The alternative people

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by: Mónica Sera Luaces


Havana is a city that, like most of capitals, has a very busy cultural movement. Spaces like festivals, fairs, workshops, and symposiums, make easier the meeting with other countries and cultures. However, the events like music festivals promote these kind of gatherings the best. In that sense, Havana has become a stage for alternative music festivals, as well as for music where the alternative character is present from the very conception of the show, and even due to the attending audience.  The festivals Rotilla, Peace and Love (P&L), Havana World Music (HWM) and Pro-electronic can demonstrate that. Such events give an alternative atmosphere to the city that has been developing from a long time in collateral events.

The Rotilla Festival, out of the above-mentioned, is one of the oldest. It defined a style and spirit on its audience, which differs from the rest of audiences attending to other music festivals. The spaces for concerts in the International Book Fairs demonstrated that the Fortress of La Cabaña is an excellent stage for making a festival like Peace and Love, while Havana World Music found a fine place in the baseball stadium of the recreational complex José Antonio Echeverría of Havana, located nearby the seafront, where there wasn’t any tradition of this kind of events.

These alternative spaces offer long-length concerts, some of them last for three or four days, and each one of them with different characteristics; they also promote spaces for cultural debates within their program, showing of audiovisuals, exhibitions of visual arts, and press conferences.

The electronic movement has a space in the country from more than a decade in clubs, discotheques, bars, restaurants, hotels, and beaches or others recreational and entertainment places; its thousands fans are spread all over the country, but undoubtedly, its fans are mostly in Havana. The presence of DJs gets an important role within the movement; and although it is now when there is a full knowledge about this kind of music within the Cuban contemporary musical scene, some of the above-mentioned festivals are the ones that, up to now, have devoted a privileged position for it from their spectacles.

In spite of this, today in Cuba there are few actual spaces to show DJ’s creations, and on these alternative music festivals they have found a perfect place to perform and promote what they are doing.

Due to this flourishing of electronic music in Cuba, during the last few years it was created the festival Pro Electronica, which is an annual nationwide event. Each edition of Pro Electronica presents a diverse show, mainly because of its involvement with the new means. Such event has given a greater importance to this movement that has been growing for more than fifteen years. It is worth to mention that the interaction between artists who have worked this genre for a long time with others who perform for the first time in professionals stages has given Pro Electronica a singular character. And because there are neither a market in Cuba to commercialize the music they make nor an institution to sponsor their performances, we have enough motivation to fight for the continuance of Pro Electronica. This space becomes even more alternative for its followers, as well as for the guest artists.

The Rotilla Festival originated from this effort to promote new things that are being made on electronic music in Cuba.  Rotilla, in reference to the small beach where the first five editions were held. It was an event that mostly promoted the development of electronic music and the avant-garde art in Cuba, that is why since 2008, with the inclusion of well-known alternative bands that were famous among the young Cuban audience, it was started a transformation period in a festival that was characterized by the promotion of electronic music exclusively. That is how three stages with special features were made; they extended over a huge part of Jibacoa beach, and in the evenings there were simultaneous performances: the “Electro Stage” –stage for DJs during the whole event nonstop all evenings–; later it joined the “Arena Stage”, which was a stage that welcomed bigger bands at nights. The “Cinema Stage”, space that presents showing of independent audiovisuals and mainly Cuban; this place during the daytime develops lectures and debates about advertising campaigns implicit in the festival. The next year the organizing working group of the Rotilla wanted to extend the festival over the whole beach including two more stages with new characteristics. The “Fusion Stage” is used for performances of experimental art creators and bands with a smaller and more exclusive audience due to its less conventional shows; and the “Info Stage” that is a stand for general information about the event, programs of talents, biographies and other related information. The festival also kept five stages that presented the diversity and continuance of the artistic suggestions.

