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Los Van Van de Gira por Norteamérica

El Tren de la música cubana no detiene su marcha, ahora emprende un periplo internacional con un nuevo fonograma bajo el brazo. De forma inmediata, Los Van Van llegarán a Canadá para integrar el elenco que amenizará las actividades colaterales a los Juegos Panamericanos Toronto 2015, y luego, en agosto, recorrerán ciudades de Estados Unidos y Puerto Rico.

En el territorio canadiense, donde goza de gran popularidad, la agrupación ofrecerá conciertos el próximo 18 de julio, en el Montreal Festival International Les Nuits d Afrique, el 19 en el Festival International d´Ete du Quebec, y el 22 en Toronto, durante los XVII Juegos Panamericanos.

Como ya se ha anunciado, a partir del 7 de agosto la orquesta actuará en ciudades norteamericanas como Washington D.C., Nueva York, Chicago, Los Ángeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Alburquerque y Denver, entre otras.

Uno de los acontecimientos más esperados de esta gira por Estados Unidos es, sin dudas, el concierto que realizarán en Miami el sábado 29 de agosto. El James L. Knight Center será el escenario de la presentación dedicada especialmente a Juan Formell, padre del songo y líder eterno de Van Van.

También en Puerto Rico esperan con ansias a la popular orquesta cubana, que tocará el próximo 22 de agosto en el Centro de Convenciones de Puerto Rico, San Juan. Así lo anunciaron en un comunicado de prensa los organizadores del evento, en el cual Los Van Van compartirán escenario con los locales Willie Rosario y Don Perignon y su banda.

Los Van Van promocionan por estos días su más reciente fonograma, que incluye los temas “La moda”, también conocida como “La keratina”, “Me basta con pensar”, “Se vende”, “Es mucho” y “La Fantasía”, obra que da título al material discográfico.




17 July 2015 Culture  Entertainment  Music Read more

With U.S. and Cuban Relations Thawing, Cuban Musicians Are Finally Ready to Come to America

Cuban rapper Mariana “La Mariana” Moracén Saiz is ready for the normalization between Cuba and the United States to finally — finally — begin.

An Inside Look at Cuba’s Music Scene and the Artists Moving the Nation to a New Era: Exclusive Video

“Cuba is full of culture,” says the 28-year-old Havana native who fronts the rap-salsa-fusion group Mariana y la Makynaria. “Thank God we can send it out now to the whole world.” To be fair, the whole world save for the United States has been able to freely enjoy the rich tapestry of Cuban musical offerings (there are 17,000 professional musicians on the island) for the last 60 years or so. Freed from the pressures of marketplace formulas, Cuban musicians have in recent decades enjoyed a fair amount of artistic freedom (if not full freedom of speech), and have created all kinds of new styles and approaches. It’s the States that has largely been missing out — until now.

With President Obama asking Congress to lift the embargo of Cuba, easing of some of the U.S. sanctions and travel blockades and the loosening by the Cuban government of restrictions, artists both emerging and well-known are going to be meeting new audiences soon. Even world-famous acts like the Grammy-winning dance band Los Van Van, which plays to packed venues throughout Latin America, Europe and Japan (and, on occasion, stateside), are excited for the new platform. “Generations have changed here in Cuba and there in the U.S., so it’s time for an opening,” says Los Van Van’s musical director Samuel Formell, 47. Still, it might not be an easy path. For starters, there’s barely any Internet on the island, which means promoting shows and new music requires unique work-arounds, and getting access to recording equipment is difficult (and expensive).

Photograph: billboard

Photograph: billboard

Even traveling across the island can be exasperating. “It’s harder to go from Havana to Santiago de Cuba than it is to book 15 seats on a plane to play in Lima, Peru,” says Cuban superstar bandleader Alexander Abreu, 38. “Still, one finds a way to make it work.” Pianist-composer Harold López-Nussa, 31, knows it’s going to take time and resources, but he’s optimistic. “There’s a lot of hope on the part of the people of Cuba. I see it every day. Hopefully people in North America feel the same way.”


9 July 2015 Culture  Music  News Read more

From ‘I Love Lucy’ to pop music, Cuba’s influence on America runs deep


Now that the decades-long trade embargo between the U.S. and Cuba looks to be a thing of the past, Americans may soon be partying with Cuban goods like it’s 1959. Culturally, however, Cuba’s influence has been here all along.

From the baseball field to Hollywood, America’s fascination with Cuba is easy to spot. Even among the U.S.’s most culturally oblivious, few would offer blank stares at the mention of a Cuban sandwich, Cuban cigars, Jose Conseco, Gloria Estefan, or even the fictional Ricky Ricardo’s famous line, “Lucy, I’m home!”

RELATED: Human rights groups hail restoration of US-Cuban ties

American actress Lucille Ball (1911 – 1989) with her husband Desi Arnaz (1917 – 1986) at home, circa 1955

Part of Americans’ interest in all things Cuba has to do with the fact that it’s been off limits. Another reason is the close proximity and the sheer number of Cubans who’ve migrated to the U.S. But at the end of the day, the biggest cultural draw probably has to do with old-fashioned quality and talent — the admiration of which can never be embargoed.

