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U.S., Cuban Musicians Jam in Havana

on March 29, 1999 No comments
By ALISA VALDES-RODRIGUEZ – TIMES STAFF WRITER

HAVANA — The Cubans may have lost their baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday afternoon, but it didn’t matter much that night at the Karl Marx Theater, where American and Cuban musicians were also brought together here for the first time in 40 years–only in this case, they were all playing for the same team, in concert.

As dozens of Cubans milled about outside the theater, hoping to be allowed in, 5,000 of their well-dressed compatriots attended the invitation-only concert, which featured U.S. musicians such as Bonnie Raitt, the Indigo Girls and Montell Jordan, and such Cuban artists as Jose Maria Vitier, Chucho Valdes, Isaac Delgado and Giraldo Piloto. The concert was the final showcase for songs co-written by Cuban and American musicians as part of a weeklong collaboration called “Music Bridges.”

The exchange was the fifth such event organized by Woodland Hills songwriter Alan Roy Scott–a soft-spoken, gentle man who genuinely believes music has the power to unite cultures and people. It marked the first time in nearly 40 years that musicians from the ideologically opposed nations separated by 90 miles of ocean have written songs together with the blessings of both governments.

Bonnie Raitt appeared on Late Night with Craig Kilborn to speak about her unique experience in Cuba with Music Bridges.
In 1999, stars including Bonnie Raitt, Burt Bacharach, and Peter Frampton played a concert in Havana, designed to highlight collaborations between American and Cuban musicians. (March 29)
Cuba Is Way Too Cool - Music Bridges Cuba - March 1999
Bonnie Raitt - Woody Harrelson - Rey Guerra - Pablo Menendez - Lucia Huergo
Building A Bridge To Havana - Produced by Todd Smallwood and Jerry Merrill (MusicBridges.com)
Music Bridges in Cuba (1999) as reported by FOX News
Music Bridges in Cuba (1999), covered by CNN
History was made in Cuba-US relations, as more than 90 talented American, European, and Cuban artists and songwriters united in Havana, Cuba. In a groundbreaking collaboration, this project marked a pivotal moment in Cuban-US cultural relations. The event was organized in partnership with Cuba's Instituto Cubano de la Musica and Ministerio de Cultura, and was licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department, defying the constraints of the embargo. Over a span of just five days, these remarkable artists crafted and recorded over 60 captivating songs. The grand finale took place at the iconic Karl Marx Theatre, where an electrifying free concert enthralled the audience. To top it off, the participants enjoyed an exclusive reception with Fidel Castro. This extraordinary endeavor attracted a star-studded lineup including Burt Bacharach, Gladys Knight, Mick Fleetwood, Peter Buck (REM), Bonnie Raitt, Woody Harrelson, Dave Koz, Jimmy Buffett, Stewart Copeland, Andy Summers (The Police), Peter Frampton, Duncan Sheik, Indigo Girls, Lisa Loeb, and Don Was. On the Cuban side, the luminaries included Chuco Valdés, Alberto Tosca, Carlos Varela, and members of acclaimed bands such as The Buena Vista Social Club, Los Van Van, Sintesis, and NG La Banda. The ongoing political stalemate between Cuba and the USA at the time was a perfect backdrop for our people to people exchange that generated a tremendous amount of global media awareness in showing what was possible when 125 total songwriters and artists from two cultures in conflict worked together with guitars and pianos instead of guns, weapons, or anger.
