Friday, July 15, 2011

El Impacto de Musica Cubana en el Mundo - Cubadisco Talk

"El Impacto de Musica Cubana en el Mundo"
Cubadisco Talk, May 16, 2011, The talk and questions are translated from Spanish
Cine Rialo, Santiago de Cuba



When we studied Western music history in the conservatory, we were taught that a key point for Western music is the piece written by the French composer Edgard Varèse, called “Ionization”. It is a piece written for percussion alone, for eight classic percussionists but it also incorporates the bongo, the Cuban clave and perhaps other Cuban instruments.

Later, when I had time to research and study Cuban music, and read the book by maestro José Aldévol, I learned that Amadeo Roldán wrote a piece for percussion alone, months before Varèse. Roldán’s piece [Rítmicas V, VI] is still not available at the Berklee library. It is still not available at the New England Conservatory library, or at Julliard. This work remains invisible for the most rigorous composers of my country. I later learned that that Nicolas Slonimsky, a Russian scholar who wrote a book called “The Music of Latin America” and was collector of musical scores of Roldán and [Alejandro Garcia] Caturlas had deposited these scores at the Philadelphia library. So I went to the library, asked if I could see these scores, they brought me the scores and I immediately went to the copy machine to duplicate them. The collection director came to stop me and said: “What are you doing?” and I said: “I am making copies of the music”, and he said: “Stop.” and I said: “ Look, I am a teacher, if you could tell me where I can find this scores. In which library in my city I can check them out for one day to read them, or to rent them I will stop right now ”. And so he said: “Look, these do not exist elsewhere. Photocopy them for your students.”

We have some contact with Cuba. But what we have in the U.S. are only fragments. And to get to know Cuba one has to come here to experience it. I hope that in time, things will get better, the access to information is getting better, but for people of my generation, it was very hard. So I call this problem a problem of invisible roots.

Another thing that I want to briefly talk about is the impact of Cuban music on Jazz.

In the year 1948, the percussionist Chano Pozo was part of Dizzy Gillespie’s band. There was a very important composer and innovator, his name was George Russell and he was the composer for the band. Dizzy composed “Manteca” with Chano. George and Chano composed a work called "Cubano Be, Cubano Bop". The father of modalism in jazz that wrote a very important book for all us, even those that do not know Georges's book [Lydian Chromatic Concept] were influted by the theoretical work of George Russell who composed for Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and many others.

I am going to play a fragment of the work of George Russell with Chano Pozo and a fragment of George’s music after that. ... This exchange between Chano and George began in a bus from New York to Boston. George told me that Chano was in the back of the bus singing a ‘nañingo’ chant, and George asked Dizzy if they could include that chant in the show in Boston that night. So this innovation for the US premiered in Boston.

Ok so here is the fragment of Chano Pozo and George Russell" - Cubano Be, Cubano Bop," 1948.


So this was Dizzy’s orchestra with Chano and now I am going to play a fragment of George’s piece called “It’s About Time,” 1996.


In this music you can hear not only rhythmic but also a harmonic influence from Cuba.

Another thing, I want to briefly address is the vacuum of information that we had during the 70’s in the United States, during the blockade that still exist but this era was pre-internet, pre-CD’s, and pre-computers and it was still harder to exchange information.

In this vacuum, the most important mainstream jazz groups were Weather Report, McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock. They all had percussionists but most of the time the percussionist were Brazilian. There was Guilherme Franco with McCoy Tyner, Dom Um Romao with Weather Report and Airto Morea with all those groups. As a teenager, I had a band and these groups were the model for us. So we looked, for a percussionist in my hometown Philadelphia and there was an excellent percussionist named Frank Williams. He was part of a group of African American percussionists that were trying to retrieve their roots. These musicians had played with Mongo Santamaria, with Grover Washington, but they also a folkloric ensemble as well. Frank was a model musician for me because he was such an outstanding musician. ... He taught me that was that the important source for the art of hand drumming in the Americas was Cuba.

Around 1978 the first recording of a contemporary Cuban group made since the start of the blockade was released in the US, it Irakere recorded live in New York. With this LP it was possible for us to understand that yes, we have jazz in the United States but there are fragments and influences and a level of rigor, and even authentic jazz that exists outside of the U.S. Then because of that vacuum of information, I had the idea of going to Cuba and see this work first hand.

I made this trip to Cuba in 1986, I started here in Santiago de Cuba and played with Armando Garzón. I saw the Conjunto Folklorico Oriental. I met Danilo Orozco at UNEAC and I understood even more the fact that I only knew fragments. The more I became familiar with Cuban music, the more I was able to understand that I only knew fragments, but that also I only knew fragments of my own culture because our cultures are connected.

Well, we have little time today. But I am going to talk a little bit more about an impact of Cuban music:. When Muñequitos (de Matanzas) toured the United States two weeks ago they were in Boston. I was asked to introduce the Muñequitos on stage and to explain the cultural tradition of the Muñequitos de Matanzas and their significance. I thought that perhaps the most important thing that the US audience had to understand is that they are not only a marvelous ensemble, but for the most important musicians of my country, for percussionists such as Giovanni Hidalgo who played with Eddie Palmieri, Paul Simon and Santana; and for saxophonists such as Steve Coleman who played with many seminal musicians, and for Herbie Hancock’s percussionist named Bill Summers, after making gold records, platinum records and even after the Grammy’s, after this, the only thing that they could do after that was to go to Matanzas to study with Muñequitos. Bill Summers, after releasing those famous records with Herbie Hancock, went to Matanzas and studied with Chacha Esteban Vega, one of the founders of Muñequitos, who initiated him into the culture and the music of Cuba.

