Fiesta del Tambor: a Celebration of Cuban soul
By Ciro Bianchi Ross
The seventeenth edition of the Fiesta del Tambor percussion festival, held annually in memory of Guillermo Barreto, took place in Havana recently, an explosion of Cuban soul. The week-long festival brought together Cuba’s best percussionists, rumberos, dance companies and popular Cuban bands at Havana’s top cultural venues.
Giraldo Piloto is the director of percussion group Klimax and one of the founding organizers of the Fiesta del Tambor. Speaking exclusively to CubaPlus he said the festival has become one of the key cultural events in Cuba, combining music with dance and art.
“For seventeen years this event has been developing certain concepts around preserving Cuban culture and our identity. Through the rumba, casino (salsa) and percussion competitions, the event fosters the new talent we have in Cuba who will be the ones to defend and develop what is authentically ours in the future,” he says. “Over the course of many years we’ve received infinite influences from the African continent, from flamenco, or from Franco- Haitian culture as far as music is concerned. This has allowed us to create styles in Cuban music and dance that put us on an internationally recognized level.”
“The fact that new generations take part in this festival together with acclaimed musicians, dance companies and traditional Cuban music and dance groups, it shows that the future of our culture is guaranteed. These new generations feed back in with their contributions, or they reinforce the learning they’ve received through their parents and the Schools of Art. They become the voices that speak to their world, which gives us even more reason to keep on educating them, offering them this showcase or stage for their development, so as to allow them to become the future ambassadors of this culture of ours.”
“In this edition [of the festival] we had the chance to pay tribute to Brazil, since the drum is an element that unites the world’s cultures, and for us it’s a duty, an obligation, because we’ve always been in love with Brazilian music,” says Piloto.
He emphasized the presence of important musicians from that South American nation, including Joao Donato, Nanny Assis and Fabiana Cozza with her group, as well as jazz singer Janis Siegel, an artist who who although not herself Brazilian has identified heavily with Brazilian culture over the course of her lengthy career, consistently delighting audiences at her shows.
Piloto also underlined the importance of the percussion master classes at the festival, which he considers a privilege for those who can attend them considering the calibre of the musicians imparting the classes. This year they included José Luis Quintana “Changuito”, and Antonio Sánchez and Jim Riley from the US. He added that next year the programme would be extended to include dance masterclasses for anyone interested, from Cuba and abroad.
Among the festival’s highlights were the tributes to various Cuban artists held over the course of the week, from the late Merceditas Valdés, to Chano Pozo, Tata Guines, Miguel Angá, Guillermo Amores and “Los Papines”. There was also a celebration of the twenty fifth anniversary of the group Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco.
“Everything that took place over the week of the festival has enabled this event to continue consolidating the cultural prestige we have around the world. The fans of these kinds of music all agree that the Fiesta del Tambor is made possible by the great family of musicians who all take part in support of cubanía,” says Piloto, referring to the concept of Cuban soul, Cuban culture, “Cuban-ness” encompassed by the word cubanía.
The festival took place from March 6 - 11 and was a resounding success. Its closing day at the Mella theatre in Havana saw sets from Yoruba Andabo, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas and Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco, and the winners of the percussion and dance contests were awarded their prizes. The closing night concert at the Salón Rosado at La Tropical was the final flourish, with sets from El Niño y la Verdad, Issac Delgado y su Orquesta, and Alexander Abreu with Habana D’Primera.