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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

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

Buena Vista Social Club to Get Sequel

The Oscar-nominated documentary on Cuban music, directed by Wim Wenders, is set to be followed by Buena Vista Social Club – Adios, directed by Lucy Walker

A sequel to Buena Vista Social Club, the Oscar-nominated documentary which examined attempts by the American guitarist Ry Cooder to bring together an ensemble of legendary Cuban musicians, is to move into production.

Titled Buena Vista Social Club – Adios, the new film will be directed by Lucy Walker, replacing the original’s Wim Wenders. It will document the personal and professional highs and lows of the five remaining original band members since their 1999 reunion tour, focusing on a new series of homecoming concerts in Havana.


21 May 2015 Artist Press  Music Read more

Erykah Badu, Huey Lewis & The News coming to Montreal Jazz Fest 2015

The Montreal International Jazz Festival has unveiled the headliners for its 36th edition, which include Erykah Badu, Huey Lewis & The News and Wayne Shorter.

Jazz heavyweights John Scofield, Joe Lovano, and Ron Carter will also join previously announced acts including The Bad Plus and Snarky Puppy.

More musical acts announced today include Montreal legend Oliver Jones, as well as local musicians such as Jim Doxas, Marianne Trudel, Vic Vogel, and Lorraine Desmarais.

Laurent Saulnier, Montreal Jazz Fest

Laurent Saulnier, the festival’s VP of programming and production, says he wants younger audiences to appreciate jazz. (CBC)

In addition to attracting world-renowned jazz artists, the festival also provides a stage for several young Montreal-based musicians.

“We hope to help them find the freedom to play what they really want to play,” said Laurent Saulnier, the festival’s vice-president of programming and production.

As in previous years, the festival will also host other genres of music in addition to traditional jazz. A new series called “Nouveau Folk” will present artists such as Will Driving West, Bears of Legend. Also, Toronto-based trio Badbadnotgood will perform with Ghostface Killah of Wu-Tang Clan.

“Jazz influenced a lot of music, and has been influenced by a lot of music also,” said Saulnier. “I think it’s important to show to a younger audience that without jazz there would be no hip-hop.”

This year’s festival is expected to pack downtown Montreal with close to two million festivalgoers from June 26 to July 5.

Tickets go on sale on Apr. 23.

The full festival line-up, including the list of artists performing free outdoor concerts, will be announced June 2.

Source: Eric Haynes,

24 April 2015 Music Read more

Halifax Jazz Festival 2015 lineup announced

The Halifax Jazz Festival released their lineup today and it’s way worth checking out, even if—scratch that—especially if you’re not a typical jazz fan. There are plenty of off-beat acts coming to town that don’t fit into the typical “jazz” category and we’ve rounded up a small sampling of some of the more unusual acts. For a full list of 2015’s artists, click here.

As one YouTube commenter succinctly put it, “Brassy Doomy/Stonery Metaly/Jazzy music.” Yup, pretty much sums up The Budos Band. Metalheads take note:

Fan of Joni Mitchell and acoustic guitars? YOU’RE IN LUCK! How about this free form take on “Both Sides Now” by Roddy Ellias:

tUnE-yArDs is fun, upbeat and completely uncategorizable. Electro-pop? Synth-folk? Mixing drum loops and and electric ukelele, it’s probably easiest if you just give’r a listen:

Rap and R&B take on an international flair in the form of Vox Sambou:

Oh hey there, ravers. Thought we forgot about you? Nope. Give Moon Hooch a listen. It’s danceable and fun—they have traffic cones in a sax ffs. They even have bass (saxophone) drops! What more could you want?:

Not too sure how to classify Tin Men and the Telephone, but they’re pretty cool and strangely infectious with their blend of technology and classical jazz stylings:

For fans of Beach House and Kate Bush, Alana Yorke is there for you:


Source: Jessica Flower,

23 April 2015 Music Read more

Calgary’s Jazz Fest to return as scaled-back celebration

After five years, Calgary’s Jazz Fest is ready to take back its name, as the swing rhythm festival is set to return to the city with a grassroots approach.

In 2010 the festival was abruptly cancelled, leaving artists in the lurch and fans singing the blues. The now scaled-back version is under new management, hosted by Jazz YYC, who have been taking baby steps towards a “festival” brand since 2012.

“It will be a really full four days that includes just about anything you could want,” said Debra Rasmussen, president of Jazz YYC.

“To go hear some really exceptional touring artists that are on the festival circuit, to hear really up-and-coming local and provincial series, or to go out and learn more deeply about jazz either by listening in a workshop, or taking the whole family for an afternoon of free events.”

What was called the Jazz Celebration, hosted by the group each summer, is having a coming-of-age party – it’s grown up to take the festival name. Rasmussen said they’re now confident, after having worked with venues and supporters for three years, it will be a success. She added they are still cautious not to bite off more than they can chew.

