In every block a festival
Think for a moment that this is not 2020, and that the possibility of going to a concert is still on the table. Imagine that it is not October, that January begins and, as a good musician, you can plan the year: you start with the Festival Longina, in Santa Clara, you continue and stumble upon the Jazz Plaza, you mark the Festival del Tambor, the Festival de la Salsa, the Havana World Music; you get fully involved in the Festival Internacional de Música Antigua, in the Cubadisco, in the Festival Nacional de Changüí Elio Revé Matos ―although you have to find a way to get to Guantánamo―, you continue to Varadero Josone that brings good rumba, jazz and son; and you stop at the Patria Grande, because a little Latin American rock lifts your spirit.
Then, it is already December, and who does not want a good play of light, half psychedelic, to dance to the rhythm of electronics mixed with Caribbean sounds. This is how the Festival Eyeife goes in your calendar that only shows a small but more visible part of all the events that fit in it. But your planning doesn't end there. How could¬?! One day you sit in front of the television, or open Facebook, and discover a “lost” promotion of the Festival de Música Popular “Barbarito Diez”, in Las Tunas, land where the golden voice of danzón took roots. You write it down. Later you get a notification to a WhatsApp group where it is announced that the Festival Nacional e Tríos, in Sancti Spíritus, has been in session since 1989; that, in addition, the Rock Festival of the Loma de Bayamo has been held for 20 years; that there is the Festival Internacional Pepe Sánchez de Santiago de Cuba, directed by Eduardo Sosa. You write it down again. You let the flame of the music grow, even though you start to worry that the fire will become irrepressible.
But your planning doesn't end there. How could it? One day you sit in front of the television, or open Facebook, and discover a “lost” promotion of the “Barbarito Diez” Popular Music Festival, in Las Tunas, land where the golden voice of danzón took root. You write it down. Later you get a notification to a WhatsApp group where it is announced that the National Trios Festival, in Sancti Spíritus, has been in session since 1989; that, furthermore, the Rock Festival of the Loma de Bayamo has been held for 20 years; that there is the Pepe Sánchez International Festival in Santiago de Cuba, chaired by Eduardo Sosa. You score again. You let the music flame grow, even though you start to worry that the fire will get out of control.
Along the way you find that to your already busy schedule of Cuban festivals you can add the Potaje Urbano hip hop, in Matanzas; the Habana Clásica, directed by the pianist Marcos Madrigal; the Encuentro de Mujeres Creadoras Ángel y Habanera, organized by the Liuba María Hevia project; the Festival Ciudad Metal de Santa Clara… The list goes on and on, so much so that you almost have to find another calendar. You do not have enough lives to attend each of those shows. Yet there they are. What luck! You say.
So you start to wonder how much is spent on the production, programming and promotion of these large-scale live shows in Cuba. And well, since there are so many, how much income do they generate? Are they profitable? What is your actual call? Who makes it possible? Following that line of thought, you put yourself in “camisa de once varas”: are all these events necessary? Does Cuba suffer from the "Festivalism Syndrome" and we have not realized it?
The next thing is you in a pandemic 2020, trying to find the answers.
It is November 2016 in Havana. It is a winter´s Saturday. A few people arrive near the Antimperialist Tribune, on the Malecón, covered in scarves, hats, coats. The Festival Patria Grande has managed to gather a lineup featuring bands like Endemia (Costa Rica), Diafragma (Panama), and the Cuban Tendencia and Stoner, among others. The star of this edition is undoubtedly Ana Tijoux: the most international voice of Chilean hip hop in recent times. With several nominations for the Grammy Awards, and recognized in 2014 by Rolling Stone magazine as the best rapper in Spanish, she offers a concert for less than a hundred people, in a space where thousands can fit. The summons, this time, was not enough.
Didn't everyone in the city, in Cuba, in the world find out that the author of Antipatriarca was going to give a unique and totally free show in that venue and that those who got there would be lucky?
