This year celebrates 70 years of diplomatic relations between Canada and Cuba, but the ties that bind the two nations go far beyond the diplomatic realm. The two countries have shared a long history of mutual admiration that has forged ties in many ways.
With approximately 1.2 million Canadian visitors flocking to Cuba’s beach resorts and capital city every year, the cultural bond that has developed between the two countries over the years has grown exponentially with time. Tourism has led to deeper cultural exchanges, including collaborations in education and the arts. While Cuban music and dance have been winning over the hearts and minds of Canadian tourists for decades, they have also created a bond between the highest levels of professional musicians in both countries, paving the way to numerous collaborations. In recognition of that creative bond, the Canadian Embassy in Cuba, with the strong support of many Canadian companies doing business in Cuba such as Sherritt, Scotiabank, Air Canada and Terracam Équipement International Ltée, has asked a group of Cuban and Canadian musicians to gear up to help celebrate seven decades of the Canada-Cuba friendship with a live concert in Old Havana.
Sure to capture the true spirit of the relationship, the openair concert featured artists from both countries, with Canada proudly represented by Juno-Award winner Sam Roberts, as well as Aldo Mazza, for whom the concert had a particularly special significance.
A graduate of McGill University’s Faculty of Music, Aldo Mazza’s career as a studio musician for over 100 CDs and touring percussionist included four world tours and five CDs with his group, Répercussion. For the past 14 years, he has been helping to build a bridge between Cuban musicians and the outside world by bringing in sponsors, procuring equipment and leading cultural exchange programs.
“This concert really epitomized everything that my involvement in Cuba has been about”, says Mazza. “Friendship is the foundation of an exchange of musical styles, ideas and opportunities that have led to great things over the years”.
Mazza along with Cuban drummer-composer Giraldo Piloto, is currently one of the driving forces behind the annual Havana Rhythm & Dance Festival, during which he runs his annual KoSA Cuba Workshop for participants wanting to interact with some of Cuba’s top percussionists. He has also led music exchange programs to bring musicians from high school bands, choirs and symphony orchestras into Cuba.
Sam Roberts is a Canadian rock singer, songwriter, guitarist, pianist and violinist, whose 2001 debut release, The Inhuman Condition, became one of the best-selling independent releases in Quebec and Canadian music history. He is fluent in English, French and Spanish. As a songwriter, Sam Roberts has been compared to Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, and has also drawn inspiration from artists such as the Beatles, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. Described as “power-pop”, his music pairs catchy hooks and pounding guitar rhythms with meaningful messages.
Themes explored by Roberts include politics, love and human relationships. His songs present a collection of clever observations about the world around him. It has remained Sam Roberts’ priority to use his celebrity as an opportunity to share his ideas and opinions regardless of the demands of his record label and mainstream audience. His aversion to the commercial pop music market, despite his success within it, has earned him a reputation as an artist who chooses musical integrity above commercial success.
Cuba was represented by Carlos Varela, a Nueva Trova singer-songwriter whose compositions have been featured in Hollywood soundtracks and have been performed by other artists, including Jackson Browne. In addition, maestro Eduardo Córdova and the rhythmically-colorful Habana Compás Dance Company also represented Cuba, featuring an explosive blend of percussion skills mixed with Spanish, Flamenco, Afro- Cuban and contemporary dance.