DAY 1 at JazzX: When Cubano rhythm meets Timisoara

Oana Vasiliu 06/07/2024 | 13:00

This weekend, a new season of JAZZx opened in Liberty Square in Timișoara, hosting over 120 artists. Local, national, and international audiences are expected to participate in this memorable edition that equally brings together artists from all over the world: Matteo Mancuso, MonoNeon, Jazzbois, Jordan Rakei, Gogo Penguin, and Roberto Fonseca, alongside the Romanians from Marsdelux, Tereza Catarov, and Mischa Blanos.

Since 2013, JAZZx has aimed to bring high artistic value music closer to all the communities of Timișoara. Over the past 12 years, JAZZx has managed to place Timișoara on the map of major jazz festivals and events worldwide, not only from the perspective of international artists but also for the opportunities it has created for Romanian artist communities that have grown along with it.

Up to this point, there are over 130 Grammy awards attesting to the mastery of JAZZx artists, making it a one of a kind music experience. Another aspect of the festival is the project dedicated to masterclasses with international artists, an almost singular event in the local festival landscape.

When Cuban rhythm meets Timișoara

Life without music is a mistake.”

One of the masterclasses I participated in was Roberto Fonseca’s, an internationally acclaimed Cuban pianist and composer known for his innovative approach to Latin jazz music. His remarkable musical talent is a fascinating combination of Cuban musical tradition and contemporary influences from jazz, fusion, and electronic music. Fonseca has been recognized for his virtuoso piano skills and his ability to bring diverse elements into a harmonious and captivating synthesis.

He has become one of the great ambassadors of Cuban music with an elegant blend of the old and the new. While his main passion remains jazz, the pianist’s style is as diverse as the population of Havana: blues, funk, hip-hop, Afro jazz… A myriad of influences come pouring from his keyboard.

Beyond discussions about improvisation in jazz and rhythm, Roberto, along with part of his band, explained to the audience at the masterclass about the universe of Cuban music.

Roberto’s Fonseca notes of Cuban music

“As Cubans, we have the perfect combination of music. We have the classical music, and the Afro-Cuban. For classical music, we learn the skills, which gives you the opportunity to know the style, to get ready. If you are ready, that means that you can play. On top of the classical music, you have a lot of different styles, and in the Cuban music, the traditional Cuban music, we have Afro-Cuban with the rumba, mambo, bolero, cha-cha-cha. All these things, we get the melodies, the harmony from the classical music, but we get the spirituality from the Afro-Cuban music. That’s why I say that being Cuban is the best. When you have this, everything, all of these elements, put into your life, like in the natural way, you’re playing in another tempo, in a very Cuban style.”

There are various ways to play rhythms, often starting with basic patterns and evolving into more complex structures. In Cuban music, rhythms often connect beats uniquely, blending elements deeply rooted in their culture. To truly understand and play these rhythms, one must delve deeply, as it’s intertwined with traditions.

The beauty of Cuban music lies in its blend of classical music and Afro-Cuban elements. Classical training provides skills and discipline, while Afro-Cuban traditions offer spirituality and unique rhythmic patterns. This combination creates a rich and robust musical foundation that allows Cuban musicians to fluidly adapt to different tempos and styles without losing the essence of their music.

“It’s coming from blood, for sure. That’s coming from blood, we have the ancestors that give us the opportunity to find and to discover the big universe of rhythms.”

When jamming or performing, communication among musicians is crucial. It’s not about showcasing individual skills but about creating harmony and following each other’s lead, ensuring a cohesive performance.

In Cuba, music is omnipresent and part of everyday life. Everyone, whether trained or not, is exposed to music, dance, and rhythm from an early age. This cultural immersion makes rhythm and music feel innate to Cubans, contributing to their unique ability to feel and express music naturally. However, formal music education also plays a significant role in honing these inherent skills.

Cuban musicians are recognized globally for their unique style and ability to seamlessly blend traditional rhythms with contemporary influences, making their music universally appealing yet distinctly Cuban.

What means to be a musician

“When we are playing, we are talking together. Communication. Communication. This is the way.”

Being a musician, especially a Cuban musician, involves understanding and mastering various rhythms and styles. Cuban musicians have a unique approach to rhythm, often connecting beats in innovative ways that require a deep understanding and feel for the music.

“The most beautiful part of music is the silence.”

The essence of being a musician lies in communication and connection with other musicians. It’s about listening, adapting, and creating harmony together, whether playing slow or fast, structured or improvised. Music is a reflection of one’s thoughts and emotions, and the most beautiful part of it is the silence that allows for breathing and creativity.

“One of the most beautiful and the most important things is to hear each other.”

Musicians constantly listen and absorb different styles, from traditional to contemporary, and incorporate these elements into their playing. The ability to blend technical skills with innate musicality, often passed down through generations, is what makes Cuban musicians stand out.

“We, as musicians, we have a really beautiful thing in our hands. We create vibrations. The world was created by vibrations. You touch something and that will change the world. It will make some waves. And that will create some emotions. That means we musicians create vibrations in people. So, after saying this, we musicians first need to learn how to play this instrument. We need to really know how to play the instrument because that will give us the freedom to express what we want to express on that instrument. After you know how to play this instrument, the second part, the most difficult one, is to try to forget about it. Try to spread yourself through the music. Don’t worry if someone tells you, ‘I don’t like that’ or ‘I like this.’ Everything depends on you.”

In Cuba, music is an integral part of life, deeply embedded in the culture. It’s taught and experienced in both formal settings and through familial and communal interactions. This cultural immersion fosters a natural and profound connection to rhythm and music, making it second nature for many Cubans.

Ultimately, being a musician means being free to express oneself, continuously learning, and finding joy in playing and connecting with others through the universal language of music.

For over an hour and a half, Timișoara’s Liberty Square transformed into a massive Cuban dance floor. Initially shy but eventually screaming for an encore, the audience fully embraced the groove Roberto Fonseca explained during his masterclass: music is a vibration that moves us. Chapeau bas.

Last but not least, I would like to acknowledge the remarkable partnership between local jazz festivals. Roberto Fonseca is currently performing at Jazz in the Park in Cluj Napoca, making it a comprehensive Romanian tour.

Photo credit: Flavius Neamciuc

 

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Oana Vasiliu | 28/06/2024 | 12:25
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