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Jazz + Rap Yesterday

Saturday night we passed on the big show and Cubadiscos awards for a more intimate event at the lovely Teatro Marti. The space is small with luxurious seating and lacy filigree ironwork reminiscent of New Orleans. The concert was lacy also, as master jazz pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa invited other musicians in-and-out of these intricately crafted compositions. One standout was with the violinist William Roblejo, who’s segment had the abstract yet controlled chops of a Leroy Jenkins and the fire of an encore piece by Fritz Kreisler. The highlight was the finale, “Momo,” featuring three people who hop-scotched over each other on the same piano. Harold’s brother Ruy Adrian was one of the pianists who on occasion switched to a western kit drum. The family connections were the theme this evening, as all the pieces were composed by Nussa’s uncle, Ernán, a painter and Cuban jazz pioneer, and dedicated to grandfater Leonel. The father, Ruy, also sat in on drums for one piece – subtle and beautiful by the way. The illustration above is also by Nussa and gives you an idea of his playing style.

telemary sml

Earlier we visited Telmary, one of Cuba’s leading spoken word artists, rappers and poets. Her pieces are taken from everyday experiences, funny, socially aware and touch on the bling touted by most local rap only to make light of it. She is part of a loosely organized musical collective Interactivo – a group of like-minded musicians who believe an artists can work freely within many disciplines and ensembles, beyond the State’s insistence that you can only work with one, officially recognized group or as a solo artist.

Telmary gave our little group an insight into how the music industry functions here in Cuba, and how she functions within this system. Cuba wants all artists to be full time professionals, so to discourage taking other part-time work, offer full if minimal financial support. But like any gift it involves obligations, and in Cuba nestled within a sometimes inexplicable bureaucracy.

Our group was lavished with a table-full of sweets and savories, and luxuriated in a short performance wryly commentating on the island’s unique pantheon of African-derived Deities.

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