Talking about Cuban country music with Eduardo Muñoz is a privilege. Muñoz is a choreographer, dancer, founder and director of the Ballet Folclórico Cucalambé (Cucalambé Folkloric Ballet) and has dedicated his life to studying and promoting Cuba´s rural roots as part of its identity. Perhaps that is the reason why he did not hesitate in founding the Ballet Folclórico Cucalambé, fostering an artistic project that after 25 years has become one of the pillars of Cuban art. “I started as a dancer at 16 as part of the Rumores del Hormigo group and Iearrned all about the country culture which, unfortunately, had not been well preserved in Cuba. In 1989, I formed my own set and I incorporated contemporary elements to attract dancers that may have seen this genre as archaic. We have been performing ever since, it has already been 25 years.
Country music has been your main focus, however, you have approached other aspects of music and Cuban dance.
At the beginning we started with people who knew country music, then we called the dancers and we added musicians who played Afro-Cuban music and we formed a percussion group that has accompanied us in all congo, yoruba, rumba, and abakuá music recitals. Our company was born in Guanabacoa. I was initiated in the Regla de Ochá, a religious expression of African origin, and I have brought these influences with me, which I contribute to the group. We are also a fundamental pillar of the Wemilere event that takes place every two years.
What have been the major achievements and directions of the Ballet folklorico Cucalambé during these past 25 years?
We created a company to revive an almost forgotten rural culture and promote this Afro-Cuban work and it has been quite challenging. For 15 years we participated in the television program Palmas y Cañas, devoted to country music. We were recently at the Iberoamerican Festival based in the province of Holguín.
Canada-Cuba Sports and Cultural Festivals
In addition, we have been working with Canada-Cuba Sports and Cultural Festivals, a Canadian firm based on the island for students interested in the yoruba culture, and we are involved with some national schools where we offer workshops on Afro-Cuban or Cuban-African music. This project is part of the Canada-Cuba Sports and Cultural Festivals and here students can learn the essence of Afro-Cuban culture and how it has influenced traditional Cuban popular culture.
How does the group work?
It is very intense work; we rehearse each day from 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., regardless of whether we have an upcoming event or not. We teach techniques, folklore classes, then rehearse the repertoire. The dancers only have one day off per week. Unfortunately, although art schools have great technical rigor, there is no focus on country music.
What are some future projects?
We plan to return to the city of Cumaná in Venezuela, which will celebrate its 500th anniversary in 2015, where we will be performing. We were recently on a spectacular tour in Mexico. International tours are great, they offer the possibility of meeting artists from all over the world. We also did a national tour which was one of the most wonderful experiences over the past 25 years. We began in Guantánamo, in Eastern Cuba, and finished at María la Gorda, Pinar del Río, the Western-most province.
We also have plans to go to Russia, and, most of all continue representing Cuban culture and educating people.