A Halifax-area band will be heading on the musical trip of a lifetime on Monday when it gets to play three shows in Cuba, including one at a prestigious music festival.
The Back Alley Big Band, a 19-piece band, will be performing at the Leo Brouwer Festival with Cuban singer Augusto Enriquez. Enriquez has performed with noted artists like Luciano Pavarotti and Sting.
“It’s the music of Frank Sinatra for half the show and the other half of the show is Benny Moré, who is basically the Cuban equivalent of Frank Sinatra,” said Paul Barrett, the lead trombone player and the band leader for the Back Alley Big Band.
The invitation to play the festival is thanks to the work of Enriquez, who was first introduced to Barrett a few years ago through Los Primos, a youth cultural exchange of musicians between Nova Scotia and Cuba. From there, the relationship blossomed.
The Back Alley Big Band has played shows with Enriguez before, so having the group back him up is a natural fit.
“Augusto’s always wanted to sing Frank Sinatra, American big band swing music,” said Barrett.
Remarkably, the 19-piece big band will get even bigger when it heads south. It will be adding a conga player and some male background singers in Cuba to beef up its sound.
While in Cuba, the band is playing three shows, including a gig on Oct. 3 at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba with Company Segundo, a group in which some of its members played in the legendary Buena Vista Social Club.
‘There’s a buzz going on’
The highlight will be an Oct. 4 concert at the Karl Marx Theatre, a venue that seats about 5,000 people. This show is part of the festival.
“Apparently, most of the tickets have been sold for that performance, so it’s going to be a full house,” said Barrett.
It is believed the Back Alley Big Band will be the first Canadian group to play at the festival.
He says for some of the group members, this will be their first time to Cuba.
“There’s a buzz going on, for sure. They’re very excited about it, excited for the opportunity to play before so many Cubans and just to go to Havana which is so musically rich. It’s an amazing opportunity,” said Barrett.
The group members going to Cuba are mostly full-time members, but a few substitutes are making the trek. Barrett says that because the group is made up of working musicians, it’s difficult for the members to all commit to every performance, so there’s a substitute pool the group dips into when needed.