Sujatha Fernandes, an associate professor of sociology at Queens College and author of “Cuba Represent!,” a book that looks at the cultural struggle in post-Soviet Cuban society, noted that the United States and Cuba has always had a strong cultural relationship. Yes, the Cuban revolution led to the countries cutting off ties, “but the relationships continued in some form or another,” said Fernandes.

“Cubans still had relatives in Miami and could contact them. People found ways to put up antennas and get Miami television and radio. The contacts continued despite the embargo,” said Fernandes. She added that, when tourism restrictions eased a bit in the ’80s and ’90s, there was a “tremendous” culture exchange on the part of both countries, especially with music, art and clothing styles.

And the American interest in illegal goods — such as Cuban cigars or rum — likely comes from notion that “the forbidden fruit is always seen as sweet,” said Jaime Suchlicki, the director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at Miami University.

Under the new trade rules announced Wednesday, U.S. travelers will be allowed to bring as much as $100 of Cuban cigars and rum into the country. Shortly after the news broke, “cigar” netted about 3,000 mentions on Twitter. Of course, Americans’ enthusiasm for Cuba extends beyond just goods.

Photo of Chucho Valdes and Irakere. David Redfern/Redferns/Getty

Photo of Chucho Valdes and Irakere. David Redfern/Redferns/Getty

In the 1950s, before the U.S. issued its embargo on Cuba, “I Love Lucy” starring Lucille Ball and Cuban-born actor Desi Arnaz became one of the most popular shows on TV. After its finale, the series remained an integral part of American pop culture — its reruns drawing major audiences to this day. “’Splainin’ to do,” a famous line of Arnaz’s character Ricky Ricardo, has its own entry in Urban Dictionary and even landed Republican Sen. Tom Coburn in a bit of hot water when he used the phrase during the 2009 confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is Latina.

Cuban-American singer-songwriter Gloria Estefan is one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time, with more than 30 million records sold in America. Estefan’s 1980s hits “Conga” and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” made her a star, but she’s still in the spotlight with repeat appearances on the hit-show “Glee.” A bit more outside of the mainstream, Cuban jazz musicians have earned a sizable following in the U.S. and vice-versa. In 2010, renowned Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes performed a series of concerts in New York, while the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra paid a visit to Havana.


Orlando ”El Duque” Hernandez of the New York Yankees in action during a game at the Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York on June 2, 1998. Al Bello/Allsport/Getty

Orlando ”El Duque” Hernandez of the New York Yankees in action during a game at the Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York on June 2, 1998. Al Bello/Allsport/Getty

Cubans have amassed a ton of attention on the baseball field, as well, with superstars like Jose Conseco and Orlando Hernández Pedroso, aka “El Duque,” who defected from his home country in 1995. Following President Obama’s announcement about the change in diplomatic relations with Cuba, Major League Baseball issued a statement saying it would “continue to track this significant issue.” No word yet on whether the league will be seeking out more Cuban baseball players.

In the past few years, T-shirts featuring Che Guevara, who was a major figure of the Cuban Revolution, became wildly popular. Jay-Z and Shia LaBeouf were both photographed wearing one, and wrestler Mike Tyson has a huge tattoo of Che on his stomach.

During Obama’s remarks on the U.S. restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba, the commander-in-chief made note of the many impacts, including cultural, that Cubans have made in the United States.

“We’re separated by just over 90 miles. But year after year, an ideological and economic barrier hardened between our two countries,” said Obama on Wednesday. “Meanwhile, the Cuban exile community in the United States made tremendous contributions to our country; in politics and business, culture and sports. Like immigrants before, Cubans helped remake America. Even as they felt a painful yearning for the land and families they left behind.”

Just how the thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations affects the larger cultural scene is yet to be seen. But experts said it will only result in more crossover.

“If Cuba were to open up, there will be a greater amount of influence in American society,” said Suchlicki, giving the examples of artwork purchases and the possibility that the MLB could see more Cuban baseball players.

Fernandes agreed: “Cuba is already plugged into the global cultural scene. With these developments, it’s even more of an opening for these artists to share their work.”


8 July 2015 Culture  News Read more

Statistics Canada releases the Provincial and Territorial Culture Satellite Account, 2010

Statistics Canada’s release today of the Provincial and Territorial Culture Satellite Account, 2010 report is providing insight into the economic importance of arts and culture in Ontario and across Canada.

The figures in the report measure the contribution of culture to the Ontario economy for two unique perspectives:

  • Arts, culture and heritage products represent $21.9 billion of the province’s gross domestic product (GDP) and over 278,800 jobs. This “product perspective” includes the contribution of culture products (goods and services) produced in both culture industries and non-culture industries.
  • Ontario’s arts, culture and heritage sector represents $23.8 billion or 4 % of the province’s GDP and over 301,000 jobs. This “industry perspective” measures all of the culture sector’s output – including both culture and non-culture products (e.g. a theatre company may generate GDP from both ticket sales – a culture activity – and food and beverage services – a non-culture activity).

