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A Different Rhythm – JazzArts Charlotte in Cuba

One of my favorite Ellis Marsalis compositions is entitled “Beautiful Old Ladies.” Though its rhythm isn’t Cuban, the phrase perfectly describes locales visited during JazzArts Charlotte’s recent sojourn to our captivating neighbor to the south. In Havana, Matanzas, and Trinidad, crumbling colonial facades remain alluring with color, while less delicate structures interject hues as bold as the strike of the African-Cuban clave. The younger city of Cienfuegos seduces more graciously with its French and Louisiana influence, like a sister to New Orleans. 
I’ve wanted to visit Cuba ever since seeing The Buena Vista Social Club documentary at the Manor Theater in 1999. It was worth the wait to go with JazzArts Charlotte. Our visit coincided with the annual Havana Jazz Festival whose performances were all you’d hope, dispersed among venues across the city. I felt my trip was complete our second evening on hearing the latter-day Buena Vista Social Club musicians. I had no idea what was to come.
Well beyond the festival itself, JazzArts had arranged for us to see the hypnotic rumba in Matanzas, performed for generations as an embodied spiritual dance in which we happily engaged. Two days later, we sat mesmerized by students at the Amadeo Roldan Music Conservatory, deeply impressed by beauty, skill, and discipline that defy a serious dearth of resources; such basics as violin strings are hard to come by. And, on another afternoon, many were moved to tears by the angelic a cappella harmonies of the Cantores de Cienfuegos; the adult choir practices a minimum of three hours at a time, three days a week, and it shows. 

Everywhere we turned from planned venues to restaurants for dinner, we encountered stellar musicianship and warm smiles to go with it, generously offered alongside fresh mojitos. One leaves Cuba humbled by the artistry assiduously cultivated in their culture at large in comparison with our own, making me appreciate JazzArts’ commitment to student education all the more. I thank JazzArts for making it possible to travel in comfort and community to a place so different from where we live and where we can learn so much.

– Barbara Birge, JazzArts Donor & Subscriber

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