Monday, September 24, 2012

Notes for the FEFA performance at the Havana Biennial

Neil Leonard
Notes for the spoken introduction to FEFA performance/installation and Pregonero Competition

Havana Bienial
Wilfredo Lam Center
May 11, 2012

To celebrate the inauguration of the Bienial of Havana, the presentaion of FEFA, and the pregoneros of Cuba we have prepared a unique event for this opening.

When Magda asked me to design sound for the installation FEFA, I thought to use what for me was the most striking sound of urban life in Cuba, the pregonero. The pregoneros first caught my attention last year sitting on the patio in Matanzas where I witnessed pregoneros selling everything from bread and onions to poison to kill bugs or your mother-in-law. In the early morning and later afternoon the street was transformed into a spontaneous Mozart-like opera 'buffa' or comic opera.

In the installation FEFA you hear not only the ambient electronic composition that I developed through years of collaborating with Magdalena on films, videos, installations and performances, but in addition, you hear recorded voices of four pregoneros from Ciego de Ávila who sell garlic, bread, flowers, honey and buy gold.

Upon finishing this work, I realized that the first Cuban song that I can remember hearing US was the Manisero recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1930. As a young boy growing up in the US, before I knew that Cuba existed, I discovered my father's 78 recording of Manisero and delighted in Armstrong playing the role of "The Peanut Vendor." So for Armstrong too, an essential sound of our neighboring island was the pregonero.

The pregonero is not only a keynote sound in Cuba, but at the pinnacle of the art market in the US, at art auction houses such as Christie's and Sotheby's, where a painting sells for as much as for $120 million dollars, the auctioneer, much like a pregonero has to convince, charm, and close the deal.

Here today in FEFA we are celebrating artisan of the spoken word. We have invited a group of 15 pregoneros to compete in the first competition of the pregonero. The pregoneros will perform in the top balcony, first individually so you can hear their pregones and then they will descend into the courtyard where you are encouraged to buy their wares. After the performance, a jury will select winners in three categories: the most musical pregon, the most poetic pregon and the pregon that features the most innovative marketing of FEFA.

The jury for the Pregonero Competition is comprised of Enmanuel Blanco, Director of the Laboratorio Nacional de Musica Electronica de Cuba, an organization that for years has programmed cutting-edge art, music and performance, including large scale works by Maestro Manuel Mendive and composer Juan Piñera, both presenting work in this Biennial. Feliciano Arango, the inventor of timba bass and for the past 8 years director of Los Hermanos Arango, a group from Guanabacoa that performs authentic afrocuban folkloric music with contemporary arrangements for that leave the original chants and rhythms in tact. Eugenio Arango, percussionist for Los Hermanos Arangos and teacher of Afrocuban percusssion and Cristina Arango, vocalist for Los Hermanos Arangos.

Before beginning the competition Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons (FEFA) will come share a few words with us.

Thank you.

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