Havana Jazz Plaza Holds 30th Festival

ilustration by Onel


By Irina Echarry

HAVANA TIMES — According to some composers, making music in Cuba is a difficult task. They tell us the streets are too noisy: people yell instead of talking and place speakers in such a way that whatever they play is heard by the entire street. It is common for bus drivers to set their stereos to the highest volume, cars (mostly old) make a huge racket and sound their horns excessively.

State establishments aren’t an exception: the most aggressive reggaeton numbers can issue from their speakers in the early morning or late at night. Lately, with the advent of new technologies, we have been seeing more and more people with IPods, Mp4-players and other devices, imposing their musical tastes on others.

There are those, however, who regard Cuba as an eminently musical environment and make use of those noises for their artistic work, drawing from them.

The recent conclusion of the JoJazz young jazz competition did not close all doors on the genre. Soon, we will be celebrating 30 years of the most anxiously awaited Jazz festival in Cuba: The International Jazz Plaza Festival. For five days, from December 17-21, Havana’s street noises will mingle with the melodies of a number of foreign and local artists.

To date, more than 35 bands from 18 different countries have been invited to participate: the Salvadorian band Los Brujos, the French Iba Ibo Yoruba Specimen, the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, musicians from the great Symphonic Orchestra of the United States, the trombone-player and composer from San Francisco Wayne Wallace and his Latin Jazz Quintet, the Norwegian Big Energy Ensemble (bringing us their Jazz al Norte project), Anton Doyle, from Trinidad and Tobago, Canadian saxophonist Doug Martin, CABOCUBAJAZZ, from Cape Verde, Puerto Rico’s Gryssel Ramirez and Colombian Justo Almario, known as the Latin heir of John Coltraine – these are some of the artists who will share their music with us.

Arturo O’Farril has become something of a regular guest at the festival. For this occasion, the US musician will take part in a tour across Cuba’s eastern end and will interact with students from art schools in Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba. On the December 18th he will offer a concert in Havana’s Teatro Mella.

To our surprise, a band that had a huge following of rock enthusiasts in the 90s is among those invited. I am referring to a group of tough guys who used synthesizers and played rock blues, ZZTOP. I hope this band from Texas is able to attend. They would give a touch of distinction to the festival.

Another highlight is the Feriajazz to be held in Havana’s Pabellon Cuba, where we will be treated to presentations by artists, classes and a lot of crafts. Musical instruments will also be on sale there.

Jazz, a music born of combination, has not caught the attention of many Cubans, but some listen to these bands waiting for the turn of the orchestra they like. That is why the Plaza Cultural Center, emblematic venue of the Jazz Plaza festival since its beginning, sees the greatest number of attendants, as a popular Cuban band plays at the end of every evening there. The Teatro Mella, Café Miramar, Palacio de la Rumba and, for the first itme, the Hotel Sevilla and Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC), will be other festival venues.

“I’m turning 30 and my batteries are still charged. Ready, aim fire, Jazz Plaza is about to begin!”: thus goes the musical number prepared for this anniversary of the festival, an event that, three decades after its creation, continues to be an important space for Jazz music in Cuba.