Since 2011, mid of August, it has been held Summer in Jibacoa instead of the Rotilla, sponsored by the culture institutions in the province. And although Summer in Jibacoa is a different event, what is important is to keep an alternative space; and that alternativeness is given, to a large extent, by the space where the festival is held; that is, the enjoyment of live music together with the mildness of the beach, as a couple impossible to reject.

This is an event mostly demanded by youngsters; it belongs exclusively to youngsters who wait every summer to attend to the festival of electronic music, now alternative music.

But these are not the only independent cultural projects that have been developed in Cuba. Others like LASA, supported by the Saíz Brothers Association (AHS) and the National Council of Plastic Arts; and the portal Kewelta, an information magazine created by a group of youngsters supported by the AHS and other Cuban institutions, are effective examples.

Another place where the alternativeness finds a space is the Peace and Love, which has different characteristics, but the same idea: to gather on the same stage the most alternative contemporary music and, of course, the most party-lovers show-business people of Havana, those who distinguish from the rest of the locals from Havana for how they dress and also for the specific places they are used to go in Havana. Over a dozen of Cuban and Scandinavian musicians play on the same stage on the first days of March at the Fortress San Carlos of La Cabaña, as part of the editions of P&L Festival in Havana. The Factory of Cuban Art (FCA) is a space that from its opening on February 2014 is preferred by the party-lovers from Havana, and it celebrates P&L, which takes place in the Pink Ballroom of the Tropical Benny Moré. On the early hours there is a jam session that allows to have a more casual meeting with guest artists. This takes place within the rooms of the FCA and turns into a gathering to enjoy more acoustic sounds. During the rest of the days of P&L, all the concerts are performed at the yard of this Project located on Vedado neighborhood.

And although this festival sets itself as a place to keep the authentic limits of art, from music, it also shows audiovisuals, which include short movies and documentaries that reflect important aspects of the alternative production of guest countries.  

For four days, the Peace and Love Festival takes place in Havana and makes a good use of some stages. Such event, founded on 1999, in Sweden, up to day, is supported by the Culture Ministry, the Cuban Institute of Music, the National Center of Popular Music and the Embassy of Norway in Cuba; but it is no secret that most managements are carried out by its Cuban representative, the musician X Alfonso. He presides over the Peace and Love in Cuba, trying from the alternativeness to build communication and understanding bridges between cultures invited to the event through art. The festival, with an ecological character, originated on the small town of Borlänge, in Sweden, has extended its artistic concept to other countries, and today there are similar events in China, Chile and Bulgaria.

Another event that has the support of cultural organizations of the country, but it is organized through private managements like the above-mentioned festivals, is the Havana World Music. This festival, headed and organized by the Cuban singer M Alfonso, shows the alternative culture, but above all the world music, which can be the Nigerian, Colombian, Brazilian, British or anyplace of the world.

The realization of this gathering of world music in such a downtown place like the baseball stadium J. A. Echeverría, as a perfect site to party and what happens during the concerts, its dynamic character, which allows many bands to perform on the same nights, gives an alternative nature to the event. The HWM demonstrated that it was time to make a good use of places like these: perfect for different activities related to the Art world. This gathering of the world music, like the P&L, is an autonomous and multicultural project.

The first Cuban gathering of World Music celebrated on the first days of February of 2014 got together fourteen bands from different countries like the Norwegian singer Thea Hjelmeland, the Colombian La Mákina del Karibe band, the British DJ Auntie Flo, the Spanish duet Fuel Fandango, among others.

Although some cultural institutions support projects like this, undoubtedly it is worth to mention the work and promotion made by Síntesis band and the X and M Alfonso brothers to promote the alternative music in Cuba; they are responsible of festivals as P&L and HWM, respectively; as well as the PM Records, of the family of the Cuban singer and songwriter Pablo Milanés, in favor of promoting the electronic music, within the Pro Electronica festivals.

Thanks to the effort of organizers of these festivals, the party-lovers from Havana enjoys the most alternative international music festivals that take place on the alternative nights of Havana.





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