La Dame Blanche, Cuba's white lady
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Cuban singer, flautist and percussionist Yaite Ramos, aka La Dame Blanche (French for The White Lady), was born into an impressive musical cauldron; her father is trombonist Jesus "Aguaje" Ramos, artistic director of Buena Vista Social Club orchestra. But she's fast forging her own, unique path, with an explosive mix of hip hop, cumbia, dancehall and reggae, and bags of stage presence.
Ramos moved to France aged 20, and now divides her time between Paris and the Pinar del Rio region in Cuba. But she continues to wear her Afro-Cuban culture with pride.
"I light a cigar before each of my concerts," she says. "It’s part of a traditional ceremony in Santaria. We light a good cigar before each spiritual moment, drink a glass of rum, and then the ceremony can begin. It focuses the mind, puts you into a certain mental state: you give thanks for being there, you receive. Then you're able to give to the audience, you can connect to people on an intuitive level."
The singer and flautist has two albums under her belt (Piratas (2014) and 2 (2016) and another in the pipeline. Its first single is Dos Caras (Two faces).
The video clip features two women, one black, one white, in an urban setting.
"Dos Caras means split personality, two faces," she says. "I think everyone’s met two-faced people. They have one face during the day and then they’re a different person at night."
As La Dame Blanche, Ramos wears a clingy white lace cat suit and a crucifix. For her there's no contradiction.
"I often wear a crucifix. I never thought the way I dress could shock anyone. It’s not about making a statement. It’s hot in Cuba, and we don’t have any scruples about wearing skimpy clothing."
Reinventing the White Lady
Ramos embodies some of the mysticism of "the white lady", a ghost legend in many civilisations, but gives her an ironic twist.
"She doesn’t have a very good reputation but I wanted to pay tribute to her. I represent her as black, a mother, with a daily routine just like many other women in the world. People smile when I say I’m the white lady. It’s quite ironic."
Provocative, spiritual, playing both classical flute and flowing with the best of them, Ramos' Dame Blanche is above all a free spirit.
"It shows how strong La Dame Blanche is, her spirit is able to travel everywhere. That’s my main aim, to travel, to give and receive."
My heart belongs to daddy
Ramos was born into a musical family. Nothing unusual in that, Cuba is awash with talent. But her father is none other than trombonist Jesus ‘Aguaje’ Ramos, artistic director of Buena Vista Social Club orchestra. So the pressure was on. As a classically-trained flautist, Ramos has regularly played alongside her father, but her solo act is altogether more urban. Asked whether she deliberately rebelled against him she says "the key to her rebellion was love".
"I’ve always tried to make him notice me, and if this doesn’t work, I don’t know what will," she laughs. "He's starting to be interested in my lyrics, to understand my determination to create a different style. No one else in my family has chosen this route. I know it’s hard but I want to try."
Her songs are about her neighbourhood - in the tobacco-growing region of Pinar del Rio - and the many characters who live there.
"The songs are all based on real life and real people, they each have a message about leading a simple life, despite the difficulties. Now that la Dame Blanche is lucky enough to tour the world, I’m making these stories into songs, and taking them abroad."
She's currently on tour: Europe, the US, Russia. But the biggest challenge is taking La Dame Blanche to her home turf. She hopes to make her debut performance this year.
"Cubans haven't made up their minds yet, I think they’re expecting to see their father’s daughter wearing a beautiful dress and a bolero. Fat chance! I hope they’ll like what I do, but so far they’ve only seen me on stage with my father, playing flute and on vocals."
She admits it's a challenge to play in Cuba, but aims to try and break through on her own terms.
"I want to come through another door, not the one my father and the family already opened. I'd like to surprise people, to go through the door where I’m least expected."
In concert 15 April, Villeurbanne, 5 April, Bobigny near Paris.
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