History was made in Cuba-US relations, as more than 90 talented American, European, and Cuban artists and songwriters united in Havana, Cuba. In a groundbreaking collaboration, this project marked a pivotal moment in Cuban-US cultural relations. The event was organized in partnership with Cuba's Instituto Cubano de la Musica and Ministerio de Cultura, and was licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department, defying the constraints of the embargo. Over a span of just five days, these remarkable artists crafted and recorded over 60 captivating songs. The grand finale took place at the iconic Karl Marx Theatre, where an electrifying free concert enthralled the audience. To top it off, the participants enjoyed an exclusive reception with Fidel Castro. This extraordinary endeavor attracted a star-studded lineup including Burt Bacharach, Gladys Knight, Mick Fleetwood, Peter Buck (REM), Bonnie Raitt, Woody Harrelson, Dave Koz, Jimmy Buffett, Stewart Copeland, Andy Summers (The Police), Peter Frampton, Duncan Sheik, Indigo Girls, Lisa Loeb, and Don Was. On the Cuban side, the luminaries included Chuco Valdés, Alberto Tosca, Carlos Varela, and members of acclaimed bands such as The Buena Vista Social Club, Los Van Van, Sintesis, and NG La Banda. The ongoing political stalemate between Cuba and the USA at the time was a perfect backdrop for our people to people exchange that generated a tremendous amount of global media awareness in showing what was possible when 125 total songwriters and artists from two cultures in conflict worked together with guitars and pianos instead of guns, weapons, or anger.
Unisong's 2nd Annual Grand Prize Winner Ruth Merry traveled to Havana, Cuba for this historic songwriting retreat, held in tandem with Music Bridges. Ruth had the chance there to interact and work with an array of American, Cuban, and international artists including Bonnie Raitt, Jimmy Buffet, Mick Fleetwood, Andy Summers & Stewart Copeland (The Police), Indigo Girls, Peter Buck (REM), Burt Bacharach, Joan Osborne, and Lisa Loeb. More info at unisong.com or myspace.com/unisong12
Unisong's 2nd Annual Grand Prize Winner Ruth Merry traveled to Havana, Cuba for this historic songwriting retreat, held in tandem with Music Bridges. Ruth had the chance there to interact and work with an array of American, Cuban, and international artists including Bonnie Raitt, Jimmy Buffet, Mick Fleetwood, Andy Summers & Stewart Copeland (The Police), Indigo Girls, Peter Buck (REM), Burt Bacharach, Joan Osborne, and Lisa Loeb. More info at unisong.com or myspace.com/unisong12
Unisong's 2nd Annual Grand Prize Winner Ruth Merry traveled to Havana, Cuba for this historic songwriting retreat, held in tandem with Music Bridges. Ruth had the chance there to interact and work with an array of American, Cuban, and international artists including Bonnie Raitt, Jimmy Buffet, Mick Fleetwood, Andy Summers & Stewart Copeland (The Police), Indigo Girls, Peter Buck (REM), Burt Bacharach, Joan Osborne, and Lisa Loeb. More info at unisong.com or myspace.com/unisong12
Unisong's 2nd Annual Grand Prize Winner Ruth Merry traveled to Havana, Cuba for this historic songwriting retreat, held in tandem with Music Bridges. Ruth had the chance there to interact and work with an array of American, Cuban, and international artists including Bonnie Raitt, Jimmy Buffet, Mick Fleetwood, Andy Summers & Stewart Copeland (The Police), Indigo Girls, Peter Buck (REM), Burt Bacharach, Joan Osborne, and Lisa Loeb. More info at unisong.com or myspace.com/unisong12
A clip from the concert film I've created / edited and produced a few years back. The movie was released by Universal Video, played in movie theaters and radio stations nationwide, aired on the PBS network over 550 times and sold over 500.000 copies to date, and is available in video stores and the web.

The first number, a group rendition of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” led by R&B singer Brenda Russell, was as sentimental as a middle school slow dance, but the evening quickly perked up with the third song of the night, “Saint Elixer,” in which Indigo Girl Amy Ray’s powerful vocal purring was nicely matched with Cuban singer Luis De La Cruz’s more ethereal sound.

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Though there were many big names from the rock world of decades past, including Mick Fleetwood and Jimmy Buffett, the undisputed American stars of the show Sunday night were two relative newcomers, both of them hip-hop artists: Montell Jordan and Michael Franti.

The crowd, sort of a who’s-who of Cuban power, was polite but seemingly uninspired until the collaborations between Jordan and the beach-blond leader of the Cuban dance group Sintesis, Carlos Alfonso. “Walking on Sunshine,” a reggae-flavored love song, got the audience dancing.

