Spring Surprises in the Cuban town of Aguacate

By Irina Echarry

Town square of Aguacate.
Town square of Aguacate.

HAVANA TIMES — “Have you noticed how pretty Aguacate is?” a friend asked me after inviting me to pay the town a visit for the first time. He showed me the main square, the church and cinema, enthusiastically.

The first Primavera en Aguacate (“Spring in Aguacate”) Arts Festival had begun the previous night and the spirits of some of the locals were high. The idea of having forms of artistic expression different from the norm reach the town (80 kilometers from Havana, and 30 kilometers from Matanzas.) has begun to become reality.

The festival opened on Friday, May 23, with a classical music performance. At the town square, renowned Cuban clarinetist Lester Chio and his band Ruta de Colores Concertantes (“Concerted Colors Route”), made up of Cuban instrumentalists Vicente Monterrey, Antonio Dorta, Dianis Cata and Mario Rodriguez, French musicians Cyrille Mercadier (also a luthier) and Richard Vieille, as well as violinist Anolan Gonzalez (an honorary guest), pierced the town’s habitual nightly silence and offered the public a magical evening.

In duos, trios and ensembles, the musicians performed pieces by Mozart, Amilcare Ponchielli, Calixto Alvarez, Pixnquinha and Alejandro Scarpino, offering concert-goers a varied program comprising serandes, entertaining numbers, a Brazilian waltz and even a tango.

Kirenia Corzo and the Aguacate Festival.
Kirenia Corzo at the Aguacate Festival.

On Saturday morning, children were ready to enjoy their own, exclusive party: The Viajero (“Traveler”) theater group had prepared a fun puppet-making “crash course.” With different characters, colors, jokes and poems, the theater group also managed to entertain some of the adults present.

The Spoken Word Festivity then took place, under the gleaming sun. Mayra Navarro, Lavinia Cue and other oral story-tellers treated the public to different tales: one about a magic pot that cooked beans without anyone’s help and would not stop until someone pronounced the magic words, another about a school for monsters that was torn apart by Frankenstein, another about a goat and cow tired of being vegetarians…in short, many stories that were enriched with the participation, questions and enjoyment of the children who attended.

Lesby Bautista
Lesby Bautista

The highlight of the day was the re-opening of the Talia cinema, which had been shut down for nearly 20 years. A woman remarked: “my grandson is already doing military service and he’s never been able to go that theater.” A woman recalled that they would take her there to watch animated films when she was a kid.

All of the locals were full of joy as the lined up at the entrance to enjoy the first film in the reopened cinema. Once inside, the audience was treated to Juan de los Muertos (“Juan of the Dead”), a Cuban film that has won several international awards. One of the actors of the film, Jazz Vila, was unable to attend the screening but he did join the audience afterwards to share with the Aguacate public.

Concert music also enlived the town during the festivities. On this occasion, the church opened its doors to Voces de primavera (“Voices of Spring”), a vocal group made up of three young lyrical musicians: soprano Kirenia Corzo, tenor Daniel Noriega and counter-tenor Lesby Bautista, who opened with his impressive voice, singing Doizetti’s Il secreto per esser felici.

Line to get into to the reopened Aguacate cinema.
Line to get into to the reopened Aguacate cinema and see the Cuban film Juan of the Dead.

The surprisingly good acoustics allowed us to enjoy pieces by Haendel, Offenbach, Lecuona, Roig and Verdi, among others. At night, a concert by Milada Milet closed the festival.

Some of the locals did not attend any performances and chose to follow these from a distance. Others, by contrast, enthusiastically participated in the festival activities, something which encourages organizers to keep the initiative alive.

Many more activities are planned for the next occasion: then, organizers will try to incorporate other artistic expressions (such as the visual arts and dance) to the festival. “The important thing now is to break the ice,” one of the young organizers told us.

Actor Jazz Vila with local kids.
Actor Jazz Vila with local kids.

Were mistakes made? Perhaps some – it is a human undertaking and it is not exempt from these. The main thing is that a group of people are trying to pull the inhabitants of the town out of the melancholy tedium they have been slowly sinking into.

Aguacate may never again be a municipality. Few, perhaps, still recall that chess master Jose Raul Capablanca once lived there, and perhaps many of the town residents will flock to a concert by reggaeton singer Osmani Garcia rather than stay to listen to a clarinet performance. The main thing is to have options and, as of now, the people of Aguacate will at least be able to choose.

Years ago, a friend of mine said to me: “Aguacate is a ghost town.” If I saw her today, I’d tell her there are people interested in exposing the locals to a part of culture that had hitherto been inaccessible to them. Culture is reaching Aguacate – slowly but surely.

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