OKAN: Exuberant Latin Jazz coming to the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage

MORRISBURG – Elizabeth Rodriguez and Magdelys Savigne, OKAN, coming to the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage on Saturday, February 17 at 7 p.m. are going to amaze the audience. Their sound is an exuberant mixture of Latin, jazz, classical, folk, even rock: however, musical labels have never held this duo back. Their youthful roots lie in Cuba, their lives are lived in the diversity that is Canada, and their music has reached out to people world-wide.

“Our music is a reflection of who we are. Women who keep dreaming and absorbing all kinds of influences,” Elizabeth Rodriguez explained. “We are inspired by all our day to day lives and experiences.”

Elizabeth was born in Havana, Cuba, Magdelys in Santiago de Cuba. They were both trained in state sponsored musical education. Rodriguez is a violinist, Savigne a percussionist. Their rich cultural background incorporates West African rhythms, the Latin beat of the Islands and the rich chants of the Santeria faith. When they came to make their home in Canada, they quickly fell in love with all the new sounds and musical styles which surrounded them. They have worked with some of Toronto’s top jazz and latin artists, Jeremy Ledbetter, Roberto Riveron, Miguel de Armas.

“We really feel that Canadian music is a phenomenon,” Elizabeth said. “In this country, you can always find the most interesting mixes, music that should inspire anyone.”

CBC Music has praised OKAN for “pushing Latin jazz into new, unexpected territories.” And NOW Magazine observed that OKAN’s “vocals and percussion evoke their homeland, yet also reflect the vibrant Cuban-Canadian community.” It comes as no surprize to those who hear their music, attend their concerts, that OKAN means “heart or soul” in the Santeria faith. OKAN’s debut album ‘Sombras,’ was nominated for a Juno: their album ‘Espiral,’ won the Juno. They have also been nominated for Grammys and Latin Grammy awards.

As artists who love to perform, and love to make a deep connection with their listeners, I asked them how they would describe their unique sound.

“Our music shows that our background is definitely Afro-Cuban, but we also studied classical music in school. We believe that living here in Toronto also makes our music more interesting because we love the different cultures and music we hear in the city. We are deeply interested in life, in live events that can feel memorable and share important lessons. We are inspired from our culture, because we feel that Afro-Cuban culture is very beautiful and we really want to share it. But we also want to make our music accessible to everyone, so we mix it with current sounds.”

Like all artists who love to be out performing, they found COVID particularly tough, the government restrictions and the controls (“We had come from a dictatorship.”), but “we tried to stay positive and focus on our music. Our last album was born in COVID times, and we used that time to be creative. The truth is, we love making people smile, making them laugh, helping them to let go of any shyness. As people from different backgrounds connect with our music, they will understand that it is music from the soul. I think we all realize that music is universal.”

Elizabeth Rodriguez and Magdelys Savigne – singers, composers, lyricists, musicians – will bring to the Playhouse stage the passion and excitement that characterize all OKAN’s performances. “We hope people will reflect on the stories behind our songs, and will come away from our concert with good memories. Truly, we want people dancing and having a great time.”

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