That is to say, our popular music, our modern music, our jazz has an immeasurable connection to Cuban music. It is a profound root for music in the United States. I was planning on ending with a phrase that Mayito Rivera said earlier today: “your music is more than a national patrimony, it is a world patrimony.”

Thank you.


Now is time for the debate, questions, and comments. I think it’s important to have this musician here sharing his experiences and everything he can tell us through composition examples and through many different ways. Mayito Rivera, please …


Neil, for us Cuban musicians, when we think about North American musicians, we have a lot of respect. But we would like to know what is their opinion about Cubania, the music of today, because you are taking about the masters of the past. I would like to know what opinion do North American musicians have about the quality of our music?


I think that our opinion is still the same. When I had to prepare information for my students who are here with us I showed them a DVD of Los Van Van in Karl Marx theater and other examples I had of young artists. I showed the Habava De Primera but I still need more information. We’ve seen some Cuban rap artists on the internet as well. The opinion is how it has always been very strong. When I got to Havana to work on a project with Danza Contemporánea, Berklee students started to show up even if they were not part of my student group, and hoped to participate. They still have the notion that Cuban music is so important that they have to come and see for themselves.


I asked this question because I would like to hear his opion; I have an anecdote with the Van Van orchestra in 2006 at the Jazz Festival in Tokyo, Japan. We were there as Los Van Vans, and Chick Corea was there with a big group of great musicians. Omar Hakim was there, one of the greatest percussionists. [John] Patitucci, on the bass, and they were openning for the Van Van orchestra, we were closing the show. And it caught my attention, being the first time that I have had seen those great musicians at the stage together as a group, and again, that was the first time that I saw them and after they finished, they were behind the stage, Los Van Van were playing “Sandunguera” and they were behind, hidden on the stage, behind the curtain seated, observing Samuel [Formell] playing drums. Obesrving the execution of a piece that is so simple for us, musically speaking for us like “Sandunguera”. It really called my attention and I was fulley moved, I could not believe it. That is why I am asking, and it is very important to hear …


The magic is truly …


They were watching, from the back of the stage like little kids watching us between an opening in the curtain, watching Samuel playing the solo on Sanduguera on the timbale. So I had this anecdote, but let hear his point of view.


When I went to Panamá for a jazz festival and Chucho (Valdéz) was playing with his quartet and I was with Ruben Blades. We went to the stage and Chucho’s piano was like let’s say right there [ten feet away] and he was studying Chucho because at that time Ruben was the Minister of Tourism for Panama, he was sort of studying with a great desire to join in singing. You are the school for us.


When we meet the administrative group from Berklee on Friday, my students had spent three days in here. We had already prepared a piece with Los Hermanos Arangos, a piece we will perform at Casa de las Américas. We also went to the ISA [University of the Arts] to prepare a concert with students at ISA. When the full Berklee group joined us, one of them asked my students “How is the experience of being here in Cuba as American musicians studying and playing with Cuban musicians?” Our cellist Dean Capper said: “Look, here we cannot fool the audience as we do in the United States”, Yes the rhythm is important but you can’t deceive the people either, you have to play hard.


That vacuum that you mentioned, during the 70’s, when did it end, with Irakere?


The window into Cuban music?




No that was the beginning, but I had to struggle to learn more. Before I came to Cuba my friends told me there was another band called Afrocuba lead by Oriente Lopez and so I came here and brought back a pile of LP’s including Van Van, Reve, Caturla, Afrocuba, Pablo Milanes, Merceditas Valdes. I went to Cachao’s house [Orlando "Cachaíto" López] … Actually, in every town I went to I asked musicians “were could I find LP’s. I do not care about the gifts, I do not care about the rum, I want to leave with music.”

When I returned to the U.S. someone called me from San Francisco and asked If I went to Matanzas and I said ‘yes.’ This person asked if I saw Afrocuba of Matanzas and whether I had a tape recorder. I answered yes they said, “We want a copy of this concert and we are ready to exchange recordings for what you have.” ... So there was this underground of US musicians sharing music.

I see the exchange more with classic Cuban groups, but for example, with Berklee’s rap artist Shea Rose, that is with us here, she was not familiar with any rapper here in Havana. I looked for a rapper here in Santiago to work with her, but from the United Stated we still do not have sufficient information. I need more information because I am presenting Cuba, at least to my school, as a country a very diverse culture, because when I was here in Santiago de Cuba [in 1986] I saw the Conjunto Folklorico de Oriente, it started with women dancing in sandals and an African Cuban playing Chinese musette. I didn’t expect that kind of diversity. So I think it is important for my students to understand that there’s son, rumba, music for the orisha’s, Harold Gramatges’ music Roberto Valera’s music, Juan Blanco, Van Van, there’s reggaeton, rap. I have the responsibility to show something real, at least to open a window so they can at least know there’s more than one thing. A basis of information is not complete with only two or three points of reference. In Cuba there is an interaction between these musicians and these styles.

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