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Jazz Plaza 2020: The Celebration of Otherness



Callejón de Hamel - La Habana, Cuba

Tumbao meets the angularity of Jazz

Monk Boudreaux is the epitome of a collision of otherness. First there is the history of where he resides itself. New Orleans is unique in all of the United States of America, molten, volcanic mix of Indigenous, African, Spanish, French, German and so many other epic cultural enthuses. M. Boudreaux embodies it all: In the early 19th century, amid the Haitian Revolution, thousands of refugees (both whites and free people of colour from Saint-Domingue (affranchis or gens de couleur libres) arrived in New Orleans, often bringing enslaved Africans with them.

Monk Boudreaux at Fábrica de Arte Cubano
Monk Boudreaux at Fábrica de Arte Cubano, with Cimafunk, Yaroldy Abreu and members of the New Orleans Trombone Shorty Academy. Photo credit: Danilo Navas

“Monk Boudreaux is a little bit of everything; a beautiful créolité—the quality of being Creole—a delightful mix of otherness”

So many refugees arrived that the city’s population doubled. As more refugees were allowed in Louisiana, Haitian émigrés who had first gone to Cuba also arrived. These groups had strong influences on the city and its culture. Half of the white émigré population of Haiti settled in Louisiana, especially in the greater New Orleans area. Later 19th-century immigrants to New Orleans, such as Irish, Germans, and Italians, also married into the Creole groups. M Boudreaux is a little bit of everything; a beautiful créolité—the quality of being Creole—a delightful mix of otherness.

Monk Boudreaux at Fábrica de Arte Cubano in Havana
Monk Boudreaux at Fábrica de Arte Cubano in Havana. Photo credit: Danilo Navas

M Boudreaux’s narrative – the one he told us that morning – reflects this beauty of “each-otherness” in every sense of the term. It was a kind of Homeric epic seemed detailed in the warp and weft, and in the glittering embroidery of his ice-blue suit, heavy with stones and other artefacts that no doubt came – each – with their own stories. Riveted as we were to both costume and the hypnotic stories he told in the heat of the arc-lights he was by contrast, cool shuffling on his feet to the age-old rhythm of his ancestors. He fielded questions from the curious unravelling a myriad of tales, each with their own new curiosities. And then he performed…

We were hypnotized once anew as if by the titular character of legend from the town of Hamelin of Goethe, reincarnated, of course, in M Boudreaux’s body dressed in his own kind of dream-coat with no need for a magic pipe in this version of the story of life in New Orleans woven into Blues and Jazz and Funk and everything in between. Things got a lot funkier when M Boudreaux was joined by a group of young musicians – drummers and chanting musicians from the Trombone Shorty Academy of New Orleans doing glorious battle with Yaroldy Abreu on his battery of tumbadoras and congas. They were followed by Cimafunk at some point in a celebrating – with a rousing crescendo – the devastating beauty of otherness.

As always during the events held at Fábrica de Arte, art and the art of business made welcome bedfellows. The mid-morning session featured Alejandro Mayor’s superb documentary Jazz en el América. This was followed by a riveting discussion on Jazz and the music industry in Cuba moderated by Marianela Santos Cabrera of the celebrated music label BIS Music. All of this was a prelude of part one of the afternoon’s main events – first the presentation of a documentary concert featuring Cuba’s brilliant young reeds and winds player, Janio Abreu and New Orleans’ inimitable Victor Goines (also a leading member of Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra). Their memorable “first encounter”, Juntos Otra Vez (BisMusic, 2019) was captured on DVD.

Fidel Morales Afrocubano
Fidel Morales and Afrocubano at Teatro Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, La Habana. Photo credit: Danilo Navas

The January 16th evening for us began with a trip to Teatro Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes to listen to drummer Fidel Morales and Afrocubano. Mr Morales is a powerful drummer who can play in both Afro-Cuban and Jazz idioms. He runs his musical career from both Puerto Rico, where he appears to be for part of the year, and Havana, from where he originally comes from. His group comprises musicians from both islands and is a timely reminder of just how widespread the Afro-Caribbean musical spectrum really is.

The members of the powerhouse Afrocubano ensemble included pianist Jorge Luis Lagarza, pianist Angel David Mattos (also on keyboards), tenor saxophonist Norberto ‘Tiko’ Ortiz, flautist (and saxophonist) Ricardo Pons, bassist, Gabriel Rodriguez on bass, Degnis Bonfill on congas and, of course, maestro Fidel Morales on drumset. Trumpeter Yasek Manzano joined the band on some songs, and Angel Bonne on vocals, with Annys Batista joining in on background vocals too.

Mr Morales and Afrocubano’s musical performance was vivid and full of melodic leaps and swoops mixed in with wonderful harmonic invention – characterised by superb piano, horns and percussion adornment as well as high-flying vocals. Mr Morales’ drumming was full of thunder and lightning every time his drumming was showcased. But there was always a generous spread of soli which showcased other members of his ensemble, especially the breathtaking young Cuban percussionist’s work. During the second half of his concert the audience received a welcome surprise: the group was joined in by the incomparable Bobby Carcassés. His son Robertito Carcassés took over the piano chair and with them Fidel Morales and Afrocubano moved the music into a stratospheric realm.

Fidel Morales & Afrocubano with Bobby Carcassés
Fidel Morales & Afrocubano with Bobby Carcassés at Teatro Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Photo credit: Raul Da Gama

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