Cubadisco: Cuba’s premier music awards show

Nothing to do with discotheques, the International Cubadisco Fair begun in 1997 as a way to bring to national and international attention what the Cuban recording industry has been up to. It includes concerts, recitals, symposia and exhibits, and the participation of musicians as well as music executives. This year’s festival will be dedicated to the guitar both classical and popular, and the 2nd Pie Forzado Championship will be held (“pie forzado” is a phrase which a poet/composer must follow for the poem/song he will improvise). Also, tribute will be paid to the late Cuban musician Compay Segundo.

Dedicated to Africa and its Diaspora, Cubadisco 2008 has just come to an end, and yet already we are making plans for Cubadisco 2009, scheduled to take place from May 16 to 24, 2009 with guests of honor Puerto Rico and the Music from the South—the music that represents the identities and legacies of countries that are usually ignored by the media and the record industry. The event’s central theme will be the relationship between music and children.

Delegations from twenty-one countries, including ten Ministers and Vice-Ministers of Culture, as well as ethnologists, researchers, folklorists, musicologists, musicians and dance companies from various parts of the world participated in Cubadisco 2008.

Previous to the Festival, “The Longest Rumba in the World”—a non-stop marathon rumba—began on May 3rd in eastern Cuba and ended on the 17th at Parque Trillo in Havana. Hundreds of professional and amateur rumba dancers and conga players performed throughout the island as a tribute to the late legendary Cuban percussionists Chano Pozo and Tata Güines.

The participation of young Cuban musicians with their tempting, defiant, and renovating music has been a distinguishing feature that becomes quite evident when we read the list of prize-winners, which includes, among others: X Alfonso (Fusion, Studio Recording and Music Video), Harold López-Nussa (First Work), Alejandro Vargas (Jazz), Ogguere (Hip Hop, Rap, Reggaeton), Haila (Dance/Pop), Elito Revé (Dance, Pop Music), Buena Fe (Multimedia)…And this is just a sample of the many young Cuban musicians who seek (and find) a space within the Cuban cultural scene with quality products.

Cubadisco Honor Awards were presented during the closing concert to poetess Nancy Morejón (winner of the 2001 National Prize for Literature), Miguel Barnet (winner of the 1994 National Prize for Literature) and the Nicolás Guillén Foundation, chaired by Nicolás Hernández Guillén. The concert, held at the Amadeo Roldán Theater, was characterized by the premiere of a number of compositions by Cuban musicians, showing that pre-established limits between highbrow and popular culture become obsolete when the music is good.

Cubadisco radiated, burst, brimmed over with new energies as a result of the contact with the music from Africa, a continent which is so near—and dear—to Cuba. Under the title “As a river of permanently renovated waters,” representatives from different African countries together with musicologists, researchers, writers, musicians and other experts from Cuba and abroad discussed the imprint left by the peoples of Africa and its Diaspora in world culture, and the relations between poetry and music during the Cubadisco 2008 International Symposium.

The intensive academic program included discussions of papers, lectures, debates, film showings, as well as special presentations by African researchers and musicians. Topics such as “Africa and its Diaspora;” “Oral, literary and musical traditions;” “The African influence in traditional popular festivities;” “The music industry and African oral literature” and “The living cultural heritage and the role of women in the African-American Cultural Identity” were all discussed during the enriching meetings.

Lecturers and speakers were backed during the sessions of the Symposium by music, dance and poetry, as the majority of the participants from every country came to the fair accompanied by musicians who brought with them their own traditional musical instruments. The links between these artistic manifestations of different origins gave proof of the weight the African legacy carries and how much there is still to be learned from it. The performance of the Folkloric Ballet of Alexandria was one of the most eagerly anticipated events during Cubadisco 2008. The famous Egyptian company presented “From East to West” at the Mella Theater on the last day of the festival to a packed theatre. For the privileged audience—including many Cuban dancers and choreographers—who attended the special performance that evening, it was a memorable experience. The company captivated with their millenary culture, which has stood the test of time and has left an imprint on civilizations.

Another happening that will be long remembered was the concert performed by Cameroon-born musician Justin Tchatchoua with the accompaniment of other Cuban and international musicians at the Astral Theater. Lively, amazing, musically complex, novel, imaginative are some of the adjectives that appropriately describe this dynamic, Africa-charged concert.

Another highlight during Cubadisco 2008 was the parade of congas and comparsas down 23rd Street of Havana’s El Vedado district to the Tribuna Antiimperialista, which was also the site of two spectacular concerts by Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco from Cuba and Andy Montañez from Puerto Rico, while on the last night of Cubadisco, Juan Formell and Los Van Van gave a super-concert under a night sky glowing with fireworks.

With Cubadisco 2008 still fresh in our minds, we look forward to next year’s event hoping that it will be as successful as this year’s festival of the Cuban recording industry. So, three cheers for Cubadisco 2009! And three cheers for Puerto Rico!

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