Composer and ACF board member Carol Barnett shares her thoughts on visiting Cuba with a delegation of ACF members and friends.
It was a marvelously intense trip – an extraordinary opportunity to experience Cuba in greater depth than with the usual tour itinerary. This was an especially congenial group, widely varied in interests, backgrounds, and ages, but all genuinely interested in sharing new experiences.
One of the highlights of the trip was a Composers Salon at which Cuban musicians played short works by ACF members Mary Ellen Childs and Peter Flint as well as several works by contemporary Havana composers who were in attendance. And three of our group played their own compositions. Here is the program:
Wednesday 18 December 2013
National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba
Tango Wendy Loomis (ACF)
Caribbean Studies Roberto Valera
Ten Thirteenths Peter Flint (ACF)
(tenor saxophone and piano)
Estrellas (Stars) José Victor Gavilondo
Bartokianas #13 & #18 Juan Piñera
Prokofianas #3 & #14
(violin and piano)
After Dust from DREAM HOUSE Mary Ellen Childs (ACF)
Gleaning 8 o’clock and Two at Night from 24 HOURS Jaroslaw Golembiowski (ACF)
Is It Real Oliver Lake (ACF)
(alto saxophone improvisation)
Concertante Javier Salba
Que Saxy Guido Lopez Gavilan
I could rhapsodize about our other musical activities: the open rehearsals by the all-women string orchestra Camerata Romeu and the fabulous Danza Contemporanea de Cuba; the fascinating lecture-demonstrations (on the social origins of jazz/fusion in Cuba; the historical origins of son, rumba, danzon, cancion and punto; batá drumming and its relationship to the practice of Santeria); a charming performance of Cuban choral music for young voices by Coro Diminuto; a rumba demonstration in the midst of an open air public art installation by Salvador Gonzalez (murals rivaling Mexico’s best). We were led on a walking tour through Central Havana to visit home shrines dedicated to the practice of Palo del Monte and Santeria, to learn more about the African beliefs that are still inextricably woven throughout Cuban culture and music. And we took frequent advantage of our passes to the 28thHavana International Jazz Festival.
I could enthusiastically recount our non-musical activities: walks in Old Havana with its fascinating architecture and artisan shops (think graphic arts co-op, a perfumerie, and textiles shops as well as the usual souvenir opportunities), an exuberantly-guided tour of the Cuban Collection in the National Museum of Fine Arts, a visit to Hemmingway’s country house (providing an opportunity to see a bit of the Cuban countryside). We had dinner at the gallery of internationally celebrated visual artist Kadir Lopez, who has also become a successful entrepreneur – an example of Cuba’s baby steps into private enterprise.
I could make you salivate by describing our experience of Cuba’s emerging foodie scene – several masterfully-prepared meals in paladars/private home restaurants, another of the tentative experiments in private entrepreneurship.
But the most important thing was the enthusiastic communication with Cuban artists and people, not just after the scheduled events but at the jazz concerts, on the streets, in the restaurants, everywhere. Jahi Lake was invited to spend a day in a Havana recording studio. Oliver Lake sat in with NG la Banda during the Jazz Festival. Chus Alvarez added his flute to the trio that played for us at lunch one day. And of course, after the Composers Salon we mingled, exchanged scores, CDs and cards, and talked of the possibility of returning for the Havana Contemporary Music Festival in November 2014. As gifts, we brought along copies of a CD of contemporary Cuban art music, produced for this trip from INNOVA files by Philip Blackburn. It included music by Leo Brouwer, Roberto Vizcaino, Orlando Jacinta Garcia, and a new recording of pianist/composer José Echaniz’s 1926 Cuban Rhapsody: a Concert Paraphrase on Ignacio Cervantes’ Potpourri of National Airs.
It was inspiring to observe how Cuba is dealing with the privations resulting from the continuing embargo. They are slowly rebuilding the many ruins, reinvesting profits from renovated buildings into more renovation. There is some foreign investment – the Cuban government keeps 51% of the profits – and new structures are going up. They are producing their own delicious organic vegetables. Those show-piece antique cars that appear in many Cuba tourist photos are only part of the story; there are plenty of ancient rattle-traps still being used as taxis – I rode in a 50-year-old Soviet-made Lada that had very little interior and left a trail of noxious exhaust… This is a very interesting time for Cuba – change is definitely in the air. I hope that when the embargo ends, Cuba will retain its wonderfully multi-sourced culture and not be totally engulfed by MacDonalds arches and Coke cans.
I hope we can return for another visit – soon.
Contributed by Carol Barnett