Posts Tagged ‘cuba’

Photo: Kimberly Yatsko via EuroNews.
Latin Grammy Awards 2022: 95-year-old Alvarez was nominated for Best New Artist. “Sometimes, I pinch myself,” she says.

File this one under Never Too Old. A sparkling new career awaits a 95-year-old. That’s because of her genuine talent, of course, but it didn’t hurt to have a grandson with a promotional streak.

Sydney Page wrote at the Washington Post, “Growing up in Cuba, Angela Alvarez wanted to be a singer. But after coming to the United States as a young woman, she found herself cleaning a bank in Colorado to make a living.

“It now almost seems impossible that her long-held dream has become a reality: Alvarez was nominated for a Latin Grammy for best new artist. She is 95. …

“Alvarez composed her first song at age 14, then already proficient on piano and guitar. She also loved to sing. When she graduated from high school, Alvarez told her father she wanted nothing more than to become a professional musician. He rejected the idea. …

“ ‘I loved him so much,’ Alvarez said. ‘I liked to be obedient.’

“She put her professional pursuits aside and moved through life, getting married at age 19 and having four children — three boys and a girl.

“Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, upending life as they knew it in their home country. Alvarez and her husband, Orlando — who was a sugar engineer — decided they would flee to the United States. Given his profession, Orlando was initially forced to stay in Cuba. Alvarez took her children — the youngest was 4 and the eldest 15 — to the airport in May 1962, but officials also forbade her from leaving the country, saying she had missing paperwork. Alvarez made the impossible decision to let her children go alone to the United States.

“ ‘It was very hard for me,’ she recalled.

“It took several months before she was granted permission to leave Cuba, and once she arrived in Miami, she wasn’t financially eligible to reclaim her children — who were living at an orphanage in Pueblo, Colo. — through the welfare program they were assigned to.

“Finally, after not seeing her children for nearly two years, she secured a job cleaning a bank in Pueblo and was able to spend time with her kids on weekends. She lived in a small basement apartment.

“Amid her family’s difficult situation, Alvarez strived to fill her children’s lives with happiness, which she did through music. She invited other Cuban children living in the orphanage to join her family, and sang songs to remind them of home. …

“Throughout the many challenges Alvarez faced, she said, she leaned on music to cope with the pain. Over the course of her life, she composed a collection of about 50 songs, reflecting both the deep sadness and joy in her life. … But her music was only enjoyed by her family and friends, as her father had instructed her.

“That changed about eight years ago, when her grandson Carlos José Alvarez decided to record her songs. Carlos, who is a composer, grew up listening to his grandmother sing at family functions. …

“Every time he would visit his grandmother as a child, ‘she would grab a guitar and she would sing,’ said Carlos, 42, who calls Alvarez ‘Nana.’

“As his grandmother was getting older, Carlos wanted to preserve her songs so her future great-grandchildren could marvel at her voice, which he described as ‘angelic and soulful.’ He brought a microphone to her house and asked her to go through her personal trove of tunes. …

“In the process, though, he unexpectedly learned a lot of information about his grandmother’s history — including her undying hope of becoming a singer. …

“ ‘I got so inspired in that moment,’ Carlos said, adding that he decided he would one day bring his grandmother to a recording studio, and produce a proper album of her work. …

“In the years that followed, Carlos was focused on growing his own career. He put his grandmother’s prospective album on the back burner until 2016, when … he arranged to fly his grandmother to Los Angeles, where he lives, to record her songs in a professional studio. …

“In the past year, Alvarez’s career has taken off more than she thought possible. … The ultimate achievement so far has been Alvarez’s Latin Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, which was announced in September.

“ ‘I thought it wasn’t true,’ she said.

“Alvarez is attending the 2022 Latin Grammy Awards on Nov. 17 in Las Vegas with her grandson, and she is scheduled to perform.”

Want to know the rest of the story? She tied for best new artist! See the report. More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Sven Creutzmann/Mambo photo/Getty Images
A performance at the 2015 Havana Biennial. When the Cuban government postponed this year’s event, artists took matters into their own hands.

The recent hurricanes have stressed official budgets all over the Caribbean, and in Cuba, the government blames Irma recovery costs for its decision to postpone a popular arts biennial.

So artists and art lovers decided to organize an alternative event, as Laurie Rojas reports at the Art Newspaper.

“A crowdfunding campaign was launched [in December] for the #00Bienal (5-15 May 2018), an independent alternative event that is due to take the place of the 13th Havana Biennial, which the Cuban government has postponed until 2019 because of a lack of resources after Hurricane Irma hit the island. …

“ ‘The democratically minded #00Bienal will be ‘the Havana Biennial for everyone,’ says the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, one of the main organisers of the event.

