The Havana Jazz Festival, sponsored by famed Cuban jazz artist Chucho Valdes and ICM, or the Cuban Institute of Music, just concluded its 32nd year.
Cuba has a long jazz tradition. And its annual Havana Jazz Festival attracts musicians from all over the world. At this year’s festival, though, one of the biggest attractions was a unique Cuban-African collaboration.
Roberto Fonseca is a Cuban jazz pianist who first found fame touring the world with the Buena Vista Social Club. Now, he’s made his own mark fusing American jazz with Latin and Afro-Cuban rhythms. Fatoumata Diawara is a Paris-based African singer from Mali with an international following for her mix of traditional Mali music with jazz, pop and funk. They first teamed up for a world tour two years ago, but this is the first time, they have brought their unique combination to Cuba.
More than 20 international bands, including Michael Fleiner’s Latin Jazz Septet and the Chico O’Farrill Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra have joined some of Cuba’s most famous artists in previous festivals. Festival venues include Mella Theatre, Sevilla Hotel, Karl Marx Theatre, and the National Theatre of Cuba, presenting visitors with the unique opportunity to experience s jazz musicians in some of Cuba’s most historic buildings.
Early History of Music in Cuba
Africans brought with them a host of percussive instruments, drums of various sorts and a rhythmic styling that – it would turn out – married well with the tools and techniques of European musical composition.
One of the earliest pieces of music from the era is “Son de la Ma Teodora” by Teodora Ginés. There are differing beliefs the song may or may not have given birth to what would become the Son cubano music style.
Meanwhile, the contradanza was also taking hold and getting people moving. And while most songs in the style were composed for dancing, it was during this period when the man who would pave the way for classical concert music in the country would emerge. Composer Manuel Saumell is credited for the inventing the basis for several musical genres born in the Caribbean country. His ability to develop rhythm and melody earned him recognition by some as the most important Cuban musician of the 19th century.
One of the biggest things to happen in 19th century Cuba – music or otherwise – was the massive performance of Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s “La Nuit des Tropiques” in Havana. For the stunt, Gottschalk teamed a group of about 250 classical musicians with a band of Afro-Cuban drummers, intensifying the spectacle by placing the leader and his large drum front-and-center. The audience inside maxed out at 4000, but people crowded the streets outside as well.