Yilian Cañizares: Cuban colours on the Swiss musical landscape


Bringing a myriad of verve, elegance and exotic rhythms to the Swiss jazz scene is Havana-born Yilian Cañizares. Classically trained violinist, singer, songwriter, dancer, teacher – there are many feathers to her cap. With a highly acclaimed 2nd album, ‘Invocación’, recently released on Naïve Records and an anticipated live performance at this year’s Cully Jazz festival, Yilian talks about the music that has shaped her and the important role that Switzerland has played in her musical evolution.


How did the violin become part of your life?

Yilian Cañizares: I come from a sporty, musical family and a country where music, singing and dancing are a big part of the cultural identity. As a three year old, singing came first followed by dancing. At music school aged 7, I was directed towards the piano but the minute I saw the violin I felt such a pull towards it that I knew it had to be MY instrument, even though my family thought I was crazy. I still use the piano for composing but then transfer everything to the violin. I’ve had a very strong classical training, but thankfully through the songwriting I’ve been able to develop my own style. At 16, I went to Caracas, Venezuela, to study with the ‘El Sistema’ youth orchestra where violin tuition was more developed than in Cuba. There I had a French violin teacher who told me that Europe was the epicenter for classical violin studies, so I came to Switzerland especially because of Gyula Stuller, (no.1 solo violinist with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra). The technical and musical level was just of another standard, I benefitted from all the rich musical heritage that had formed Gyula.

How has moving to Switzerland impacted your musical career?

Yilian Cañizares: The impact has been enormous! There is more cultural diversity happening in Switzerland than people think. Geographical centrality is a key element which means that all that’s happening musically and artistically in Europe is within easy reach. Cuba is culturally rich but is locked inwards, not many international artists go there to play, you can’t always hear or get immediate access to what’s happening musically in the world, the learning curve gets cut short. My 15 years in Switzerland have exposed me to so many different styles of playing, listening, learning and teaching. Being here has made me the musician I am today, my style of playing has grown in a way that would have been impossible to imagine in Cuba. There are so many gifted artists in this small country, I feel very lucky to be part of the dynamic Swiss jazz scene. My cultural heritage is respected and welcomed as a richness that can be ploughed back into this multicultural scene. I’m also touched that major Swiss institutions such as Pro Helvetia, La Ville de Lausanne and Swiss Music Export are helping me develop my career, taking me on as a newcomer and helping me transform into a headline act. They believe I am a good ambassador for the young Swiss scene, as well for Cuban music.

How has being in a Francophone environment affected you?

Yilian Cañizares: I once heard someone say that every time you learn a new language you gain a ‘new soul’. Becoming a French speaker has developed a new sensibility in me and a different aesthetic, it’s all part of the person I’ve become. I can now sing and write in French even if it’s harder for me compared to Spanish, but very much part of my musical direction. I feel an affinity with the language and would like to touch as much of the French-speaking audience as possible, so it’s no coincidence that I’ve signed to a French label, Naïve Records in Paris.

 Why did you go to Sweden to record your latest LP?

Yilian Cañizares: Compared to my first LP, I knew I wanted to go onto the next level with regards to my sound.  I noticed that a lot of great current music I’ve been listening to has been recorded in Sweden. They have such great studios, such savoir faire, their culture of sound is really unique. So I was very clear about wanting to use Lars Nilsson at Nilento Studios.

 What are the musical genres that have shaped you and your style?

Yilian Cañizares: I come from a very classical background where Santería music was coming from next door and Cuban jazz from down the street. Then here in Europe I discovered Stéphane Grapelli and what can be done with the violin especially in the jazz context. I’d say that jazz, as opposed to ‘world music’, is what defines me best because of its power of rebirth, improvisation and freedom. I don’t want to be classified as strictly ‘Afro-Cuban’ since musical evolution and transformation is key to what I do and my aim is to be open to many different spheres.

 How would you describe your latest LP, ‘Invocacion’?

Yilian Cañizares: This is my most honest work to date, a real portrait of myself, my lived experiences and all that has shaped me. Above all it’s a homage to loved ones no longer here: my grandfather, family friends, slave ancestors, singers and poets who have taught me so much.  Clearly it’s a very personal, heart-felt work with lots of different influences ranging from a Yoruba traditional prayer to Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’. I hope people can feel the Cuban influence in my work, but also all the other important musical journeys that have helped me evolve. I feel a certain responsibility to represent the ‘new Cuba’, a country with a fragmented population struggling to open up to the world. I am so very Cuban, but for now my place is in Europe.

Band line up:

David Brito (double bass)

Daniel Stawinski (piano)

Cyril Regamey (drums)

Inor Sotolongo (Brasilian percussion)

Forthcoming gigs:

11/04/15 – Cully Jazz (CH)

06/05/15 – Schaffhauser Jazzfestival (CH)

24/06/15 – Basel Off Beat (CH)

25/06/15 – Sunside Sunset (FR)

24/07/15 – Marseille Jazz des Cinq Continents (FR)

15/08/15 – Jazz en Baie (FR)



  1. Thanks for sharing! I did not know her but will try to catch her at Schaffhausen. Good to know about another young “Swiss” act.

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