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By Finding Strength in Her Community, Yissy García Is Becoming a Leading Light of Jazz & Cuban Music Worldwide

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In our editorial series Remezcla Meets, we spotlight trailblazing, Latine creators to elevate their voices and to see how they are helping shape the way the world sees our cultures. We’ve partnered with Walmart on this iteration of the series to share stories like Yissy García’s. She’s fostering the individual progress of musicians through collaboration, while enriching our cultural heritage with creativity and a unique perspective of the depth and range of Cuban music.

For jazz drummers, their ability to improvise while keeping a steady pulse for the rest of the musicians to follow is an essential skill – a cornerstone of their craft. That’s certainly the case for Yissy García; one can’t deny her ability to keep the rhythm going, while also trying on new, spontaneous musical excursions. However, a more important skill for her – and arguably, most music—is her knack for keeping musicians around her engaged, in constant communication, and collaborating with each other. Collaboration has become the heart of her international community of musicians – many hailing from her native Cuba – to perpetuate something greater than her.

Jazz is García’s passion thanks to how it allows musical fusion to become seamless, but her musical taste runs the gamut. Playing jazz while mixing it with Son Cubano, cha-cha-chá, R&B and more, can make for something completely new and exciting. This is the basis for her own band, Banda Ancha. It initially had a traditional setup for Afro-Cuban music with the addition of a DJ who would insert electronic elements to their style. Although the DJ is no longer part of Banda Ancha’s lineup, their willingness to experiment and modernize Latin American rhythms remains intact.

García’s musical journey started at home. She comes from a musical family. Her dad is a professional drummer in Cuba, and she grew up in a very musical neighborhood called Cayo Hueso. García started playing with friends in different groups before enrolling at the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory in Havana, “I told my parents, ‘I want to be a drummer’ and they supported me from the start,” she says. García was 9 years old when she enrolled at the conservatory and spent 10 years studying her instrument.

When she was young, she played a huge range of genres; however, song and other Cuban styles were not so much part of her vocabulary. “I started liking music from other countries, but eventually, I fell for the music from Cuba,” she says. Now, she has a special connection with the music, and most importantly, its practitioners.

Her first big collaboration came with Jane Bunnett, a Canadian musician and bandleader who welcomed García to her band. From there, the door opened to other high profile gigs, including playing with such figures as Dave Matthews and Esperanza Spalding. While this remains important for García, it’s her commitment to her music that keeps her thriving.

Definitely, the most important aspect of García’s life as a musician is her relationship with other players, especially those who share her Cuban heritage. She says that keeping in touch with them is how she keeps up with the world. She describes Cuban musicians as restless and open – qualities that she thinks are perfect for her chosen artform. She expresses enthusiasm when she thinks that, together, they are opening borders.

García now lives in Miami, a well known hub for Cubans abroad, and expresses joy knowing that there’s always musicians to jam with. She’s regularly busy organizing jam sessions with players who are visiting the city, while also inviting locals. “I’m very happy when new musicians come to town,” she says. Outside Miami, there are big communities of Cuban musicians in Europe, especially in Spain, and they are all connected and willing to collaborate at any moment’s notice. Her jam sessions are specifically designed so everyone can get to know each other. Likewise, similar get togethers are organized by other musicians in other cities around the world, most of which García gets invited to when she’s in town.

Music communities are also important to Walmart, which supports local organizations to help people realize their full potential. This has been made possible through their local community grants, having benefited a wide variety of music-centric programs like the Youth Orchestra of Greater Colorado (YOGC), the Lawreen Swanson Music For Youth Foundation (LSMFY) and Arkansas’ KUAF radio station’s the Listening Lab. All these efforts center around the power of music to bring everyone together.

Being a woman in this highly competitive work can be challenging and she mentions getting a foot in the door came with some setbacks. However, she’s positive that things are changing thanks in part to the efforts of women like her. “There are many amazing women playing every instrument in every genre imaginable. It’s amazing,” García says. “It has changed over the years, [now] there’s an incredible high level [of women musicians]. I see these videos of little girls and they’re already great musicians with amazing skills.”