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Cultural communicator

[Telmary]
Cuban hip-hop artist Telmary visited Queen’s March 5-11 as part of a continuing exchange with the University of Havana and took part in talks, classes and performances. The visit was supported by the International Visitors Program of the Principal's Development Fund. (University Communications)

Having lived in Canada for a period of seven years, Cuban hip-hop/rap artist Telmary has gained valuable insight into the cultures of both countries.

During her March 5-11 visit as part of a continuing exchange with the University of Havana, Telmary shared her experiences and music with the Queen’s community through a series of talks and performances.

A foundational figure in Cuban rap, Telmary describes herself first as a communicator, a journalist using an alternative medium. All of her work begins as writing and then is shared through her music.

It’s the connection with the audience she is looking for.

“Everything that I write ends up in a song eventually. That’s what I do,” she says. “But I can’t say that just to write makes me completely satisfied, happy. My special moment is when I am on stage. More than being a recording artist I prefer to be on stage. I like to perform, I like to express in front of the audience, and my goal is to find two eyes that are connected to me and get the message.”

During her time in Canada she found that she was able to connect with audiences – the music overcame the barriers of language and geography she says.

While she enjoyed her time in Toronto, lacking a support network here Telmary returned to her homeland to give birth to her daughter. That reconnection with Cuba provided a new spark for her artistic career and she decided to stay.

“I decided to come back to Cuba and I thought it was for a short period at the beginning and then I discovered that I really needed to stay because my muse actually woke up when I came back,” she says. A new album soon followed.

Music holds a significant place in the Cuban culture Telmary explains and the focus is more on the art form itself rather than celebrity.

“You are a full-time musician in Cuba. Everybody respects you and you have an audience that is honest, that is demanding and educated,” she says. “If you do something over there and people don’t like it, they are not afraid to tell you. That is my thermometer.”

Telmary’s visit is part of a continuing exchange in support of the Global Development Studies (DEVS) course “Cuban Culture and Society.” Through the course a group of up to 40 Queen’s students also travels to Cuba as part of the collaboration with the University of Havana.

Karen Dubinsky (Global Development Studies), one of the course’s instructors along with Susan Lord (Film Studies), has been an admirer of Telmary’s for years and has seen her connect with students as a visitor to the course. 

“I see in Telmary the same quality that I see in Carlos Varela (the first artist to participate in the exchange) and that is this ability to communicate daily life and daily truths in a way that is both beautiful, poetic but also educational – educational for me as well as an outsider who is always trying to figure out what is going on in this society that is not my own,” Dr. Dubinsky says. “It is a joy to watch someone who has artistic performance training but who also has the sensibility of a teacher who knows how to communicate that when she’s talking to students. And the students love her.”

Telmary’s visit was supported by the International Visitors Program of the Principal’s Development Fund.