Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Berklee en Cuba: Premio Internacional CUBADISCO 2011

In December 2010, I led Berklee College of Music's first official trip to Cuba. Berklee is founded on jazz and popular music rooted in the African cultural diaspora, and its comprehensive curriculum is distinctly contemporary in its content and approach, and embraces the principal musical movements of our time. With this as Berklee's mission, I saw that it was imperative that our students travel to Cuba to experience Cuban music first hand and perform with Cuban peers.

To this end, I worked with Enmanuel Blanco, Director of the Laboratorio Nacional de Musica Electroacustica (LNME) to design an immersive composition workshop involving students from Berklee, LNME and University of the Arts (ISA). The students assignment was to create a new electroacoustic work to be performed using cutting-edge digital tools along with folkloric Cuban musicians the Museo de Bellas Artes, which took place on December 3, 2010. The workshop lasted one week and Berkee students also heard a concert by the JoJazz orchestra, a concert by Los Hermanos Arangos, a bembe in Guanabacoa, Chucho Valdés playing in his living room and a solo presentation by Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta at the Garcia Lorca Theater. Needless to say, my students returned to Boston both exhausted and amazed how contemporary and historically deep Cuban music is.

Before leaving for Havana last December, one of my students asked, "How long did it take to organize this trip?" and I answered "Twenty five years." I first traveled to Cuba in 1986, when I was roughly my students age. I had heard the masterpieces by Chucho Valdés and Chano Pozo and knew that I had to see this work first hand. Between 1986-87 I had played with and visited the homes of Merciditas Valdes, Orlando 'Cachaíto' López, Emiliano Salvador, Juan Blanco, Afrocuba de Matanzas and many others. I collected Egrem recordings by Leo Brouwer, Amadeo Roldán, Alejandro García Caturla and Oriente Lopez's Grupo Afrocuba.

From this initial contact, I found Cuba to be a culture that proudly embraces intellectual rigor, cutting-edge modernism, technical innovation, high-level education, and folkloric roots, that are fundamentally interdisciplinary. Twenty years of follow-up work grounded these initial impressions with a wealth of information gleaned by collaborations with Cuban musicians, LNME and extensive work with my wife, Cuban-born artist Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons. With this foundation, the primary goal for Berklee workshop was to expose my students to the aforementioned essential aspects of Cuba culture through direct work with Cuban musicians and stimulate an internal dialog regarding our own work. I aimed less to teach Boston based students to play, compose or explain Cuban music, in favor of mentoring them in working with young Cuban composers and having them work with LNME/ISA teachers Juan Piñera and Sigried Marcía who share these values.
Now, in May 2011, Berklee is greatly honored to have to opportunity to embark on a second workshop/tour in Cuba. This tour begins with our students participation in Cubadisco's "Son Mas largo del Mundo" here in Santiago de Cuba and a concert at Sala Dolores. It was here in Santiago that I heard my first concert of music in Cuba, the Conjunto Folklórico de Oriente with the dancers dancing the "chancleta" and the fantastic musette "tromp China" soloist. From Santiago the group goes on to a full schedule in Havana that includes performances at ISA, Museo de Bellas Artes, Casa Las Americas with Los Hermanos Arangos and Teatro Nacional with Danza Contemporanea.

Much as my initial contact with Cuban musicians proved to be pivotal to my growth as artists, I expect that my Berklee students will process their experience in Cuba for years to come. Their interaction with musician across the island is intended as a model for collaborating with artists from different cultures and appreciating that there are leaders in artistic quality, conviction and innovation to learn across the globe. Furthermore, Cuba is close in geographic proximity and linked through a shared cultural heritage. Without an understanding and an experience of this rich culture, my students' work to understand music back home and the principal musical movements of our time will never be complete.

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