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Jazz made by cubans today: same and different

Jazz made by cubans today: same and different

No one who is a scholar of Cuban musical events in recent years, could ignore the good time Cuban jazz lives today, both at home and within the Diaspora, and thanks to the Jazz- Plaza festival which has contributed in a special way and, more recently, the Jo-jazz contest. I will not prolong much on the item that can be found in substantial literature, as written by the saxophonist, researcher and journalist Leonardo Acosta. I do want to point out that neither the optimistic furious among those attending the Theater Hall of the House of Culture in Plaza in February 1980, could imagine that the almost clandestine first encounter of jazz musicians in the playground, organized by Armando Rojas and Bobby Carcasses, would become one of the festivals most expected by musicians and public.

Perhaps as way of symbol of how good would happen from now on, the first festival of Cuban jazz musicians was the occasion for sharing the same stage both the renowned and the new exponents of the national jazz. Festivals performed since then have shown the successive irruption to the local scene of an emerging generation of artists who create Cuban music today are evolved into the contemporary, from well modern timbral concepts and complex chordal structures, uncommon in the local environment to the eighties.

Almost thirty years after the revolution that marked the irruption of the cultural life of the generation of musicians of the eighties, in the new local talents (discovered in most cases due to emissions from Jo-jazz, ie the youth jazz festival held since 1999), over the logical stylistic differences between them, common elements are appreciated. Thus, when tracking the benchmark influences on these guys, it is impossible to search only in the national but also to look to the outsider.

In that way, local guitarists have learnt more of figures like Pat Metheny and John Scotfield than of Cubans Juanito Marquez and Carlos Emilio Morales. Trumpeters are heirs of Roy Hargrove and Wynton Marsalis instead of Leonardo Luis Escalante and Leonardo Timol, while more and more pianists renounce to go only to classics tumbaos of Cuban music and clearly identify with the best of contemporary jazz, particularly European. Without any prejudice, all these musicians dig into melodic, harmonic and timbral elements left by the universal culture.

In an interview with the pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa when journalist Yinett Polanco questioned him regarding the existence of differences between what was done by the younger generation of Cuban jazz musicians and the conducted by previous masters like Chucho Valdes, Bobby Carcasses or Ernan Lopez-Nussa, the new but already laureate musician responded:

"I happily think that a branch of young musicians interested in jazz and to do it seriously is establishing, I'm happy to be part of this time due to the interaction this causes among us, the fact of learning from each other and constantly evolving is great. To make music  different from the one made ??by these great jazz musicians you mentioned and at the same time other greats before them, is a huge challenge, but this is precisely what this is all about, to find ways to express yourself with your own identity, the more generations there, the harder it will be to find a different way, and this is the greatest charm about making music today, to define your own style while being nourished by others of your generation and those that came before you. "(1)

However, as Fabian Alfonso says:

 "What does not change, nor will it in a while, is the sense of direction of the root. Many formants can be added, countless influences can be assimilated, you may give them as many names as you like to these mergers, but the brand will always be African American, in that state of freedom and improvisation that transcended rebellious gesture of a marginalized community.

In Cuba, the young jazz playes are aware of this and, of course, of what it meant the romp of jazz with the genres and Caribbean and vernacular rhythms." (2)

It is important to note that at present, the roads our jazz players are taking are ostensibly diversifying.From my point of view, there are two major groups: those that start from the Cuban to get to jazz and the ones acting in the opposite direction. In both trends one can find several ramifications.

For a long time jazz was characterized as a uniquely American art form and narratives were  constructed in relation to its history revolved around the evolution of the genre in the USA, although since its inception has evolved beyond the borders of the northern nation . What happened with the demonstration is an example of transnational cultural hybridity trend that has been happening from the moment  jazz was born.

In this area, today Cuban jazz of has to be placed within an international context of influences, loans, innovations and musical exchanges. To me it is clear that at this point of the XXI century, the understanding of jazz in its dual condition of sociocultural force and musical language, can not simply be perceived only as a national art, expression of experiences and characteristics of a single territory and autonomous of considerations of global policy, cultural power and territorial identity.