But it was Jordan’s second offering, a ballad called “Unlonely,” that proved him to be a thoughtful, gymnastic vocalist. Performing only with Alfonso’s piano as backing, Jordan won the crowd over with his showmanship and his heartfelt lyrics about seeing a sad-looking man on the streets of Cuba who “looks a lot like me.”

But the most profound, insightful and daring of the night’s lyrics were those written by Franti, a socially conscious rapper who heads the group Spearhead. His song, “Can’t Stop the Bus,” was the result of Franti’s unauthorized wanderings about the streets of Havana in search of inspiration, and the lyrics spoke of the frustration he saw in the eyes of Cuban citizens who are crammed onto buses, forbidden to enter fancy hotels and beaches.

“You can’t see it, but you can feel it,” he started the song by rapping. “It’s coming, y’all.” What followed was an incisive stream of consciousness in which Franti compared current Cuba to an out-of-control bus, in which the people will eventually “go home in disgust until tomorrow’s bus comes. . . . There’s a new day coming in Cuba, y’all, another bus is on the way,” he sang.

As Franti sang in English, Communist Party members danced to the beat, seemingly unaware that Franti was voicing political opposition to their government.

Everybody knows that the embargo just hurts the Cuban people. So I went to my guitar company and bought a bunch of guitars at cost, and I’m going to give lots away to the music school here, and the rest to people I know here.

Bonnie Raitt

Unfortunately, not all of the collaborations were as sharp and interesting. “If You Go,” a two-chord vamp written by Gary Burr, Don Was and Cesar Portillo, was lukewarm. “I Wanna Make Love to the Music,” with Mick Fleetwood as lead singer, was passe and tedious enough to set the crowd to chatting. Buffett, who annoyed musicians from both countries by arriving late, demanding the Presidential Suite at the Hotel Nacional and missing rehearsals, made a surprise appearance on the song, but his presence added little.

Other scheduled performances included a collaboration between Cuban artists Rey Guerra and Pablo Menendez with Raitt and actor-cum-musician Woody Harrelson, and another between Kiki Corona, Chucho Valdes, Lisa Loeb and Gary Bartz.

At the halfway point of the concert, nearly all of the songs had lyrics in English, and there was very little of the traditional, and complex, Cuban rhythms to be heard. This probably was due to the superior training of the Cuban musicians–a fact noted in several jam sessions throughout the week.

Nonetheless, all Cuban and American musicians interviewed have said they were very satisfied with their creative efforts of the past week. Indeed, watching the well-intentioned, if a little naive, hugs and smiles onstage, it was hard not to be happy for everyone here.

According to Cuban singer Amaury Perez, who helped organize the event, “It’s been a beautiful experience.”

Misidentification–Mick Fleetwood was mistakenly named in this article, where Fleetwood was a participant, though not in the cited performance.


Source: © Copyright Los Angeles Times Archives

tip: most convenient way to listen while browsing along is to use the popup button of the player.

Sept. 4, 2004

U.S.-Cuban ‘Bridge’ Music Finally Released

Historic Havana Session Tapes Surface After Five Years in Limbo

In 1999, during a relative thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, a group of American musicians traveled to Havana as part of an independent cultural exchange program called Music Bridges Around the World.

Bonnie Raitt, Mick Fleetwood, Gladys Knight and others met up with a group of contemporary Cuban musicians at Havana’s Hotel Nacional for a collaborative recording session. It was the largest U.S.-Cuban musical project in more than 30 years.

But U.S. trade restrictions and legal tangles kept the session tapes off the market for five years. NPR’s Phillip Davis reports on the long-awaited release of Bridge to Havana on CD and DVD.

Despite the politics, the language barriers and the time pressures — the project was scheduled to last one week — the musicians wrote, arranged and recorded more than 35 original songs.

At the end of the sessions, the artists performed a marathon concert at Havana’s Karl Marx Theater.

Cinematographer Haskell Wexler caputured the event for a documentary, also titled Bridge to Havana, which is being released along with the CD.


Source: © Copyright NPR

Bridge to Havana

CD from Music Bridges Cuba 1999
Pyramid Records
2004

Documentary film of the sessions on DVD, performance of Bonnie is not on it.

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