Before she picks up her violin and walks onstage, Yilian Cañizares pays homage to her ancestors. Candles are lit. Prayers are said, and offerings made. Then as the houselights dim and her group of crack musicians file on before her, she’ll lean down and touch the floor as she enters.
“This always puts me fully in the moment,” says the vivacious Cuban singer and instrumentalist. “It allows the music and the ancestors to flow through me, to reach people even if they don’t speak my language. I go into a trance when I perform live,” she adds with a grin. “It is like a religious experience.”
All those who have marvelled at her fiery blend of jazz, classical and Afro- Cuban rhythms, who’ve got goosebumps from her otherworldly voice, will testify to feeling transformed. Whether onstage or on record there are few artists as impressively talented as Cañizares, a Havana-born, Swiss-based thirtysomething with a respect for the past and a feel for the future - oh, and a smile to die for.
Two acclaimed albums, 2013’s self-produced Ochumare and 2015’s Invocación, helmed by Alê Siqueira (Roberto Fonseca, Omara Portuondo) have strengthened Cañizares’ reputation as a trailblazer and boundary crosser por excelencia. Not for nothing was she declared ‘revelation of the year’ by French weekly Le Novel Observateur: with her charisma, tapestry of influences and the ease with which she sings and plays violin simultaneously, Cañizares is a bona fide discovery.
“My sound reflects the richness and mixture of cultures that I carry with me today,” she says in her fluent, accented English. “It is who I am: a woman. A Cuban. A musician. A citizen of the world.”