Nigel Williamson | Havana | [url=http://www.billboard.com]http://www.billboard.com[/url]
Cuban state-owned record company Egrem is getting an international launch for the first time in its 60-year history. The label’s catalog features major names in Cuban music, including the Grammy Award-winning members of the Buena Vista Social Club: Compay Segundo, Ruben Gonzalez, Omara Portuondo and Ibrahim Ferrer.
Egrem will enter the U.K. market Aug. 30 with 10 CDs to be released through a deal with Beckenham, England-based Proper Music Distribution. Similar independent deals are set for other European territories in coming months.
These are the first direct international distribution deals for Egrem; the label’s repertoire was previously available outside Cuba only under licensing deals.
The first batch of releases features recordings by such acts as Beny More, Chucho Valdes and Los Van Van alongside new material from some of the 33 acts on Egrem’s current roster. Among those are pop group Buena Fe, 20-year-old singer Leticia and rap trio Triangulo Oscuro.
A second batch of U.K. releases—including a boxed set of early recordings by the Buena Vista members—will follow in November.
“Since the [Cuban] economic crisis of the early 1990s, we have had to learn to see music as a business and get to know how foreign markets work,” Egrem international commercial division director Minerva Rodriguez tells Billboard. “Now we are ready to compete.”
The choice of the United Kingdom as its first overseas territory coincides with Egrem striking a deal that will see its acts appear at a new London venue.
The artists will perform regularly at the new Floridita bar/restaurant on Wardour Street in London’s Soho district, under an agreement with London-based partners Havana Holdings and Conran Holdings. Those companies are due to open the venue in October on a site previously used by the Marquee Club, one of London’s key music venues in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Floridita, which will have music performances six nights per week, will feature Cuban artists brought in by Egrem. The partnership also plans to present a Cuban music awards and festival early next summer in London. “It will be an entirely new way of presenting Cuban culture outside Cuba,” Havana Holdings director Andrew Macdonald says.