Cuban Music in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Cuban Music in Canada

Although there are relatively few Canadians of Cuban origin (379 in 1987), there is a discernible influence of Cuban music on Canadian music, due mainly to its impact on various international styles of pop music, which has often come to Canada via the USA or other Latin American countries.
Although there are relatively few Canadians of Cuban origin (379 in 1987), there is a discernible influence of Cuban music on Canadian music, due mainly to its impact on various international styles of pop music, which has often come to Canada via the USA or other Latin American countries. Furthermore, Canadian and Cuban musicians have performed in each other's countries, providing direct musical contact.

Chicho Valle, born in Cienfuegos, Cuba, came to Canada to sing on the CBC radio show 'Latin American Serenade' in 1946 and then settled in Toronto. Seyda Suzuki, born in Cuba, moved to Quebec City in 1963, and Sergio Barroso moved to Canada in 1980.Many other Cuban musicians have performed in Canada on tours. Some have performed for concert audiences, for example, the pianists Jorge Bolet and Horacio Gutiérrez, and the guitarists Martín Rojas (who performed in Montreal's PDA) and Leo Brouwer. Emiliano Salvador, best known as a jazz pianist who has appeared at, eg, Toronto's BamBoo, performed with the NACO in the summer of 1988. Expatriate jazz musicians Arturo Sandoval (trumpet) and Paquito D'Rivera (alto saxophone) have appeared at festivals and in clubs. D'Rivera has been a frequent visitor to the FIJM, where, in 1990, the Cuban-born singer Celia Cruz sang on Boulevard René-Lévesque for an audience estimated at 75,000. The Havana pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba performed at the FIJM in 1989 and at the El Mocambo and Massey Hall in Toronto in 1991. While in Toronto he recorded an album for release on the US Blue Note label. On occasion, Cuban musicians perform for largely latino audiences as, for example, when the Orquesta Típica La Original de Manzanillo performed in a Toronto dance hall, in the summer of 1990. Several representatives of Cuba's neuva trova movement - a Cuban version of the Latin American political 'new song' - have performed in Canada. Grupo Moncada has visited several times, performing and giving percussion workshops in Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Other neuva trova musicians to visit Canada include Grupo Septiembre Cinco, Combo Los Cañas, and singer-songwriters Noel Nicola and Donato Poveda. The latter, in addition to performing in the Vancouver festival and at Toronto's Free Times Café, gave a lecture at the University of Toronto. Other Cuban musicians to have performed in Canada include the singers Pablo Santamaria, Aurelio Reinoso, Gilberto Aldanás, Rolando Ojeda ('Ojedita'), and Farah María García. Other Cuban groups which have performed in Canada include the Orquesta Típica Jorrin (founded by the inventor of the cha-cha-chá), the Cuarteto Los Papines, Cuarteto Los Modernistas, Combo Los Keleyá, Combo Batey, and Combo Girón. The latter is one of the few groups to have visited Canada that does not work out of Havana; they are from Camagüey.

Cuban Influence On Canadian Music

Jazz and danceband musicians in Canada have testified to the presence of Cuban musical genres or more generalized aspects of Cuban music and dance in Canada. Denis Brown in John Gilmore's Swinging in Paradise (Montreal 1988) has described playing for 'Afro-Cuban dancers' in Montreal black clubs in the late 1940s and early 1950s, while Boogie (Paul) Gaudet recalled playing jazz tunes in the manner of mambos for social dancing at a resort near Grandmère, and in the manner of cha-cha-chás for strippers in Montreal. The process could go the other way; he played Dizzy Gillespie's 'cubop' classic Manteca for a jitterbug. An influential teacher of jazz, Don Palmer, played alto saxophone with a number of Cuban or Cuban-influenced musicians in New York City, including Tito Puente 1969-72, and before that with Machito, Emilio Reyes, Julio Gutiérrez, La Lupe and Charlie Palmiere.

For many of the Latin American immigrants who have come to Canada since the early 1970s, 'musica tropical,' composed to a large extent of Cuban musical genres such as the bolero and son (the latter transformed and exported as a type of salsa), has become one of the symbols of a generalized 'latino' identity. Consequently, the dance bands catering to this population disseminate Cuban styles in Canada. Many of these bands are composed of musicians of both Latin American and Canadian origin. Among the early groups whose names clearly indicate some Cuban affiliation were the Tropicana Combo and Salsa '78. Salsa 3, from British Columbia, recorded the album Poder Latino (1986, Primavera PSP-001). In Toronto there were in 1990 about a dozen 'Latin' bands. Prominent latino bandleaders Memo Acevedo and Ramiro Puerta are both explicitly interested in Cuban styles.

Canadian Music In Cuba

Few Canadian musicians have performed in Cuba. The violinist Frantz Jehin-Prume spent some time in Cuba in the mid-1860s before settling in Montreal. Paul Pratt, Mayor of Longueuil 1935-56, was invited to conduct in Havana in 1946. More recently singers Pauline Julien and Raoul Jobin have performed in Havana. Camerata performed in Cuba in 1976. Efforts at bringing Canadians to play at Havana's annual International Jazz Festival have generally been unsuccessful, although some musicians, including saxophonist Jane Bunnett and trumpeter Larry Cramer, have performed at the festival. Oliver Jones has also performed in Cuba. Cuba imports very few foreign records, because of a shortage of hard currency, and so the influence of Canadian music on Cuban music has been negligible, although some Canadian musicians enjoy a certain popularity in Cuba via recordings disseminated largely by Canadian tourists as gifts (eg, Rush, Dan Hill, Ed Bickert).

Guitar Festivals As A Focus Of Musical Exchange

One focus of musical exchange has been festivals devoted to the classical guitar. Cuba's foremost composer and guitarist, Leo Brouwer, has taught at and participated in the direction of Guitar Society of Toronto festivals, and Eli Kassner has sat on the juries of Havana's International Guitar Competition and Festival. The exchange has extended to competitors and prize winners: Cuba's Joaquin Clerch took 4th place at Guitar '87, and won first prize in the Society's 'Quest for New Music' for his composition Menaya, while two Canadians participated in the third Havana festival (1986), and Canadian Remi Boucher took first prize in the 5th Festival (May 1990) with a performance of Brouwer's Concierto Elegiaco. Brouwer wrote a guitar concerto (his fourth) which was premiered in Toronto and is known as the Toronto Concerto; it is, he says, 'a compendium of my writings'. Brouwer has also performed with flutist Robert Aitken, and some of his other works have been performed in Canada, eg, his Cancion de gesta by the Esprit Orchestra 24 Feb 1986.

Further Reading