According to Sebastián Heredia, founder and organizer of the Patria Grande, as well as other artists who participated in that edition, Anita Tijoux was almost unknown to the public on the Island. “The currents that are massive in Latin America are hardly heard in Cuba. Putting Tijoux, plus Eruca Sativa, the most powerful band in Argentine rock, and Andrea Echeverri in the same edition - dedicated to women - and not having thousands of people go, is another clear sign that what is heard in the Island is not what is programmed in the circuit of great Latin American festivals. But this not only happened with the Tijoux. In 2018, few people knew the band Here Comes The Kraken, number one in extreme metal in the region that closed Rock al Parque the following year ”.
The insufficient media coverage could be one of the factors against the call, especially in a context such as the Cuban one where the Latin rock-fusion current does not have as many followers as the Anglo-Saxon one. "The Patria Grande is going to need time and work in this regard," says Heredia.
And it is that in general the promotion of musical events on the Island leaves much to be desired. While some festivals top the foregrounds, others go by without pain or glory, either because they are ostracized by the media due to their geographical location, or because of a poor communication strategy.
According to Eric Domenech, organizer of the Ciudad Metal Festival in Santa Clara, nowadays "the public hardly knows in advance the proposals due to the late and poor diffusion".
If we travel to Santiago de Cuba, we find that the Pepe Sánchez International Festival of this city, dean of the festival circuit with almost 60 years of existence, faces the challenge of permanently updating its planning and distribution strategies so as not to become a dinosaur in extinction.
Eduardo Sosa, president of his Organizing Committee, points out that one of the main difficulties in broadcasting is given by the absurdity of having to bring a television team from the capital. "Otherwise, the festival is left without coverage, despite having a provincial telecentre like Tele Turquino."
In addition, he recognizes the troubadour that many times they sin by misunderstanding, although at the moment they are making progress with the hiring of a group specialized in communication services to take advantage of the tools that the Internet offers in this regard. What does it take to fully implement an effective promotion policy in the country? Have budgets? Make expenses clear; but, also, think and creatively manage what you have.
What does it take to fully implement an effective promotion policy in the country? Have budgets? Make expenses clear; but, also, think and creatively manage what you have.
In 2016, Frank Delgado became artistic director and organized the First Troubadour Meeting Vida, te perdono , a festival that, although “it was a success” -recovered the initial investment, did not generate losses and raised an amount of almost half a million pesos- it was never resumed”, according to the singer-songwriter.
The event - authorized by the Ministry of Culture (Mincult) under the condition that it had to be profitable - filled the El Sauce Cultural Center, and the record fairs organized in its outskirts gave good results to the record companies involved. However, when preparing the second edition, Frank admits that he presented the project late because he did not like the proposal to merge his festival with another celebration; a “nebula was generated by changes at that time within the management of the Mincult and the money, moreover, did not arrive in time to pay the artists; although Artex was willing to continue it and take the lead under the premise of 'we don't win, but we don't lose' ”. And that was all.
This project added to the long list of good intentions that have evaporated on the island's musical map, due to laziness, bureaucratic obstacles or lack of financing. This was the case of the Brutal Fest, the only extreme music event in Cuba, run by the Cuban Rock Agency, which died due to lack of resources, explains its founder and producer David Chapet, who in 2018 made the decision to “put end to the presentations until the minimum and acceptable conditions were created for the musicians ”.
But if we talk about good festivals that have fallen by the wayside, it is necessary to mention those organized by the Leo Brouwer Office, events that were praised by critics and the public, and completely changed, and for the better, the panorama of musical events first line in the Cuban capital. The Guitar Festival, the Leo Brouwer of Chamber Music, Les Voix Humaines and the Encounter of World Contractors had the creative impulse of the Master and his Office, and if these experiences ceased, it was not for lack of consecration of their creators.
This is how Isabelle Hernández, director of the Office, announced that new festivals would not be called: "What marks the useful life of an event in some way is the budget, money and the willingness of other institutions to join forces, because we cannot work alone".