At a time when the world shrinks more and more, instead of what some thought at some point and who saw in jazz a colonialization agent or cultural domain, the same-rather than sweep the always desired and necessary diversity, in cases like the cuban has provided a mechanism for the musician to recognize and identify himself with sound local traditions. An example of this is found in the numerous works that our musicians have performed in order to hybridize the danzon and jazz.

Another important feature it is worth noting is that today, both in and outside the country, a rewarding diversification in proposals of Cuban jazz musicians begins, some of which not only pass through the grounds of the Latin or Afro-Cuban jazz, as the investigator Leonardo Acosta prefers to call it. So, some year ago, several recording productions have appeared which use the codes and language of electric jazz or jazz fusion and free jazz, ways of expression that until recently in Cuba were poorly rated by the media, the public and the musicians themselves. The recording production that  initially moved to the forefront in this regard was the missing Unicorn, which provided the possibility to various artists to undertake projects of this nature. At present the continuing work begun by Unicorn is in the hands of the the redording production Colibri that, when opened the collection called "The young spirit of Cuban jazz", has launched itself in an ambitious plan of phonograms editing with the winners of Jo-jazz contest and has already circulated several CDs, featured by high quality new figures.

The current Cuban jazz scene has become a phenomenon that far exceeds our borders and increasingly becomes complex to analyze. It is true that it already registered a trayectory in which it is possible to study its history, but the consequences of permanent diasporic process which we have witnessed for decades, with different destinations to reside (USA, Mexico, Great Britain, France, Germany ...) still to come. Consider, for example, that in a country like Canada, phonographic productions of Cuban jazz musicians living there have been nominated and / or awarded at the two most prestigious events of music in that territory, the National Jazz Awards and the Juno Award, or in Spain, and people talked a lot about what not a few hesitate to classify as the revolution that to the jazz nights in Madrid – in clubs like Cafe Berlin and the Central- has meant the arrival in that city of a large group of musicians born and educated in our country.

While listening to some of the discs by compatriots in Cuba and the Diaspora, I think of the fact that throughout the its history, the jazz has been a potent symbol capable of removing and form identities. This becomes a support for theories of scholars of contemporary culture as Arjun Appadurai, Nestor Garcia Canclini or James Clifford, who believe that the approaches to different types of music around us, can not be made as if they were only pre-existing sets and compacts in cultural systems, but it is necessary to see them as a product of mixtures that convey their reception and reinterpretation.

Only from such perspective we can understand the true magnitude of the multiple loans from here and there that have made possible the musical richness of jazz performed by Cubans. Moreover, such approaches also suggest something very suggestive: the global history of jazz would be largely another way of understanding the history of the previous century. Since technological progress to local politics and postcolonial, through the development of the media and certain socio-political strategies, the contemporary world is connected with the history of how dissimilar expressions of music (in this specific case, jazz), have expanded and globalized in recent decades.

We also need to keep in mind that jazz is now subject to the disciplines of economics and interacts with other cultural forms. Such reciprocity is neither horizontal nor equitable, because today national and international connections intersect, they are produced, particularly in media scenes. These processes do not allow generalizations, have no place in a socio-economic or cultural same whole, because they involve different development trends in each country or cultural area.

So, a growing number of jazz albums recorded by Cubans provide new perspectives on the cultural processes and different visions about how scenarios that give meaning to goods and symbolic messages in the present are altered.


(1) Polanco, Yinett. 2007 "Definir un estilo propio,  el mayor encanto de hacer música hoy”.." The Jiribilla (electronic journal of Cuban culture), no. 347,

 (2) Alfonso Fabian. 2006 "Jazz cubano en el siglo XXI. Jóvenes al acecho. "The Jiribilla (electronic journal of Cuban culture), no. 347,