The Ontario Arts Council (OAC) is one of several government partners – federal, provincial and municipal – as well as non-governmental organizations that contributed to Statistics Canada’s development of the Cultural Satellite Account (CSA), a framework to produce precise and reliable data on the economic importance of culture, arts, heritage and sport in Canada.

Read the full report from Statistics Canada.


9 June 2015 Culture  Entertainment  News Read more

Lush Portuguese Sounds in Goa, India

Franz Schubert Cotta on Portuguese guitar, singer Sonia Shirsat and Carlos Manuel Meneses on guitar at Alfama restaurant in Goa, India.

On a business trip to India last week, I had the great fortune to catch several inspirational sets of Portuguese Fado music at the Cidade de Goa resort on the beach in North Goa. It was good to be back in India, and a delight to be in the fascinating cultural melting pot of Goa, although at this time of year it is hot and humid, even perhaps hotter than Bangkok, or at least it felt that way. But India’s smallest state is lush and green with some impressive trees, and a strong breeze brought relief from the pre-monsoon heat.

While I was at the resort I noticed that there was a dinner show, “Noite de Fado”, at the Goan/Portuguese restaurant Alfama that very evening at eight. I quickly booked a table for myself and two colleagues and went there to meet the musicians scheduled to play that evening: the band, featuring Franz Schubert Cotta on Portuguese guitar (guitarra Portuguesa) and Carlos Manuel Meneses on guitar; and singers (known as Fadistas in Portuguese) Sonia Shirsat, Chantalle Marie Cotta Viegas and Nadia Rebelo. Native Goan musician Franz Schubert Cotta (he got his unusual name from his music-loving parents after being born on the 150th anniversary of the great classical composer’s birthday) explained that the restaurant was named after one of Lisbon’s three Fado districts, Alfama. Designed like a mini-Latin square with alcoves and a balcony, the restaurant has really good acoustics so that the Fado band’s performance was unplugged and acoustic. The concept, said Cotta, was to create the atmosphere of a Fado night with fine dining.

A nice touch was the house rule of not serving food or drinks while the musicians played.

Goa has an eclectic culture, expressed in the local language Konkani. There are many kinds of folk music in the state and reports I’ve read say that as many as 35 different kinds of traditional music are still performed in villages and at festivals, including duvalo, dhalo, banvarh, deknni, ovi, zagor and zoti. The 400 years of Portuguese rule, which ended with independence in 1961, has also left its mark not only on the architecture and cuisine of Goa but also on the music. Cotta said that mando, a song style based on themes of love and sung by male and female singers, was a “uniquely Goan musical style” and a good example of the way Goans have assimilated both East and West to create something new.

Singer Nadia Rebelo

Singer Nadia Rebelo

One kind of music often mentioned to me as a Goan invention is trance music, which is said to have come out of the “Hippy” years of the 1960s and 1970s.
Cotta’s family business is music. His sister performs with the current band, which he said has been playing for more than 10 years, and both his parents are music teachers. He said that for the evening’s show they would play only Lisbon-style Fado. His father sings the other main Fado style from Coimbre (sung as a serenade by male singers) but had been indisposed and so was unavailable. He noted that it was hard to find young students in Goa with the discipline required to be a Fado musician, especially for the Portuguese guitar, but young singers such as the 17-year- old Nadia Rebelo were coming through, so the tradition remains alive and kicking.

Chantalle Marie Cotta Viegas began proceedings with a set of powerful songs that set the tone for the evening. Each set, and there were five in total, featured one or two of the singers. Viegas and Shirsat, as the senior performers, were so powerful and emotive in their singing, producing goosebumps on the arms of my colleagues. Spine-tingling vocals, the haunting melancholic sound of the Portuguese guitar and the rhythmic pulse of the guitar held us all spellbound. The newcomer Nadia Rebelo acquitted herself well and while not having the range and emotional intensity of her seniors was nonetheless a fine young talent.

I particularly liked the spoken introductions in English by Shirsat before each of her songs. She told us of the woman who died of a broken heart and of the themes of love and heartbreak; she noted the themes of homesickness and ships lost at sea (the sea being a powerful metaphor in Fado and seafaring people). And then she lived out the emotions of the songs with her powerful voice and stage presence.

You could sense the feeling of saudade, that quintessential mood of homesickness that is found in all Portuguese- influenced music, permeate the restaurant. She performed one of my favourite Fado songs, Maria Lisboa, and ended the night with a rousing cover of an Amalia Rodrigues’ song.
It was a delightful evening of music, accompanied by some fine dining and one or two glasses of excellent wine, and as we headed off into the balmy Goan night, the haunting sound of Fado followed us.


29 May 2015 Fado  Music Read more