Diana Fuentes smiles like she knows more than she’s ever going to tell you. It’s a genuinely dazzling smile, nothing practiced or deceptive about it, but it’s clearly a smile that has gotten her out of some tricky situations and probably opened a few doors along the way — even though, it must be said, Diana Fuentes possesses enough talent to kick open a thousand doors whether she feels like smiling or not.
She got her start as a professional musician in 2001, singing and touring with X Alfonso and the group Síntesis. In 2006 she joined Carlos Varela’s Nueva Banda. Now she’s 23 years old and she has the discography of a veteran. In addition to her recordings with Alfonso and Varela, Fuentes appears on albums with Alberto Pujol, Liuba Maria Hevia, Amaury Pérez, Aldo López Gavilán, Javier Grass, Boni y Kelly, Roberto Carcases, Carlos Varela, Free Hole Negro, Aceituna sin Hueso, El Clan, Mate, Roklan, Kumar, Ogguere, David Torrens, William Vivanco, Telmary Díaz and Alejandro Vargas, among others. She recently embarked on a solo career, with Descemer Bueno producing her first album and with acclaimed Cuban filmmaker Pavel Giroud directing her first video clip (Música de Fondo).
In Cuba, where the island’s top musicians frequently pass their artistic legacy down through the generations, Diana Fuentes is a striking exception. Her mother is a doctor and her father is a flight engineer, and none of her immediate ancestors were musicians. When Diana was three years old she was put in ballet school and seemed destined for a career with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Then her expectations changed along with everything else in Cuba in the early 1990s, when the island was plunged into the economic crisis of the ‘Período especial’:
“It was hard for my parents to take me to my ballet classes, my rehearsals finished late and I was coming home exhausted — so, as fate would have it, I started music.” She showed an early proficiency for the piano, and lately she has been concentrating on the guitar. “But I love dance,” she says, “and I’d like to be able to fit dancing into my shows some day.”
Her music is probably best categorized as soul or r&b (she’s a big fan of Erykah Badu) but she listens to a lot of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald and has no reason to be intimidated by their or anybody else’s vocal gifts. “I wrote most of the songs on my album,” Fuentes says, “but I owe a lot to Descemer Bueno, who pushed me to have the courage to start writing. It has been a bit hard, I’m always bit afraid of people’s expectations of me, but I’m pretty happy with what I’ve done so far.”
Judging to the reaction to her recent performances in Italy and Spain, audiences are pretty happy with what she’s done so far, too.