Singer and composer
Her given name is M (sometimes written Eme) and it works for her. M, as in Mega-talented, Musically gifted. She's a singer and composer who never seems to stop Metamorphosing. If you listen to her two albums, Eme (2012) and Señales (2008), one moment she's all smoke and soul like a Cuban Angie Stone, and the next she's Macy Gray belting out Trova poetry.
M was born in 1986 in Havana's Playa district, where she still lives with her parents. Her surname, Alfonso, links her to the Cuban music dynasty her parents started in the mid-1970s and her brother expanded in the 1990s. Síntesis, as the family's experimental pop band was (and is) called, began as a Cuban echo of the "progressive rock" sounds filling stadiums in Europe and North America. Síntesis went on to pretty much invent the music that Cubans today call fusion. M's mother, Ele Valdés, plays keyboards and her father, Carlos Alfonso, plays guitar, and both of them sing. M's brother, X Alfonso, joined the band in the 1990s at a time when Síntesis was incorporating hip hop, trip hop, electro and other new sounds into a repertoire that managed to remain distinctly Cuban.
"I started making music when I was very young. I was always watching [my parents] on stage, singing along," M says. "I always knew that's what I wanted to do." At the age of 7 she was sent to the prestigious music conservatory named for the great Cuban composer Alejandro García-Caturla, where she studied piano and singing. She had her professional début at 14 when she joined Síntesis and shared a stage not just with her famous parents and brother, but with other Cuban music royalty such as Chucho Valdés and Pablo Milanés.
Given all this, the musical influences she cites on her Facebook page come as something of a surprise: Tears for Fears, Portishead, Tricky, Bjork, Elis Regina, Fiona Apple, Ella Fitzgerald.
Tears for Fears? "My music is a mix – fusion," she says politely. "A little jazz, Cuban music, funky, soul, all mashed together, no? I also like Trova a lot. The lyrics, the poetry. All of that mixed up."
In other words, M Alfonso would be a marketing executive's nightmare if marketing executives were still calling the shots in the careers of singular artists like M Alfonso. As it stands now, her music speaks for itself, powerfully: "The product that comes out – I don't know. It's whatever you like to listen to. I don't define it. I don't have a word that defines my music." Perhaps not, but we're betting such a word would begin with an M.