The women of Havana, Cuba move with a lyrical flow as they walk down those hot busy streets with a destination in mind but no neurotic effort to get there. The Cuban men are in a macho groove standing erect moving like individual brass instruments to a hip mambo swing.
Their trombone vocals harmonically solo out, “Where you from amigo, New York?” Yes, we say: New York all day. Their melodic response, “Dónde (where)?” Harlem and they smile and respond, “The Apollo I have been there.” On that note we shake hands and smile as my new brother shares his Harlem experience.
We are brothers and sisters free in this music; mambo, mambo there are no real language barriers. We recognize Benny Moré, Cándido, Machito, Cecilia Cruz, Chucho Valdés and Dizzy Gillespie—our African roots birthed the seeds of Cuba to the United States.
The music is more colorful than the people’s painted houses, packing more fuel than the old classic necessity cars still rolling since the 1950s. The music is our language, mambo, mambo, salsa baby: walls exist only for fools misguided by the stupidity of separatism.
The overall theme of the 34th Internacional Festival Jazz Plaza (Jan. 14-20) danced in a rhythmic montage of the African diaspora from Afro Cuban jazz to deep melodic percussions that gave way to subconscious dance movements from salsa to cha-cha, rumba, mambo and sun dance. Chapman Roberts Broadway Jazz Festival USA (a 20-piece ensemble) bought the soul sounds of African-American R&B to the blues, gospel, soul and the Cuban roots of Cubana. With over 13 venues throughout Havana there was so much music to hear, new artists to see and mounds of musical expeditions.
The festival’s inauguration at the Teatro Nacional was a combination of Afro Jazz and Timba Funk featuring the festival’s founder, trumpeter and vocalist Bobby Carcasses with Cuban saxophonist and composer Yosvany Terry (who resides in New York), the well-versed American trombonist Dick Griffin, and Tony Succar y su Proyecio Unity.
At a smaller venue an early set featured trumpeter/composer Alberto Lescay & Formas. The group swings in jazz with fusion overtones that rock with moments of hip-hop verse.
Teatro Mella, a noted Havana music complex, presented, Three Generations of Valdes-O’Farrill featuring trumpeter and composer Adam O’Farrill and pianist Leyanis and drummer Jessie Valdes (the children of Chucho Valdes). The pianist, composer, arranger and guest host Arturo O’Farrill stated the concert was about Afro Cuban music and the roots of Africa that united us as family.
Leyanis is a key pianist in Cuba. Her playing in the midst of various configurations was deeply percussive and melodic on up-tempo tunes and serene soft crescendos tinged with classical musings on ballads backed with an all-female string ensemble. Brother Jessie comes out of a more hypnotic drum persistence that bellows the roots of Afro Cuba-ism, those melodic dance rhythms up and down the sunset. O’Farrill played solo, in a quintet setting with son Adam and in a large ensemble boosting a big brass sound that ignited fiery Latino rhythms. Adam later in quartet mode swung on and off the shores of Cuba.
The highlight of the evening was Camerata Romeu y Telmary. Telmary is Cuba’s most distinguished rapper. Backed by a rousing ensemble boasting a tall brass sound and two singers, she fuses Afro-Cuban Latin beats with portions of urban poetry, jazz and hip-hop which leads to crazy dancing and foot stomping. Her voice carries captivatingly hip Latina torpedoes flowing on hip-hop verses. She can also belt out tunes like Cecilia Cruz, just dance it will be all right.
In 2018 the album “Fuerza Arará” was nominated to the 19th Latin Grammys under the category of “Best alternative music album.” In 2007 she was NOW magazine’s “Best of Toronto” Awards, Best Latin Artist. She has performed in New York on various occasions but now that you know about her, don’t miss Telmary Diaz’s next trip to the city. Oh, like a few hip Americans, she just uses her first name, Telmary.
The trumpeter and composer Brian Lynch and flutist Nestor Torres paid tribute to the late trumpeter Roy Hargrove (who was so impressed with his visit to Cuba he recorded the album “Habana” (Verve, 1997)) and Dave Valentine with Cuban flutist Orlando Valle and the Carlos Miyares Quintet. Lynch was all in with high flying riffs and hot Latino rhythms. Torres and Valle’s flutes were on fire. Their call and response flute harmonies were crazy and their dancing addictive. They were followed by the drummer Dafnis Prieto Big Band. He never disappoints regardless of his configurations.
The all-star cast of “Descarga para el Tata” was a big deal all-star ensemble that featured the percussionist Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Pedrito Martinez (who is earning a notable reputation in New York City), Bobby Carcasses, Yosvany Terry, Arturo Solo Martinez and others. The crazy harmonies and interacting rhythms to and fro give afro jazz and just dance music from the streets of Cuba depth.
For two incredible nights Chapman Roberts’ “Broadway Jazz Festival USA!” filled the Sala-Teatro Museo Nacional De Bellas Artes. Roberts, who was invited by the Cuban Consulate, came to Havana with an ensemble of musicians and singers, friends and relatives, including representatives of Queens Cable TV.
“This is a musical reunion where America and Cuba reunite,” said Roberts, a noted singer, actor and producer. “This is something that Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach started and we want to continue the relationship. Our multimedia show represents Cuba, America and its African roots in a spiritual collective with a slide show of our jazz legends.” Their commitment to this project and those in the past is reflected in the participants paying their own expenses.
The first night’s theme “The Gospel According to Broadway” had the entire ensemble dressed in black performing compositions from the noted classical composer William Grand Stills, the pianist, composer and singer Darryl Tookes singing Marvin Gaye’s “Brother, Brother,” and Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Carol Maillard gave a spirited rendition of “Mississippi Goddam.” The segment was in tribute of the 17-year-old murdered teen, Trayvon Martin. “Resist police abuse. Be the change you want to see in the world.”
“My Florida A&M University colleagues Dr. Longineu Parsons and Dr. Joanna Sobkowska and I got to play with great musicians, and perform for receptive audiences—our Cuban brothers and sisters,” said Tookes.
The trombonist, composer, artist Dick Griffin’s soul-grabbing solo of “In a Sentimental Mood” was shouting with the blues and roots of Africa to Cuba and Harlem. The trumpeter/singer Longinue Parsons added more blaze to James Brown’s “I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing.”
The following night as the ensemble dressed in all white, the special guest singer Cuban legend Beatriz Marquez sang a duet with Bertilla Baker, “Bésame Mucho,” and Dakota McCleod’s version of “Wind Beneath my Wings” was like a prayer. The pianist, composer Dayramir Gonzalez added his native rhythms and harmonies to the multiflavored mix. “This edition of Havana Jazz Festival was very special because the audience was able to enjoy the art of some of the most important Cuban musicians on today’s New York jazz scene,” stated Gonzalez. “It was a superb reunion to continue embracing the sentiment that we are proud Cubans anywhere we live.”
Some of the talented ensemble that played Latin beats to the soul sounds of the blues and Broadway tunes were percussion Greg Barrett; Robert Ford; keyboardist Ray Naccari; guitarist Ted Shumate; classical pianist JoAnnna Sobkowska; and bassist Clyde Bullard.
Slave rhythms, Afro Cuban rhythms, revolutionary rhythms, dancing rhythms tie our tongues from ocean to ocean, our hearts beat in the drum, our souls swim in the music and the music, like the truth, never dies. See you next year, Havana jazz festival.