Okan drums into Grad Club

Seminar series invites Afro-Cuban jazz fusion band to play the Grad Club

Image supplied by: Photo supplied by OKAN
OKAN will be playing at the Grad Club on Sept. 21 as part of the SNID series. 

This Friday, music and academia will mix when a seminar series welcomes OKAN to the Grad Club. 

Queen’s Studies in National and International Development (SNID) and Global Development and History professor, Karen Dubinsky, invited the Afro-Cuban jazz fusion band for the show. 

The invite is part of a growing recognition that artists like OKAN’s musical contributions can be as valuable as a scholar’s research. 

Led by Elizabeth Rodríguez and Magdelys Savigne, the band was founded in 2016 in Toronto.  Both artists are originally from Cuba, but immigrated to Canada to pursue careers as artists. 

For Rodríguez and Savigne, moving allowed them to overcome the struggles they faced as female musicians in Cuba. The women weren’t allowed to play certain drums that were considered culturally sacred. 

They could sing and dance, but they couldn’t play the drums, Savigne told The Journal. 

When Savigne and Rodríguez agreed that their opportunities lay outside of Cuba, they left. 

In Canada, they use OKAN to promote women—recognizing they don’t have the same opportunities in music as men and working  to dismantle those barriers.

By drumming, Savigne challenges restrictive gender roles in Cuban music. On their website, they write about “embracing genres and roles that have historically been dominated by men.”  

It’s a joyful rebellion for the band, one rooted in culture. 

This carries over to their name, which is a nod to the Afro-Cuban language. OKAN translates to “heart,” but can also mean soul. 

For Rodríguez, either is an appropriate translation. 

“Everything we do is with our heart and our soul,” she said.  

Rodríguez and Savigne believe their music doesn’t fit neatly into traditional genres, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

“We are just doing our own music, our own way,” Rodríguez said.

Shaped by the influence of the multicultural music of Toronto, OKAN’s style stays true to their Cuban background. 

They don’t want to conform to any one genre and their newest EP, Laberinto, is proof. They’re  evolving with the music industry, incorporating various cultures and increasingly resisting the confines of genres. They don’t wish to be placed in a box. 

“The world has evolved, and the world has changed,” Rodríguez said. They’re evolving with it. 

The band’s evolution has created versatile set of tracks, offering each listener a unique experience depending on where they’re coming from.

Savigne said it was important to consider how everyone comes from a different background and culture—different people identify with different parts of the same song. 

Despite their versatility, both Rodríguez and Savigne hope they leave their listeners feeling more joy and happiness.

They want their audience to dance and enjoy their music—particularly Canadians, who “don’t dance,” but really should. 

OKAN wants to spread a different conception of what Cuban music is. This Friday, students will have the opportunity to experience all that Afro-Cuban jazz fusion music has to offer.

“We want people to play music and reflect on what they just listened to,” Rodriguez said. 



This article has been updated to reflect OKAN is not an all-female band. 

The Journal regrets the error

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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