Musical envoy heads for Cuba

Brass Quintet Tours Cuba, May 1-8 2015

Making History
On May 1, 2015, Gustavo Camacho will travel to Cuba for 10 days to tour with a professional brass quintet comprised of music faculty from four different universities.

It will be the first time in 50 years that an outside professional brass quintet performs in Cuba. Decades of sanctions and poor relations between the United States and Cuba have severely limited the cultural exchanges between the two countries. The professional quintet will perform brass concert music for the Cuban people, while the quintet members immerse themselves in the Afro-Cuban musical society. The quintet’s feature performance is at a music festival in Santiago de Cuba called “Concierto Santiago 2015,”  along with other smaller performances and masterclasses with local Cuban musicians and conservatory students.  The tour will take the quintet to Havana, Sancti Spiriti, and end in Santiago de Cuba.


12 months in the making
With the new political talks between Obama and Castro, visits to Cuba have opened up to more groups – although it is still limited to educational, religious, or selective touring groups.  The brass players were able to gain approval from the Cuban government in their roles as educators at their respective Universities. They also received a personal written invitation to perform at the festival by Cuban host Daniel Guzman, who is associated with the music conservatory in Santiago.  After the official invitation had been approved by the Cuban government, a licensed U.S. Agency called “Marazul” was in charge of booking all travel and expenses. Since U.S. credit cards have not been accepted in Cuba in the past decades, any expenses in incurred in Cuba need to be arranged in advance, or paid in cash. The process takes months.

All-star cast
The quintet brings together an all-star cast of American musicians.  The quintet was brought together by Dr. Michael Davison, Professor of Trumpet at the University of Richmond.  He is a frequent visitor to Cuba as part of his decades long research on Afro-Cuban music. Afro-Cuban music is closely tied to American Jazz, which has become a rich staple and musical tradition in the United States.

Over the last two decades, Dr. Davison has visited Cuba 29 times, often taking documentarian Brian Ross to record the events with photography and film.  Brian Ross will also accompany the quintet on this historic Cuban tour to record the events.  The quintet includes renowned trumpet player and University of Wisconsin at Madison faculty John Aley, a former member of the famed American Brass Quintet.  The group is rounded out by distinguished Penn State University music faculty Mark Lusk on trombone and Velvet Brown on tuba.  Collaboration of this nature across four universities is almost without precedent.

Model for diplomacy?

Afro-Cuban music and American Jazz continue to be closely related.  They have influenced each other through the Miami-Havana route, despite the 50-year embargo. In the deep shadow of the Cold War legacy, music and culture prevailed, maintaining a meaningful link between the two countries.  Collaboration, evolution, progress.  Musical diplomacy.

The Quintet
Mike Davison, trumpet
Professor of Trumpet, University of Richmond

John Aley, trumpet
Professor of Trumpet, University of Wisconsin at Madison

Gustavo Camacho, horn
Professor of Horn, Western Washington University

Mark Lusk, trombone
Professor of Trombone, Penn State University

Velvet Brown, tuba
Professor of Tuba, Penn State University

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