The infectious buzz surrounding Cuba has made its way to the SFJAZZ Center, as members of the SFJAZZ staff and board prepare for departure to the Havana International Jazz Festival this weekend. This year marks an important milestone in relations between Cuba and the U.S., and although a few of the group are veteran travelers (some having visited Cuba a number of times in the past), this trip feels particularly special in light of the many expectations we all have as Cuba opens itself to the world, and as the world opens up to Cuba.
My task for those in the group who had never been to the island was to provide some cultural insights, and what better way to get to the heart of Cuban culture than through its music?! The goal was to create a play-list that could embody the island’s many musical innovations throughout the decades, and while it was not necessarily a daunting endeavor, the challenge was in creating a comprehensive list that would highlight the enormous range of musical genres without appearing unnecessarily “academic.” How many songs should I include? Which of the greats must I include, and more importantly, who would be cut out? Would this list provide enough of the essence to someone who has absolutely no understanding of Cuban music, and similarly, could it be equally engaging to diehard “Cubafiles?”
My realization that none of these questions really mattered, as long as the play-list included great music by some Cuba’s most celebrated artists, and as long as it was made with love. The songs contained here represent over 100 years of history and evolution – from rumba and danzón to the most contemporary genres such as timba and reggaetón. There is a dash of rock and hip-hop, a ballad here and there, and so much more. It hadn’t dawned on me until I had listened to it multiple times that it ran nearly four hours long! In some cases there are multiple versions of the same song, and there are reasons why they are included, but you don’t need to worry about that. Just know that this musical time capsule is a genuine representation of some of Cuba’s most beloved songs, some of which have transcended time. Enjoy!
By Rebeca Mauleón, SFJAZZ
December 10, 2015