Sony to distribute Cuban music to world

Cuban musician Ibrahim Ferrer in Havana in 2004

Classic Cuban recordings will soon have a new outlet to the world as Sony Music signed a deal Tuesday to distribute the catalog of the state-owned label.

Sony, one of the three major global labels, said it would exclusively license overseas recordings from Cuba's Egrem dating as far back as the 1960s.

"This landmark agreement will help expand international awareness and appreciation of Cuban culture, Cuba's rich musical heritage and its many wonderful artists," Doug Morris, chief executive officer of Sony Music Entertainment, said in a statement.

Egrem artists that come under the deal would include legendary pianist and composer Bola de Nieve, the Afro-Cuban singer Ibrahim Ferrer and Celina Gonzalez, the singer of traditional Cuban countryside music who died earlier this year.

Egrem's managing director, Mario Angel Escalona Serrano, said that the joint management of the back catalog with Sony "represents the best way to give new momentum to the worldwide distribution of Cuban music."

Cuban music reflects the rich cultural legacy of the island -- influences include African rhythms, Spanish classical instrumentation and US jazz improvisation -- and has enjoyed a wide following worldwide for more than a century.

Egrem -- an acronym for the Empresa de Grabaciones y Ediciones Musicales, or the Musical Recordings and Publications Company -- was created when Fidel Castro nationalized the industry following the 1959 communist takeover.

The company was a monopoly until the late 1980s and remains by far the biggest record label in Cuba with some 95 percent of the market.

Other labels such as Ojala, Bis Music and Adbala have since started with private participation, but remain much smaller than Egrem.

The deal with Sony Music, a New York-based company that is a subsidiary of the Japanese electronic and entertainment conglomerate, comes weeks after the United States and Cuba restored diplomatic relations as they seek to move past decades of hostility.

US sanctions remain in place but Sony Music said the deal would be exempt under a clause in US laws that allows cultural and artistic exchanges.

Egrem has previously reached deals on international distribution of specific artists, but the Sony deal would be the first sweeping agreement.

Sony did not immediately announce which works it would first reissue or distribute. As a major label, Sony's catalog would enjoy a worldwide reach and generally appear both in physical and digital form.

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