Speaking with Katherine Gavilán, director of the Les Voix Humaines conference, some shadows are clarified: “The absence of definitions for fundraising has always been, and was for us, a big problem. Fortunately, when one demonstrates rigor and quality, it is easier to bring together friends, independent creators, embassies and banks, convinced that they were putting their money in an Office that worked to raise the culture of the Cuban people. There is a very long road that the institutions on the island must complete to reduce all the bureaucratic obstacles they create. The forces were diminishing little by little and we had to make peace with the idea that perhaps it was time to stop ”.
Let's also talk about events that, despite not ideal budgets and a trail of organizational problems, remain standing, like propped buildings. In terms of rock, several festivals under different auspices coexist - even in the same province. The Asociación Hermanos Saíz (AHS), for example, manages eight of them throughout the country.
In Santa Clara, the Ciudad Metal Festival is the result of creative ingenuity and thorny negotiation processes to cover all the needs with the money allocated.
Maikel Segredo, bassist of the rock band SCYTHE, illustrates through a very basic account the expenses in logistics: “In audio it is only 15 thousand to 20 thousand CUP, the passage of more than 20 bands of five members can cost 50 CUP, at least, for each one. Add to that the food; the five or 10 thousand that have to be paid to a band, and he calculates that all this in an open-air event in which nothing is charged. It is very difficult to sustain something like that ”.
In this juggling act, another side of the coin also appears: the "weakness" of the posters. The almost 20 years at the head of the Organizing Committee of Ciudad Metal, make Eric Domenech a key piece to elucidate other elements that have catalyzed the decline: “Today the festival is sacrificing quality for massiveness. The first editions were made with few bands, but these grouped the best. Local groups are included out of paternalism, without first reaching a worthy trajectory. The viewer, rather than pleasing him with a variety of styles, must first be respected and educated with quality ”, added the musician from Blinder.
In the hip hop scene, Pedro Muñoz - director of Potaje Urbano, a festival with a summer and a winter edition in Matanzas - claims to have found the formula so that the economic administration can support, without contradictions, the creative dimension in quotes like this. According to his account, in the mission of looking for a profitable art and as once again the budget subsidy received is insufficient, the vast majority of his expenses are run by brand signatures and sponsorship of funds launched by international institutes and embassies; meanwhile, the vast majority of foreign artists are self-financing their trip and stay.
Also appealing to other alternatives, the Habana Clásica festival, directed by the pianist Marcos Madrigal, appears on the map. Achieving excellence from such an event can jeopardize creativity beyond the territory of music. A program of concerts of the highest quality, where formidable interpreters from Cuba converge with proven musicians from all over the world, demands a significant management of resources in its execution. “Our festival is not self-financed, in fact, the great classical events in Europe require large public subsidies due to the size of these types of formats. It is always challenging to find the means so that each year the public can enjoy artists who weeks before were at Lincoln Center in New York. We need the direct collaboration of our cultural institutions, private sponsors to help pay for their tickets and fundrising applications to bring donated materials and instruments, ”explains Madrigal.
But Habana Clásica, together with a group of homologous Cuban festivals, plays in other leagues as it is sponsored by the Esteban Salas Cabinet of Musical Heritage; for that reason it has the benefits of a grant under the financial decentralization scheme of the Office of the City Historian (OHC, in Spanish).
The Cuban Institute of Music (ICM) is the governing body, at the national level, of all musical events on the Island, which are distributed under its auspices among the companies of the institutional culture system. On the other hand, in this scheme we have other structures such as the AHS which, due to its philosophy of union operation, while expanding its social purpose of creative freedom is restricted in its economic purpose. In other words: they are not allowed to apply the modality of self-financing to alleviate or sustain their expenses, or actions to venture into cultural tourism.
Thus, of the total of 151 annual activities managed by the organization (61 days and 90 events) - where music occupies a very good part - only the Romerías de Mayo, in Holguín, are designed to finance the enormous production expenses that their logistics supposed. This is told by Marialis Martínez, head of the Programming Department of the National Directorate of the AHS, who also affirms that, although the payments for credentials and alliances with the Paradiso Cultural Tourism Agency constitute the mechanisms that allow the self-support of the Pilgrimages exceptionally, the figures for some time point to a decrease in international participation in the event.
