back in the neighbourhood, taking a break from recording their first album, “Llena de Amor El Mambo,” which features contributions from Cuban artists such as Chucho Valdés, Haydée Milanés and Roberto from the Van Van. Ulises, for one, is not displeased with the result: “The fusion of contemporary music with mambo that you hear on our album – I really don’t think there has ever been anything like it before.”