Bellita & Jazztumbata

By Irina Echarry, Photos: Caridad

Bellita at Havana’s Plaza Cultural Center

HAVANA TIMES, March 27 – For Lillia Expósito, what’s most important is the music. It emanates from her soul, as she charismatically shares it with all who listen.

This excellent singer, better known as “Bellita” -a composer and arranger, a woman of international fame in the world of the jazz- is not reserved about offering her talent to the general public on the third Saturday of every month at Havana’s Plaza Cultural Center – and for free.

When the music begins at 7:00 in the evening, it seems that you’re transported to a universe where energy, vigor and dynamism are the forces that govern.

Themes of traditional Cuban music fuse with jazz. Moreover, it’s in such a way that you might think that Bellita is possessed by some music god, and that this deity has also touched each member of her group.

Her band includes Emir Santa Cruz (playing sax and clarinet), Glenda López (flute, claves and voice), José Alberto Varona (trumpet), and Eddie Hernández (on drums). Though each demonstrates their mastery in their respective solos, Miguel “Octopus” Miranda is the most acclaimed.

Tamara Castañeda at Havana’s Plaza Cultural Center
Tamara Castañeda at Havana’s Plaza Cultural Center

Able to play up to four instruments simultaneously, he is able to capture admiration and euphoric screams from anybody close up. This occurred during his interpretation of the Billie Childs’ original Like father, like son, when the “Octopus” clearly demonstrated how he got his nickname.

Zaida at Havana’s Plaza Cultural Center
Zaida at Havana’s Plaza Cultural Center

This past month, Bellita had star guests; these included vibraphonist Tamara Castañeda, who also shined on congas; violinist Miguel Reyes, who played like a hyped-up Pied Piper, since even the mice wanted to listen; and Lucía Huergo, another important female figure within the realm of musical composition.

The group performed a version of Chan Chan, the signature composition of Compay Segundo. Bellita assures that she feels his presence every time she sings the piece: “Whenever we play that theme, it’s as if the spirit of Compay floods the place… people get excited. I’m glad Compay received some recognition, although he was pretty old by then; at least he enjoyed a little bit of the glory that he deserved.”

The audience could hear themes by Paquito de Rivera and Chick Corea, anthological versions of Cuban music with rumba fused with jazz, as well as Caminando, one of the songs composed by Bellita herself.

It’s a Havana fiesta where for two hours you can enjoy the contagious happiness that this group transmits.

To confirm the holding of this musical gathering, you can call the following numbers at the  Casa de la Cultura de Plaza (the Plaza Cultural Center): 831-2023 and 833-8815.

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