Anyone who has vacationed in Cuba has felt its irresistible allure… those rhythms, beats and sweet melodic sounds that emanate from every walk of life. In a country marked by the beauty of historical ethnic blends, music is the very essence of Cuban culture and a staple of the revolution that continues to thrive through resolute government support for the arts.
On any given night, live performances of music fill the street orners and abundant venues of Havana, the capital, where the eclectic sounds of salsa, rumba, jazz, bolero and son showcase unparalleled skill and consistency.
In early March, the annual Havana Rhythm & Dance Festival (la Fiesta del Tambor)—one of Cuba's most important artistic events—shines a spotlight on the nation's collective talents over the course of a week, featuring gala evening performances, workshops, conferences and amateur competitions. Under the guidance of Giraldo Piloto, the festival's president and artistic director and one of Cuba's most renowned composers and percussionists, the Havana Rhythm & Dance Festival has grown steadily for more than a decade to encompass leading dance companies, musical ensembles, folklore groups, plastic artists and, at its core, some of the most talented percussionists in the world.
Canadian musician Aldo Mazza has been a fixture of the Havana Rhythm & Dance Festival from the start, dating back to a jazz festival he helped create in the resort region of Cayo Coco more than a decade ago. Through his enduring friendship and collaboration with Piloto, Mazza has been instrumental in helping to grow the event to new heights as a key sponsor, organizer, collaborator, teacher and performer. During the annual festival in March, Mazza and his wife and partner, Dr. Jolan Kovacs, also run their annual KoSA Cuba Workshop, providing a unique environment for international participants to interact with some of Cuba's top performers through daily classes in conga, bongo, timbales, standard drums and more.
“Cuba has always been very advanced on the cultural front, with a tremendous amount of energy devoted to arts and culture,” notes Mazza. “The country has developed a huge pool of talented artists and has become an incubator for exchanging innovative ideas and musical styles.”
A graduate of McGill University's Faculty of Music, Mazza's career as a studio musician and touring percussionist has included gigs with the likes of Bon Jovi, Celine Dion, James Brown and Chris DeBurgh. He has recorded over 100 CDs and has four world tours and five CDs under his belt with his own group, Répercussion. His lifelong passion for exploring music on an international level inevitably lured him to Cuba's richly talented shores, where he has worked tirelessly to bridge divides between Cuban musicians and the outside world by securing sponsorships and procuring badly needed equipment for the island's sensational percussion community.
“The level of talent in Cuba is absolutely phenomenal and the rest of the world needs to know about it,” says Peter Stairs, vice president of sales for Canadian-based Sabian Cymbals, an important sponsor of the Havana Rhythm & Dance Festival and proud supporter of Cuban percussion as a whole.
At Maza's urging, Sabian embarked on its own journey of discovery into the heart and soul of Cuban culture and immediately recognized a unique opportunity to align its brand with a level of talent that reaches the pinnacle of the percussion world. Over the past five years, Sabian has pledged its support for the country's thriving music scene through sponsorships and endorsements that are helping to ensure that Cuba's world-class musicians have world-class cymbals and the best tools they need to excel.
“People attending the Havana Rhythm & Dance Festival are so lucky to be exposed to some of the greatest performers in the world, not just in Cuba,” adds Stairs.
Through the impassioned work of Mazza and Piloto, the Havana Rhythm & Dance Festival continues to grow both in size and stature, exposing the world to the collective talent and achievements of a remarkable nation. Those who have been will almost certainly be back, while those who haven't are missing out on one of Cuba's best kept secrets.