13th Havana Film Festival NY
A robust man in all white walked down the aisle of the Quad Cinema theater and stood before a diverse crowd, all proud of his work. His long, white jacket covering his long white shirt and pristine white pants matched his wispy light hair pulled back in a lengthy pony-tail. Edesio Alejandro, Cuban composer and musician premiered his first attempt at film, documentary Los 100 Sones Cubanos (The 100 Cuban "Sones") at this year's Havana Film Festival New York. For a Cuban musician, this was a piece of art, an ethno-musical journey through his country's "faceless history" where prominent musical families, cross-cultural circumstances, and socio-economic changes affected a rhythm that I learned to be the voice of Cuba - el son. The son Cubano is the distinct musical genre specific to Cuba, born of its culturally diverse people with variations spread out from the small villages to the bustling cities. Alejandro's original concept for the project was to find the 100 most popular sones of Cuba and record a compilation of these songs by prominent musicians and singers. But as he was interviewing the people of Cuba (in the streets, in the universities, anywhere a person with an opinion could be found), Alejandro realized that the soul of the son was so engrained in the Cuban people that he could not limit his research and his final product to the confines of a music studio. He and his crew set out on a journey to document the evolution of the son; he pinpointed historical changes in the rhythm and found local musicians in the areas where the son rhythm was affected.
What is fascinating is how the son varies from place to place, affected by instrumentation influence: a family of bamboo instrumentalists from sugar cane fields passes down the tradition of incorporating the plant in the music; a three-century old clay urn from Spain becomes a booming bass; the process of making coffee creates music in the field, and so on. You quickly realize how much music is a daily interaction for Cubans - Cándido Fabré, a prominent Cuban songwriter and street poet, begins his freestyle homage to el son as he walks through a city square, and the growing crowd behind him keeps tempo with a quick and not-so-simple clave.
What truly moved me was seeing the old pump-organ player speak of his love to maintain the tradition of having this music continue. With only two known working organs left in Cuba, he holds the knowledge and the last remaining instruments to keep this tradition alive. He was overcome by tears saying, "I do not retire because I want this music to go on."
THE BARE FEET™ FIVE: 1. Don't Miss It! The final screening for Los 100 Sones Cubanos (The 100 Cuban "Sones") will be held on Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 at the Instituto Cervantes in New York at 6pm. Edesio Alejandro will be there for a Q&A (he only speaks Spanish, but they do have a translator). 2. More Films! The Havana Film Festival New York continues through Sunday, April 22nd, 2012 with 40 films at six venues in three boroughs - get your tickets now! 3. The Music of the Film: 100 Sones Cubanos is a full music compilation from the film and is available to purchase! A beautiful repertoire of sones, including recordings on site from these remote locations as well as studio recordings from professional masters. 4. Buena Vista Social Club: El son Cubano is a style of music that was popular in the early half of the 20th century, but it has made a huge comeback with the success of the Buena Vista Social Club - their studio album is a must-have! 5. 1950's Havana: Son Cubano, a Cuban-style supper club in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, is a throwback to the opulent days of Havana before the embargo. Dinner, dancing, and of course el son - 544 West 27th Street (between 10th & 11th Ave), New York, NY (212) 366-1640.