With the winds of change blowing in terms of Cuba/U.S. relations, Havana is once again poised to become the focus of international attention. Those who long ago visited this cultural mecca will surely return to the vibrant city while still in its purest form, and sparks will fly as hundreds of millions acquaint themselves with Cuba’s leading lady and embark on new love affairs.
In a country that has supported art and culture beyond the dreams of other nations, Havana is the crown jewel. The city is rich in its offering of live arts, including music, film, dance, theater and ballet. It is a living, breathing museum of history and culture, all springing to life while time stands still.
Havana is also a city rife with international festivals celebrating everything from jazz, salsa and percussion, to visual performances of dance, film and plastic arts. In March, the Havana Rhythm & Dance Festival showcases more than 1,600 artists, including dance companies, musical ensembles, folklore groups, plastic artists and some of the most talented percussionists on the planet.
One man whose passion has led him to the center of it all is Aldo Mazza, a Canadian musician and a graduate of McGill University’s Faculty of Music. Mazza’s career as a studio musician and touring percussionist led to the formation of the KoSA Academy in Montreal, where he and his wife, Dr. Jolán Kovács, have built a legacy around music and education. KoSA has also extended its reach and vision of exchanging innovative ideas and musical styles through a series of annual workshops, camps and festivals held in Canada, the United States, Italy, China and Cuba, with the latter unfolding each March during the Havana Rhythm & Dance Festival (La Fiesta del Tambor). “It was love at first sight”, says Mazza, whose organization has risen to the forefront of organizing group travel to Cuba in the last decade to study music, attend festivals andcreate important cultural exchanges. “It’s all about building bridges and blending experiences into unforgettable moments.”
Mazza’s passion and tireless efforts have helped bridge a gap between struggling Cuban musicians and the outside world. He has helped shine a light on Havana’s incredible talent pool of musicians through his annual workshops, by helping to secure sponsorship and through the procurement of much-needed equipment. Along the way, he introduced Canadian cymbal-maker, Sabian, to Cuba’s rich talent pool and the company has subsequently signed numerous Cuban artists to endorsement contracts.
“Over the past 14 years, we have worked very closely with many of Cuba’s best known and respected international artists, including Grammy winner, Chucho Valdez, legendary drummer, Giraldo Piloto and Amadito Valdez of Buena Vista Social Club fame”, notes Mazza. “We also work closely with Cuban cultural entities and officials, including the Ministry of Culture and the Institute of Music, to organize festivals and cultural trips to Cuba.” While the Havana workshop may be the flagship event for Mazza, KoSA also organizes customized performance trips for school bands, choirs and orchestras. His organization’s reach also extends into the grass roots of Cuban culture, bringing groups from Canada, the U.S., South America and Europe into Havana for educational programs and encounters with Cuban life.
“We customize all of our trips and each group has access to a full time private tour bus, guides, translators, instruments and ground coordinators throughout the visit”, explains Mazza. “On the music side, groups get to work with some of Cuba’s finest artists, while school visits, historic tours and exchanges with Cuban peer groups truly contribute a well-rounded cultural experience.”
For those who have taken the one-day Havana tour as an excursion from the island’s beach resorts, the experience falls short of satiating the appetite of a true culture vulture. By day, Havana’s history and stunning architecture takes center-stage, particularly along the narrow streets of Old Havana. However, if your bus leaves before nightfall, then you will miss out on the exhilaration of world-class performances in the arts, night after night.
“There is so much to see and do in Havana, but a day-trip doesn’t even scratch the surface”, says Mazza. “If you want to experience authentic Cuba, a few days in Havana will provide you with a lifetime of memories”.