Cuban band gets visa, performs here after 20 years

TACOMA, Wash. – Pablo Menéndez and his band Mezcla, one of Cuba’s hottest and most talented groups of musicians, will perform at University of Puget Sound on Tuesday, Sept. 16.

Known for their fusion of Cuban jazz, Afro-Cuban rumba, and Cuban rock and son (salsa), the guitarist and his band have been influencing the Caribbean music scene since their formation in 1985. Renowned musician Carlos Santana once described Mezcla’s music as “the cleanest, freshest water I have ever tasted.”

The presentation and performance by Menéndez and Mezcla will start at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 16, in Schneebeck Concert Hall. The performance is free and open to the public.

“Pablo Menéndez and Mezcla ask in this performance “What Keeps Us Apart?”— referring to American-Cuban relations,” said John Lear, professor of history. “Their long-awaited appearance is part of a complicated and long-delayed answer.”

“In spring 1994 Mezcla was scheduled to appear on campus with the Afro-Cuban singer Lázaro Ros, but the U.S. Department of State denied the band a visa. In 2009 American-born Pablo Ménendez came to campus without his band—who were still denied visas—and thrilled a Tacoma audience with his stories and songs of shared musical traditions.

“Now, as political relations between the United States and Cuba start to thaw, and with visas approved for Mezcla, we finally have a chance to celebrate ‘what brings us together,’ with Pablo and Mezcla at Puget Sound.”

Mezcla (which means “mixture”) is coming to the Pacific Northwest following a series of sizzling concerts on their 2013 U.S. summer tour that included packed houses at Yoshi’s jazz club in Oakland and Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. The ensemble have just spent a long stretch at home in Cuba, where they played a special concert at Havana’s Jazz Plaza celebrating their new, live concert DVD Pablo Menendez & Mezcla: Todos Estrellas del Jazz Cubano.

The band is widely recognized for its rumba and Yoruba African rhythms, as well as fusions of traditional jazz with show tunes, electric urban blues, and contemporary neo-bop. Their Akimba! CDwas nominated for a Latin Grammy Award in 2002, and I’ll See You in Cuba was nominated for the Best Latin Jazz Album Grammy Award in 2010. Mezcla released the CD “Cantos” in 1993.

Menéndez, born in Oakland, Calif., has been living in Cuba and working in Cuban music since the mid-1960s. He is the only North American who has been a part of the last 30-plus years of Cuban music. Menéndez and his mother first moved to Havana when he was 14 years old, so he could spend a year studying at the Escuela Nacional de Arte or National Art School in Havana. He stayed in Cuba to marry Andria Santana, now an internationally known Spanish-language actress, and became involved in the emerging Cuban popular music scene that continues today.

The performance and presentation by Pablo Menéndez and Mezcla is sponsored by the Matthew Norton Clapp Visiting Artists Fund, the School of Music, Latin American Studies, Hispanic Studies, and Latino Studies.


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