Interactivo is a band with loads of personality as well as loads of personalities. It’s easy to lose count of all the outstanding Cuban musicians who have played with, toured with or recorded with Interactivo. Some of them are stars in their own right, some are just beginning to make their name. When you put all of them together Interactivo looks like a team of all-star athletes or an army of comic book superheroes who have put aside their own natural competitiveness to fight for a common cause. Except, in Interactivo’s case, the musical superheroes are having too much fun to think about fighting.
Interactivo gestated in 2001 around a core group of five musicians: Roberto Carcassés, Yusa, Francis del Rio, William Vivanco and Telmary Díaz. Carcassés is credited as director of this free-form collective, which he usually describes as "experimental", or "a project of musical cooperation". The band has expanded over the years to include Olivier Valdés, Rodney Barreto,
Yaroldi Abreu, Carlos Ríos, Raúl Verdecia, Julio Padrón, Carlos Miyares, David Suárez, Alexey Barroso, Juan Carlos Marín, Brenda Navarrete, Marjorie Rivera and Lisset Ochoa.
And that’s only the beginning. Among the other musicians who have played or recorded with Interactivo are Oscar Valdés, Bobby Carcassés, Carlos Ríos, Domingo Calendario Acosta, Carlos Sarduy, Adel Gonzalez, Yandy Martinez, Elmer Ferrer, Kumar, José Luis Martínez, Feliciano Arango, Néstor del Prado, Santiago Feliú, Descemer Bueno, Melvis Santa, David Torrens and Kelvis Ochoa.
Musical cooperation is less a rarity in Cuba than it might be in a country with a more financially robust music industry and with the professional jealousy and commercial pressure that comes along with it. The best Cuban musicians tend to be free electrons constantly colliding with each other in impromptu jam sessions. They don’t give a toss about working within any pre- ordained styles, so you get raperos and salseros and soul singers and jazzmen coming together to play a hip-hop bolero or something equally heterogeneous and indescribable.
Interactivo takes the haphazard musical interactivity of the best house-party descarga and brings it to the stage and recording studio. The band’s first recording, Goza Pepillo, came out in 2005 and won the Best Album prize at the Cubadisco awards the following year. The album’s 14 songs, described by one UK reviewer as "progressive-Afro-Latin-funk-rap," ranged from a Beatles cover ("I Want You/She’s So Heavy") to William Vivanco’s melancholy ballad ("Cafe") to Telmary’s uplifting rap on "¿Quién te Dijo?"
Cubanos por el Mundo, the second and most recent Interactivo recording, is another big step toward showing the world what Interactivo and, in general, what Cuban music can do. "Que No Pare El Pare," to cite just one track from the album, features a groove worthy of Stevie Wonder’s "Innervisions" period. In the video clip for the song, Melvis Santa raps about partying without stopping even though the bus in which she’s travelling happens to be stopped at a police barricade. That’s a good image for getting across Interactivo’s point: why should a good party be stopped by any official way of doing things?
Interactivo was recently the subject of a feature-length documentary by young Cuban director Tané Martínez. The film premiered in December 2010 at the Havana International Film Festival, and it’s an effective demonstration of where Interactivo really shines – in concert. If you want to see for yourself, you may have a chance even if you’re not in Havana. The band’s notoriety has (not surprisingly) been spreading far beyond Cuba. At this writing Interactivo is on tour in Europe and preparing to play a concert in France.