“The aim is to provide a platform for artists who do not have the visibility or official status to participate in a government-sponsored biennial. Street, Outsider, performance, digital and conceptual artists and photographers are all invited to submit proposals. …

“[Alcántara] says that ‘the government made a grave error’ when it postponed the Havana Biennial, describing it as ‘the most important cultural event in the country.’

“Other artists and curators, including Tania Bruguera, Alvaro Saavedra and Coco Fusco, as well as independent cultural spaces in Havana, have volunteered to help realise the #00Bienal. It will be completely self-funded and will not seek money from the state.”

Check out the Art Newspaper, here, as well as the Havana Times, here. Hyperallergic details here the government hostility Alcántara ran into for organizing the alternative event.

Two couples I know went to Cuba last year and loved it. If you go in May, please let me know if you see the arts event.

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Photo: World Music
Harold López-Nussa, pianist and leader of the Harold López-Nussa Cuban jazz trio, which astonished the crowd at the Berklee Performance Center last night.

We have now seen the amazing Cuban jazz trio headed by Harold López-Nussa twice, and we still can hardly believe the pyrotechnics and joyfulness that explode from this young crew.

A documentary maker who is a part-time resident of New Shoreham had been to Cuba and, having gotten to know Harold, was determined to bring the trio to Rhode Island. It took a few years. We got to hear them last summer in the St Andrews parish hall.

Last night they played for an astonished crowd at Boston’s Berklee Performance Center as part of the World Music/Crash Arts series.

Here’s what the World Music website says: “Havana-based composer and pianist Harold López-Nussa travels smoothly through his classical, Cuban, and jazz inspirations to create an exceptional style of global jazz. His trio includes his younger brother, Ruy Adrián López-Nussa, a renowned musician in his own right, on percussion and Gaston Joya on bass.”

What is not conveyed by that description is the extraordinary virtuosity of each of the performers. Harold, yes, but also his younger brother the drummer, and his “brother of another mother,” the bass player.

The trio is like a fireworks display that you grin all the way through. In any one piece, they seem to be ending and you start cheering, when all of a sudden there is an explosive burst more astonishing even than the one you just heard — and you’re off to the races again.

Harold is the only one who speaks enough English to introduce the numbers, which he or his bass player or various Cuban greats composed. He likes to tell you about composing one long piece in his rattle-trap Polish car (in video below), which he says is so slow he has loads of time to think. A gentle, nostalgic piece was written for his late mother.

From Harold’s website: “López-Nussa was born into a musical family in Havana on July 13, 1983. Not only are his father and uncle – Ernán, a pianist – working musicians, but his late mother, Mayra Torres, was a highly regarded piano teacher.

“At the age of eight, López-Nussa began studying at the Manuel Saumell Elementary School of Music, then the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory and finally graduating with a degree in classical piano from the Instituto Superior de Artes (ISA). ‘I studied classical music and that’s all I did until I was 18,’ he says. Then came jazz.

“ ‘Jazz was scary. Improvisation was scary. That idea of not knowing what you are going to play…’ he says, his voice trailing off. “At school I learned the works of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven and then it was all very clear. That permanent risk in which jazz musicians find themselves in all the time was terrifying-of course, now I find myself in that risk all the time.’ ”

Last night, as Harold thanked all the people who helped the trio get to Boston, he said, “You wouldn’t believe what it takes to get out of Cuba to come here.” Here’s hoping it gets easier so they can reach all the audiences who will love them.

Check out the trio’s website here and this, the blurb for the World Music concert at Berklee.

Although the video doesn’t show the fireworks of the current trio, it nicely documents how Harold worked with an earlier group of collaborators. And it features the Polish car.

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Allison Keyes at American Public Media Marketplace reported recently on an unusual kind of cruise line — one that is looking for passengers who want a little altruism along with their fun.

“Carnival Corporation’s new brand, Fathom Travel,” she writes, “is seeking to tap into a growing market with its social impact cruises to the Dominican Republic and cultural immersion cruises to Cuba. …

“Its Social Impact cruises are now regularly bringing visitors who want to help out on humanitarian projects to the Dominican Republic.

“In the village of El Cupey, in the mountains above Puerto Plata, Maria Vargas sits on her porch with her family and a neighbor. The 43-year-old and the others are learning to speak English from passengers on Fathom’s cruise. Through an interpreter, Vargas explains that the weekly classes are giving them a chance to improve their lives, and the opportunity to get out of poverty.

“ ‘I want (my) family … to get a new opportunity for a job with this,’ Vargas explained. ‘It has been a big benefit.’

“Along with the English classes, Fathom’s social impact cruises allow passengers to do everything from laying cement floors in homes and planting trees to combat deforestation, to building ceramic water filters in a nation where more than 3 million people don’t have access to safe, piped water.”

