A report by Elizabeth Hanly for The Miami Herald.
In a combined concert that promises to be both sublime and rip-roaring, three generations of Cuban and Cuban diaspora musicians come together on Saturday at Miami-Dade County Auditorium to celebrate the 10th anniversary of FUNDarte’s Global Cuba Fest.
(The festival concludes March 24 to 26 with “Ten Million,” a play from Havana that portrays the tumultuous aftermath of the Revolution during the 1970’s and 1980’s.)
The elder statesman of the group is Cuban pianist and composer Ernán López Nussa, who’s been compared by the Jazz Times to none less than Grammy-award winning Irakere founder Chucho Valdes, the godfather of Cuban jazz piano. “Like Chucho before him, Nussa is an insatiable musical omnivore with an intellect to match his giddy enthusiasm,” Peter Margasak wrote in the magazine in 2001.
Besides his work in jazz clubs all over Europe, Nussa is probably most widely known as the pianist in AfroCuba, the all-star band that collaborated with famed Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez during one of the vocalist’s more popular decades in the 1980s.
But the classically trained Nussa also enjoys reworking the dense structures of Bach and Beethoven to create gorgeous miniatures like “Fugue Negro” and “Sonata Patetica Cubana.”
The next generation on Saturday night’s bill is Carlos Puig-Hatem, another classically trained composer and jazz musician, who graduated from the Instituto Superior de Arte, Cuba’s renowned national arts conservatory, then became chairman of its composition department. Since arriving in Miami 11 years ago, the trumpet and flugelhorn player has recorded and collaborated with a number of top jazz and pop artists, including Celia Cruz and Willy Chirino. Currently finishing a doctorate in choral composition at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, Puig-Hatem has composed for chamber groups and orchestras, worked on film scores, and continued to perform as part of his latest project, the Carlos Puig Group, which combines jazz, pop and Afro-Cuban elements. On Saturday expect a sound closer to a Pat Matheny groove.
The third and youngest generation of Cuban artists is represented by Picadillo, a Madrid-based band that still flies under the radar in Miami, although crowds in Havana and Spain’s capital wait in long lines to sing and shout along with the group’s performances.
Picadillo’s singer is Cuban-American Sol Ruiz, who studied opera for a bit before taking off to become a street musician in New Orleans. Soon after she was playing gigs around Europe and opening for the likes of Patti Smith. One Madrid afternoon she wandered onto a plaza and heard some musicians riffing on the Cuban music she grew up with. She jammed with them for most of a day and a night, and Picadillo was born.
“Picadillo isn’t so much the name of a band as a description of how we make our music,” says Ruiz. “Cuban son and guaracha are the meat of the meal, but we add in whatever else we find in the refrigerator.”
A whole lot of that refrigerator’s contents were cooked up during Ruiz’s time in New Orleans. Small wonder that the flavors mix so well together, given that Cuban musicians and those from the American south, especially the deep blues players of New Orleans and the Delta, have been mixing it up for at least a century. At Picadillo’s performance on Saturday there’ll be a blues harmonica and ukulele, and stylings that are reminiscent of Billie Holiday, Dr. John, and even Janis Joplin. All this atop your guaguanco.
It’s a three-tiered night that nicely reflects a decade of celebrating Cuban music around the world.
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IF YOU GO
What: Concert celebrating 10th Anniversary of Global Cuba Fest
When: Saturday, 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. (Doors open at 7 p.m.)
Where: Miami-Dade County Auditorium, 2901 W. Flagler St., Miami.