“Having taken three years to really work on doing small things well has been an important process for us,” Rasmussen said. “This format has been emerging, as we’ve done various little mini-festivals.”

This year’s festivities will begin June 18 and run through to June 21, with both paid and free events fit for the whole family.

“One of those things will be our Inglewood Jazz Walk,” Rasmussen said. “We’ve got a few other [free] events coming together as well.”

She added that although funding for the paid events is secure, the organization is still raising money to beef up the free event roster for the festival.

A full list of confirmed artists will be revealed later in April.

Festival Highlights:

There will be local and out of town talent playing in Inglewood venues the Ironwood as a mainstage and Lolita’s as a late-night venue from June 18 to 21.

Programming director Kodi Hutchinson told Metro some of the headliners will include:

• The Pram Trio, who recently won the TD Grand Prix de Jazz
• Robi Botos, accompanied by Seamus Blake
• Hilario Durán with the Heavyweights Brass Band
• Mike Murley with the ABtrio

For more information on Jazz Fest, stay tuned to

Source: Helen Pike,

23 April 2015 Music Read more

Buena Vista Social Club: ‘The end of the old music’?

The story of how a group of retired Cuban musicians became famous as the Buena Vista Social Club is one of music’s best.

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of dancing to Cuban music. My grandparents were Latin music fans and every Thursday they’d go to the Grand Hotel in Leicester to drink cocktails and dream of the palm trees and tropical nights. They danced to Edmundo Ros and Victor Sylvester, whose watered down Latin rhythms were in tune with the gentility of provincial England, and listened to the biggest Cuban hits like Guantanamera and El Manisero by Don Azpiazú, who instead of maracas used cocktail shakers filled with shot.

So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that my first trip outside Europe in 1987 was to Havana.  I was greeted by a Communist Party official named Carlos and taken to the art deco modernist Havana Libre hotel. My room on the eleventh floor had a view of that dream city I had thought about since my childhood.

On my first night there, I wanted to catch some music – but nowhere was open. All the clubs were dark as a mark of respect to the great Enrique Jorrín, who had just died. Jorrín was the band leader who had invented the cha-cha-cha. Jorrín’s rhythmic brainstorm had gone global. With his death, Rubén González, Jorrín’s piano player, said “That’s the end of the old music,” and it seemed he was right. The really popular music in Havana in 1986 were groups like Los Van Van, who were as influenced by British and American pop as much or more than the old-style Cuban music.

Now Rubén’s more elegant style was past, his repertoire of tunes fromdanzóns, and habaneras, boleros and son montunos seemed superfluous to requirements. He’d had a pretty good run, as pianist in the band of the great blind musical innovator Arsenio Rodriguez in the 1940s. There was no doubt he was one of the best – once described as a cross between Thelonious Monk and Felix the Cat. But then came retirement – his piano at home was slowly, inexorably destroyed by termites in the tropical heat.

The other contemporary who didn’t quite make his mark was Ibrahim Ferrer – he’d been in a moderately successful group called Los Bocucos, had travelled the world with them, once meeting Khrushchev in Moscow, but his basic problem was that he always wanted to sing the slow romantic boleros, but the band wouldn’t let him, apparently because of his working-class accent from Santiago, in the east of the island.

Ibrahim also retired about the same time, for similar reasons as Rubén – the work had dried up. Ibrahim clung on to what a santero, a local Afro-Cuban priest had told him, that at the end of his life he would become celebrated. That prophetic statement seemed hopelessly far-fetched as Ibrahim hit really hard times – and could be seen selling lottery tickets in the streets, even shining shoes. The old music was over for him, too.

But the world of popular music has many reinvention stories, and none is better than how Ferrer and González became a key part of one of the biggest selling acts in the world, the Buena Vista Social Club, loved from Berlin to Tokyo, topping pop charts in Europe and selling millions.

Club Tropicana

After that first night I quickly got hooked on seeing Cuban music live every evening. At the time, the country was essentially a Russian colony and with few tourists, everyone assumed I was Russian, which got me a discount into the clubs. Notably the Tropicana, which still goes on as a frozen, kitsch relic of the decadent pre-Revolutionary days, where it was said that Liberace once made an entrance with his piano atop an elephant.  One Tropicana survivor from the 1950s was Omara Portuondo, who had sung with the likes of Nat King Cole there, and was to be the female voice with the Buena Vista Social Club.

Many of the best bands, like Los Van Van were playing at the Havana Film Festival, which I managed to get a pass to. As a result, with a few select foreigners I got invited to the Palace of Revolution – my invite from Fidel Castro is still on my mantelpiece.  The tables were groaning with food, drink and massive cigars. I was introduced to Castro and explained that I was here for the music and asked him if it was true he used to be a fine mambo dancer. He laughed and said he was never musical – it was a failing. Sports were always more his obsession. I had a conversation with Oliver Stone about King Kong and talked with Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s favourite film-maker, who made Triumph of the Will and was in Havana making underwater films, aged 85. I was beginning to get a sense of unreality bordering on panic as I staggered out into the night.