Says Josh Elliott, international program director at Wine to Water, which “has built and distributed 316 water filters with the help of Fathom passengers since the cruises began, ‘Fathom came to us with the idea and has really provided us with not only filters from volunteers working alongside us in the Dominican Republic, but it’s also given us an amazing platform … We’re inspiring people to give back when they go home and get off the ship.’ …

“But for Fathom to be successful,” cautions Keyes, “it must attract more passengers like Florida native Ken Maida, who said this is different from the 20 previous cruises he’s taken.

“ ‘This one is more for humanity,’ Maida said. ‘This one’s more about volunteerism and giving back to the community, to people who don’t have as much as we do.’ ”

If it sounds a little superficial, it at least helps travelers to see another side of life and think about longer-term service projects.

More here.


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One of the sources I check for ideas to share with you is the website for the delightful environmental radio show, Living on Earth.

A story about the healthy coral reefs in the deep water off Cuba caught my eye, especially as there has been a resurgence of interest in Cuba lately.

Living on Earth host Steve Curwood interviews Robert Wintner about his latest book, Reef Libre: The Last, Best Reefs in the World.

“CURWOOD: Now, your book is very timely. Come on, tell me … you got some kind of tip off on this political thaw? …

“WINTNER: I thank Neptune for that. We got word of this particular reef system [that was] called the last best reef system in the world. And the three qualifiers for that rating were 100 percent biodiversity (that means all the species that were ever there are there now, and in fact some they thought were extinct), 100 percent coral cover and 100 percent host of apex predators, and that was the key right there to restoring these reefs to healthy conditions. No natural system can survive intact without apex predators, that’s what allows every level of the food chain beneath it to be at optimum balance. And the glaring example in the world today is Cuban reefs, our Jardines de la Reina. That’s the ocean people talk about, that the world used to have, that we used to love. It’s there in in Cuba.”

Read all about it here., or listen to the broadcast. Lots of amazing photos. And be sure to note how the Cubans control the invasive lionfish by removing the spines and conditioning bigger predators to the taste.

Photo: Robert Wintner at Living on Earth
Reef Libre: The Last, Best Reefs in the World is diver and photographer Robert Wintner’s most recently published book.

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“JR,” a French street artist, has created a series of murals called “The Wrinkles of the City.”

The wrinkles are the intriguing faces of older people, often pictured on crumbling edifices. Kevin Harnett writes about them at the Sunday Globe, here.

“JR, a Frenchman whose real name is unknown, has become an international art celebrity thanks to his work flyposting oversized black-and-white photographs, often portraits of ordinary people’s faces, to the sides of buildings in cities around the world. …

“JR’s series ‘The Wrinkles of the City,’ which he began in Cartagena, Spain, has also appeared in Los Angeles and Shanghai. More recently he and collaborator José Parlá took to Havana, where they bedecked the old communist capital with the faces of dozens of Cuban Revolution survivors wearing expressions of deep-creased sanguinity. ‘The Wrinkles of the City, Havana, Cuba’ has been adapted for display at the Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery in New York City.” The show may be seen until July 12.

Street art in Cuba by JR

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I am not ordinarily into sports, but I love Bill Littlefield’s Saturday sports wrap-up on WBUR because he is a great storyteller, and he looks for offbeat sports stories.

Today he had one on the over-65 U.S. softball players who have games with an over-65 team from Cuba.

“The Eastern Massachusetts Senior Softball Association has been sending teams to Cuba for annual exhibitions called ‘The Friendship Games.’ The first four EMASS Softball teams visited Havana in 2009 and the meeting reminded [organizer Mike] Eizenberg of kids playing pickup.

“ ‘When we went onto the field, it felt exactly the same way to all of us,’ Eizenberg recalled. ‘Most of the players didn’t speak the others’ language, but we all just loved to play ball.’

“Before that game, Cuban authorities allowed local musicians to play the U.S. and Cuban national anthems. That hadn’t happened in Cuba in 50 years. After three years of exhibitions, Eizenberg decided bringing the Cubans to the States was worth a try. He’s still amazed his Cuban friends made it.

“ ‘No one ever believed that it would be possible for them to come here. All of a sudden, magically, we received permission both from the U.S. government and the Cuban government for the players to come here,’ Eizenberg said. ‘[The Cuban players] say that this proves that nothing is impossible. If this can happen, anything can happen.’ …

“EMASS Softball player Les Gore says the Cubans and the Americans share a love of baseball and softball, but their sports resumes are a bit mismatched.

“ ‘The people playing here representing the U.S. and we’re talking about doctors, lawyers, plumbers. We’re just average guys who love to play softball,’ Gore said. ‘But the Cubans, many of the people who play for the Cuban softball leagues were in their time probably some of the most prominent baseball players that the island has ever produced, so we’re playing against those people.’ ” More.

Photograph: WBUR at  Flickr

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