Chapter four [final] of our series: 35th Jazz Plaza International Festival in Havana
In recent months I found myself in profound reflection of the term “Ancient to the Future”, one that I borrowed from the 1987 record of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. It is a term that best describes their music – and the music of the group’s constituents: Lester Bowie, Joseph Jarman, Roscoe Mitchell, Famoudou Don Moye, Malachi Favors Maghostut and others who now play with the Ensemble. It is music that is clearly rooted in the most primordial echoes of man’s relationship with the universe and with the gods and yet it continuously pierces frontiers of sound that artists continue to foretell. Ornette Coleman’s Science Fiction was another way of stating it. In the case of the Art Ensemble of Chicago it seems to syncretize ancient forms and understanding of gods, to find resolution with the spiritual world.
“This incessant, aching throb pulsates is everywhere in Cuba, you can’t help but hear it, be drawn to it, dance to it, become inebriated by it”
The Yoruba, Fon and Bantu people have always been at the very centre of this paradigm because of their innate understanding of the mysteries and their ability to strike at the exact heart of this locus with their innate rhythmic abilities. And this is what you will find, as I did, something that echoes in Afro-Cuban music whether they are playing religious music such as abakuá, arará Iyesá, makuta, palo santería, yuka, or traditional music such as changüí, coros de clave, kiribá, nengón, tumba francesa and so on. Artistically more developments came with son cubano, danzón, guagancó, rumba and mambo but this ancient rhythmic centre and rippling pulse has stayed with the Afro-Cuban artist today – whether she/he is one hundred years old or as young as ten and eleven. In fact it’s everywhere in Cuba – not just in the villages and smaller towns; wherever and whenever the Cuban musician practices her/his art – even when she/he is consciously melding it with the Black American on Jazz – it remains “ancient to the future”.
You can certainly hear this – as we did in January during Jazz Plaza 2020 – in the music of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, Yoruba Andabo and Cucurucho Valdés; in the music of the Afro-Cuban percussionists and drummers. You will hear it coming out of the Santeria and Lucumí sessions held daily at Callejón de Hamel and in tiny homes everywhere in the city from where the melodic and thunderous sound of purifying ceremonies spills out onto the streets. But if you think that this is the only place where this unique understanding and display of ancient/futuristic collision exists like some kind of rippling, shimmering and beckoning musical portal then you would be deluding yourself. This incessant, aching throb pulsates is everywhere in Cuba and you can’t help but hear it, be drawn to it, dance to it and become inebriated by it.
Most Jazz music festivals around the world have a charged atmosphere. Whenever you have scores of music playing music seemingly all the time – whether rehearsing or performing – the atmosphere becomes energized and abuzz with the electricity that comes with music. But in Cuba, where there is a preponderance of ritualistic drumbeats and rhythms, it’s like being in a particle accelerator; with photons, muons, neutrons, neutrinos and bosons and quarks – all of which is represented by the ubiquitous musical notes that have recently erupted and are now jostling for a space in your already-loaded brain. You begin to exist in a state of continuous rapture and wonder, in a world that exists in that portal between ancient and future. For those who come from elsewhere in the world, where music is only part of the waking day, this kind of ecstasy is beautifully overwhelming. Imagine living in it.