‘The tail end of a comet’

By the time I returned to Havana, in 1992, everything was different. With the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the Russians had pulled the plug and things were pretty desperate.

But on that second trip, I met Juan De Marcos González, whose band Sierra Maestre were playing in a pizza joint.  He told me he had an idea for a project pairing some of the old, retired musicians with a younger generation. He finally got the chance to realise his idea – which was to record some African and Cuban musicians together – but the Africans never showed up. So, with time booked in the studio going free, Juan de Marcus rounded up Rubén González, Omara Portuondo and Ibrahim Ferrer as well as Eliades Ochoa and Compay Segundo. The resulting recording was an astonishing success, selling many millions. Ibrahim got to sing some of his beloved boleros too. In the time allotted, they also recorded Juan De Marcos’ Afro-Cuban All Stars album and a Rubén González solo record – both of which were million sellers too.

I travelled with the band to Tokyo three years later, where the album was top of the charts, the Buena Vista Social Club film by Wim Wenders was the best-selling DVD and they were selling out stadiums and stopping traffic.  I went back numerous times to Cuba to write about the assorted successful, solo albums.

A follow-up Buena Vista Social Club album called Lost and Found is finally appearing this month – a collection of gems , some recorded live, others from solo recordings from some of the musicians like bass player Cachaíto López or trombonist Jesus “Aguaje” Ramos. The Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club has been touring for the last 16 years, and is travelling this year in a final Adios tour, fronted by survivors of the original album: Omara Portuondo, Guajiro Mirabal, Barbarito Torres and Jesus “Aguaje” Ramos, with Eliades Ochoa appearing on some dates

With Cuba opening up, and only a matter of time before the first Starbucks appears in Havana, the music will no doubt reinvent itself as well as it always has done.

But nearly 30 years since my first visit to Cuba – when Rubén Gonzalez said “that was the end of the old music” – it really seems that  the curtain is finally going down on a fabulous musical era in Cuba.  As Buena Vista producer Ry Cooder told me: “We were lucky – we caught the tail end of a comet.



23 March 2015 Music Read more

Totó la Momposina cerró el Ecuador Jazz 2015

La poderosa voz de Sonia Bazanta Vides ‘Totó la Momposina’ crispó la piel del público que asistió ayer, domingo 8, al cierre del décimo primer festival de música Ecuador Jazz, que se celebró en el Teatro Sucre, durante las últimas dos semanas.

Con un pañuelo rojo ataviado a la cabeza y un vestido de colores turquesa que cubría todo su cuerpo ‘Totó’ comenzó a desplegar toda su energía por el escenario. Al compás del tiple y la gaita colombianos esta artista de 74 años puso a bailar a todos los asistentes.

Sus primeras palabras fueron de agradecimiento (volvía al país después de 50 años). Aclaró que su arte no es folclore, sino un rescate de la música ancestral de su país. Dentro de su repertorio incluyó canciones como ‘Te olvidé’, ‘La candela viva’ y ‘Aguacero de mayo’, éxitos con los que ha recorrido EE.UU, Europa y Asia.

‘Totó’, quien se presentó en Quito como parte de su gira de despedida, fue el colofón perfecto de un festival que en la actualidad es uno de los mejores de su género en Sudamérica.

El Ecuador Jazz 2015 tuvo entre sus momentos de clímax las presentaciones del estadounidense Charles Bradley, el de la británica Joss Stone y del dúo conformado por el cubano Omar Sosa y el italiano Paolo Fresu

El concierto del domingo 8 de marzo, que se celebró en la Plaza del Teatro inició con Pichirilo Radioactivo, una brassband quiteña, que puso a bailar al público. La fusión de trompetas, trombones y saxofón característica de su repertorio musical prendió el ‘pogo’ frente al escenario. Esa fue la oportunidad para que jóvenes y adultos liberaran sus energías.

Cerca de las 14:00, la Plaza del Teatro estaba atiborrada de gente. La presencia femenina en este concierto fue mayoritaria. Abuelas, madres, hijas y nietas aprovecharon para festejar el Día Internacional de la Mujer en este espacio.

La siguiente banda en subir al escenario fue Cómo asesinar a Felipes, un grupo que llegó desde Chile para compartir su nuevo disco, ‘Cinco’. Una mezcla de jazz, hip-hop y rap que incluye letras punzantes de tono urbano y crítica social.

Los cinco integrantes de la banda incluido un DJ sorprendieron con una fusión de tintes psicodélicos y texturas electrónicas. Los sonidos del sintetizador y la batería se acoplaron con fuerza a la potente voz de su vocalista.

Las letras de Cómo asesinar a Felipes incluyeron un llamado al cuidado de la naturaleza y de los animales. Música con denuncia social matizada con ritmos cadenciosos. Así fue como terminó esta edición del Ecuador Jazz 2015.


20 March 2015 Music Read more

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