In the words of Sweet Lizzy Project frontwoman Lisset Diaz, “My mom always gave me a present for Christmas. We never pretended that some fat guy called Santa Claus had come during the night and left the present under the Christmas tree, for when I was little, my family couldn’t even afford a tree. Although there were no decorations on the streets or lights in public parks, no Christmas songs playing and some of my neighbors in my little town in Havana didn’t even know what Christmas was, my mom always said ‘Feliz Navidad’ on Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) and gave me a new toy, a necklace, a book or something as our little family tradition. It was not until I moved to Nashville that I realized how big and imposing the ritual of Christmas was. It literally was like… ‘And so this is Christmas?!’ The food, the decorations, the symbolism, the music, the family gathering, the wrapping paper… everything was so new, so beautiful and, at times, overwhelming. It was also my first Christmas away from home, so I remember the mix of feelings: the excitement about my future and all the new things I was discovering, and the sadness of being away from home and the people I loved. “
Lisset and her band (guitarist/co-writer Miguel Comas, keyboardist Wilfredo Gatell bassist Alejandro Gonzalez and drummer Ángel Luis Millet) moved to Nashville in 2017. The filming of the PBS Special Havana Time Machine in Cuba introduced Sweet Lizzy Project to Mavericks founder and frontman Raul Malo and his wife Betty, now the band’s manager. The couple were enchanted by the band’s musical work, brought them to the US and signed them to the Mavericks record label, MonoMundo Recordings. According to Malo, “I know Mavericks when I see them!” Despite enjoying success in their native country, Sweet Lizzy Project made the bold decision to uproot their lives and relocate to Nashville, where they have restarted their careers almost from square one.
Since March 15 of this year, the band has performed over 95 Sweet Quarantine Sessions from home multiple times a week, viewable on You Tube at https://tinyurl.com/y5jmrp6x. The joy and humor that the musicians share brings the screen to life and helps take away the sorrow many are feeling during these uncertain times.
Lisset continues, “It took me three years to get used to the fuss about the holidays and understand the spirit of the Christmas season. Putting holiday music out before this point wouldn’t have felt honest to me, because I would’ve been writing about things I didn’t share or understand. Now, I think I do. We wrote our first two Christmas songs and I am very proud of them. ‘This Christmas I’m Not Coming Home’ talks about my first Christmas here in Nashville, when I saw the snow for the first time and when I realized I had never known the holiday before. Probably my favorite line in the song is ‘They don’t know that Santa has never been to where I come from,’ because it represents the abyss between the place where I was born and lived my whole life, and this new place I was starting a new life in. This song feels very personal to me. “
With regards to the choice of covering The Pretenders “2000 Miles” track, Lisset notes that “It is simply one of the most beautiful songs ever written and, surprisingly, it has not been covered that much. Also, it speaks about people being away from each other during Christmas which is something we still can relate to, since our family and our friends are still in Cuba. So we thought it would the perfect addition to this collection.”
The cover photo of the EP has a special meaning for Sweet Lizzy Project. It is a photo of a barn in the middle of the snow taken in December 2016 in Tully, New York by the American artist Doug D’Elia. He is a novelist, poet, photographer and visual artist who also served as a medic during the Vietnam War. The band met him in Havana about four years ago and he gave them the photo as a gift. Since then, they had been waiting for the perfect time to use it and the artwork for the EP provided an ideal fit.
And So This Is Christmas is a journey from the Cuban band’s personal experience to the most universal message of the holiday. For them it represents the beginning of new traditions and a sneak peek of what their next year’s Christmas record will bring.