Berklee Blogs

First-hand accounts of the Berklee experience

Author: Brenda Pike (Page 1 of 2)

A Visit with Chucho Valdés

The morning after their big concert and the Afro-Cuban celebration of Chango, the Berklee students enjoyed perhaps the highlight of their Cuban experience—a visit to the home of Chucho Valdés. Just back from a tour, Valdés treated the students to the story of how he first met Berklee founders Lawrence and Alma Berk at the Havana nightclub Tropicana and was offered a scholarship to the school (which he unfortunately wasn’t able to accept).

Enrico de Trizio Playing Chucho's Piano

Photo by Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons

Finding out that Enrico de Trizio played piano, Valdés offered him the use of the piano in his studio. Enrico took him up on it, first playing an instrumental and then, with Julia Easterlin, “Silencio.” Then Enrico yielded the bench to Valdés, who played a song off his new CD, Chucho’s Steps. Discussing the structure of the song afterwards, Valdés even offered to email Enrico the changes.

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A Bembé at the Arangos’ Home in Cuba

Still running on the adrenaline from their concert at the Museo de Bellas Artes, Berklee’s Interarts Ensemble went directly to a bembé celebrating the Yoruba diety Chango at the home of the musical Arango family. The two percussionist brothers and vocalist sister perform with their band (Hermanos Arango) internationally, and Eugenio, who is known for his work with Irakere and Pablo Milanes, had just performed with the Berklee students at the museum. His brother Feliciano is a pioneer of the timba style of bass in Cuban dance music.

Bembe at the Arangos'

Hansel Santos Gómez (leftmost drummer) takes a turn on the batás.

That night, the Arangos hosted batá drummers performing traditional rhythms to welcome the gods of the Yoruba religion, along with dancers who paid tribute to the Yoruba deities Oshun and Chango. Hansel Santos Gómez, the percussionist who accompanied the Berklee students in both their concerts that week, even stepped in for a song or two. He wasn’t the only one. The evening was completely interactive, with call-and-response singing as well as dancing that filled the Arangos’ entire backyard.

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Redefining Fine Arts in Cuba

The big concert at the Museo de Bellas Artes felt a little like the ending of The Wizard of Oz. (“And you and you and you…and you were there!”) Familiar faces from the Instituto Superior de Arte, Laboratorio de Música Electroacústica, Ministry of Culture, and more had all shown up to support the students in their final presentation.

Eugenio, John, and Neil

Eugenio Arango joins John Hull and Neil Leonard for a song combining batá drums, laptop, and saxophone.

The concert pulled together not only music from different people and different backgrounds, but disciplines other than music, as well, with dance and visual art giving the performance even more depth. Offering multiple ways for the audience to access the performance seems especially important in electronic music, which has been strongly linked to interdisciplinary art in Cuba since Juan Blanco premiered Cuba’s first work in the genre “Musica para Danza.” The mixture certainly went over well with the audience at the Museo de Bellas Artes!

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Cuba’s Laboratorio Nacional de Música Electroacústica

While in Cuba, the students in Berklee’s Interarts Ensemble worked on their compositions at the Laboratorio Nacional de Música Electroacústica, founded by Cuban electroacoustic pioneer Juan Blanco. Katie Bilinski described its role in relation to the Instituto Superior de Arte as like that of Mix One Studios to Berklee. This is where they spent most of their time, preparing the pieces that would be shown during their final concert at the  Museo de Bellas Artes.

Julia at the LMNE

Julia Easterlin practices with the help of LNME engineer Miguel Parera.

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Electronic Music at Cuba’s Instituto Superior de Arte

I had barely touched down in Cuba (and in fact hadn’t even checked into the hotel yet) before being whisked off to a concert that Berklee students were presenting at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA).

Enrico de Trizio, Katie Bilinski, Julia Easterlin, and John Hull had sent CDs and scores of the works to be performed before arriving, but had practiced with ISA students for just an afternoon before presenting the multidisciplinary show. It was an almost incongruous mix of instruments that nevertheless worked well together.

Modern Dancers at ISA

Photo by Brenda Pike

Two ISA students, Denise Espinoza and Lena Maria Baró, danced their interpretation of a song composed by Berklee Electronic Production and Design professor Neil Leonard and played by him on saxophone, John on laptop, and Julia on vocals.

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