Many up-and-coming Cuban bands tend to have trouble gaining international popularity without leaving the island and signing contracts with established labels abroad. Alternative rock band De Grises, however, is one of the exceptions. With whimsical album art, an electric onstage energy, and headbanging beats that make dancing imperative, it’s no wonder the band is blowing up!
Composed of lead vocalist Alejandro Barroso Montes, lead guitarist and backup vocalist Robert Rodriguez, guitarist and backup vocalist Efrey Mancina, drummer Osmel Vasallo, and bassist and band manager Luis Ernesto Rodriguez, De Grises was founded in May 2017 under the name Escala de Grises. After doing a few concerts, the first of which took place at the famed Callejón de los Peluqueros in Havana, they released their first EP, a five-song record titled Malgasto. From there they continued on an upward swing, securing a nomination for “Best Rock Band” on the televised Cuban alternative rock awards show Cuerda Viva, which gained them a national following.
Despite the changes, De Grises has managed to retain their creativity and appeal, steadily gaining followers… in Spain, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, all while based in Cuba.
“In a moment of ‘maturity’ for the band, we decided to record a studio album,” Robert shares. “Twelve songs with an intention totally different than what we had been doing previously. We changed the name of the band to De Grises, and the name change was very auspicious given that it coincided with a change in sound. The name De Grises reflects its members’ fascination with science fiction and relates to the way of referring to aliens, [which in Spanish is] los grises.”
Despite the changes, De Grises has managed to retain their creativity and appeal, steadily gaining followers and appearing on radio and television programs in Spain, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, all while based in Cuba. They also auditioned to join the Agencia Cubana de Rock, an offshoot of the Ministry of Culture that supports Cuban rock groups by providing “professionalization”: without that government recognition, a band can’t be considered a professional musical group in Cuba, meaning that they can’t charge for performances and also have more limited access to funding and opportunities to play certain venues. Not only was De Grises selected to be one of the Agencia’s supported artists, but they were also named the best band to audition. For this they were featured at the Festín de Zeus rock festival alongside other artists, and shortly after, they were nominated again on Cuerda Viva.
Though artists without government backing are often at even more of a disadvantage than those who have it, bands affiliated with institutions like the Agencia Cubana de Rock still suffer many of the same difficulties with raising funds and managing band affairs that independent artists do. For example, without a grant from the Asociación Hermanos Saíz, another organization that supports Cuban artists from all disciplines, De Grises wouldn’t have been able to make their first music professional video.
“The geographic situation, to put it that way, is the main challenge for bands in Cuba – not having the facilities or tools to put on shows,” says Robert. “De Grises has had to coordinate most of its own affairs itself, including not just artistic creation, but also the technical production of its works, social media management, photo sessions, transport for equipment, stage setup, etc. All those things, in conjunction with personal problems or internal problems with the band, can often be unmotivating.”
Nevertheless, the group remains optimistic and is thankful for the success they’ve had so far. Their newest single, Cuarto Azul, is proving to be a hit, and they’re currently working on a longer album of the same name featuring a few songs with rapper Elephanto. They’re also grateful to have inspired other artists to create, leading a new wave of alternative rock in Cuba.
“De Grises led another era of alternative rock within the Cuban music scene,” says Robert. “The band’s name change brought with it a change in style of sound and image. You could say that this was a daring proposition, characterized by a lot of eccentricity and a distinct presence during shows. Recording ‘Cuarto Azul’ incited other artists to create independently, even in the same studio as us, and you can see how after that there develops a series of independent artists and bands that currently make up the alternative rock scene in Cuba.”
De Grises’ immediate goals include finishing, releasing, and promoting their Cuarto Azul full-length album, as well as finishing their first music video. In the future, they want to continue to evolve – though maybe leave the name the same this time – creating material that’s totally different from what they’ve done before.
“It’s about not getting stuck,” Robert explains. “We want to keep following new musical influences and exploring new sounds to create new tracks for the public.”