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The infusion of Cuban music continues in the New Orleans music scene

31st March 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

In recent months, the rhythms of Cuba pervaded the New Orleans music scene more than ever. The group Interactivo not only played its own gig at Tipitina’s but its director, pianist Roberto Carcasses, led a contemporary jazz band at Snug Harbor with members of that ensemble sitting in.

On Thursday, April 3, another fine Cuban artist, trumpeter and composer Julio Padron, affectionately known as Julito, heads a five-piece group, Julio Padron and Cuban Feeling at Snug Harbor. Padron, who has performed with such legendary Cuban artists as pianist Chucho Valdes and Irakare, was also onboard at both Carcasses’ and Interactivo’s gigs. Pianist Osmany Paredes will take over at the piano at the trumpeter’s Snug Harbor date and Interactivo member, Juan Carlos Marin, who sat in on Carcasses’ gig, will be blowin’ trombone.

JULIO PADRON

JULIO PADRON

The reason for the flurry of Cuban musicians here is because visas to enter the United States have become easier to obtain, explains Ariana Hall, the executive director who heads the non-profit organization CubaNOLA that has been responsible for booking these dates and others. Previously accessibility was very restrictive.

“In terms of the Cuban artists getting into the U.S., this is the most liberal (treatment) that the artist visas have been given in the last 55 years – since 1959,” Hall says. “In the past the visas were very difficult to get. So what’s happening is that a lot of promoters are being more active because they are able to have more certainty {of the musicians making the date}. A lot of times you might book a group from Cuba and then there would be visa complications.”

Because many of the artists are now getting five-year visas that allow multiple entries into the U.S., promoters, naturally feel a greater sense of security in creating an event. That fits well with CubaNOLA’s mission of building long-term relationships with the musicians they bring to New Orleans.

“We don’t just do shows, we’re not promoters – we are an arts organization,” Hall explains, adding that its goals are for the artists to learn something of the traditions and music of New Orleans and to meet everyday people. “They all agreed to stay here for an extended period of time. The majority of Interactivo’s members stayed in New Orleans 10 days with three others remaining two weeks.”

While in the city, many of Interactivo’s musicians showed up at the Single Men Social Aid & Pleasure Club’s Sunday afternoon parade, had the unique experience to admire the Mardi Gras Indians who masked and roamed the streets on St. Joseph’s night, attended the funeral of Big Chief Derrick “Big Dee” Magee that included the participation of many masked Black Indians and, naturally, went out to hear bands all around town.

If all works well, there’s hope that CubaNOLA, which does “block booking” with its colleagues in Miami and New York, will be able to continue to bring in more Cuban artists from both the island nation and New York City. Next up is the arrival of pianist Jorge Luis Pacheco who will offer a unique sound to Tipitina’s annual Piano Night on April 28, 2014.

“Across the board, everybody sees and feels the connection with New Orleans,” says Hall of the musicians that CubaNOLA, which is now celebrating its 15th anniversary, has brought to town. “Each person connects differently.”

Next Up – Freret Street Festival

As we roll into the heart of New Orleans festival season, the Freret Street Festival, Saturday, April 5, 2014, becomes a warm-up of sorts to the upcoming French Quarter and Jazz fests. Since it began in the mid-1990s, it, like those forerunners, has grown considerably though it continues its neighborhood feel.

It has added yet another stage bringing the total to five at its locale that spans Freret Street between Napoleon and Jefferson avenues. Interestingly, there seems to be certain musical themes on certain stages. For instance, the Napoleon Avenue Stage reflects Uptown in presenting vocalist Charmaine Neville and the Caesar Brothers. The 13th Ward has long been considered Nevilleland, home of the Uptown rulers. Also appearing at that venue are the Uptown Mardi Gras Indian gangs, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles and the Wild Magnolias led by “Lil Bo” Dollis.

Moving up to the Jefferson Avenue Stage, the flavor becomes more international with the appearance of multi-instrumentalist Seguenon Kone, a native of the Ivory Coast who moved to New Orleans about six years ago. He’s renowned for his work on the balafon, a wooden instrument similar to a xylophone and the djembe, an African drum.

Also on that stage is master percussionist Bill Summers, who is best recognized for performing with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters (he’s still with the band minus Hancock) and co-leading, with trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, Los Hombres Calientes. For this show, he leads his group Jazsalsa, which, as the name suggests offers a blend of international flavors. The very danceable music has elements of jazz and the Latin rhythms of salsa, mambo and rumba as well as African beats.

The Freret Street Festival, which runs from 11 am to 7 pm, naturally includes a food court complete with picnic tables, arts and crafts and a children’s area.

This article originally published in the March 31, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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