The income generated by the festivals produced by the AHS is not enough to cover their costs, and this rule applies to almost any other structure of the institutional culture system. Although in 2019 the Saíz Brothers rearranged funds to promote those festivals with the greatest social impact ―according to Rey Montalvo, vice president - “the budget approved each year by the organization's National Council is hardly enough; for example, the Longina represents 30% of the total ”of the money conceived by the organization for all its festivals.
However, the also troubadour insists that quotes like these make "once a year the communities of Guantánamo are oxygenated with the Political Song"; in Ciego de Ávila, for example, "they wait for the Trovándote to escape the proposals of a cultural center where the same people always go and the troubadours have no place." Beyond the social balance that they are bequeathing, most of the works of the troubadours are neither commercial nor profitable, and there is no search for human growth that is worth or lasts without reconciling the creative direction with the economic administration.
It is not a matter of luck that Havana Worl Music (HWM), after several years of creation, participated in the Training Program for the Music Industry of the Caribbean islands, coordinated by the British Council and the Green Moon Foundation; or that, in the middle of this 2020, it appears on the first online world sound map of the Oslo World music festivals.
If the successes of the HWM are worthy of review, it is because they have found something that many of their peers lack: DNA. Having a clear concept, the audience to be conquered, risking proposing new artists, strictly ensuring the quality of the shows, are some of the criteria for achieving excellence. But, what has been the economic formula that has allowed you to obtain good results, although not all the desired ones?
During its first six editions, the HWM was under the protective umbrella of the National Center for Popular Music (CNMP); But by 2020 they moved house, with an umbrella and everything, seeking the auspices of the Egrem. The financial advantages that the CNMP could offer them were limited because, since it functions as a subsidized representation company, it cannot handle the own funds that it enters. He had to deliver them saying goodbye to the possibility of reinvesting them in the festival that would become a self-sustaining project.
Amalia Rojas, general producer of the HWM, points out another recent financing scheme that has worked for them: the holding of fundraising parties that, in addition to keeping the brand active, allows solving the dilemma of depositing money to cover expenses to pay in cash.
Despite all that has been achieved, Eme Alfonso, its artistic director, recognizes that they have not yet managed to be a profitable festival, because they depend on synergies with Cuban cultural institutions to operate with flexible financing structures that do not prohibit them from commercializing privately or put the state sale to dialogue with the self-employed.
An additional issue is the subject of venues. In its six editions, world music has sounded in different locations ―El Club 500, formerly the José Antonio Echeverría Social Circle; The Art Factory, the Metropolitan Park, the Pink Room of La Tropical―, spaces in which other festivals, such as the Eyeife, have also found their headquarters; so it is a challenge for the organizers to establish their own identity associated with a location.
Another of the complex tasks for the organizers is the international booking. “We depend on the good will of the musicians that one invites. There are always dreamers, entrepreneurs who want to collaborate with a non-profit festival. We say Cuba and fall in love, the provision appears, since fees of 15 thousand dollars for playing an hour is something unaffordable for us ”, says Mauricio Abad, artistic director of Eyeife.
Year after year, both the HWM and the Eyeife have proven to have a loyal audience, because as Mauricio points out, they prefer to be consistent with their objectives and hold a pro-bono concert “where you have practically no charge and have five thousand attendees, than a price that only people who go to reggaeton concerts can afford ”.
(That said, let's launch a brief but timely parenthesis of alert: where are the reggaeton festivals in Cuba?).
If there is a large-scale event that has taken a notable leap in recent years, it is the La Salsa Festival, the most recent edition of which - also at the 500 Club - brought together about 20 thousand people a day. Beyond being a type of music for large audiences, something is saying the amazing massiveness of this event, preceded by a good organization that has Maykel Blanco as its main curator and artistic director, the Provincial Directorate of Carnivals, Paradiso and the artistic representation agencies Clave and Musicalia, of Artex.
The Festival de La Salsa joins the select group of events that have found their own self-financing dynamics, since according to Matilde Valdivieso, director of Musicalia, they generate a significant amount to cover all their expenses.
Of course, enjoying the most popular orchestras in the country on the same stage is the excuse to sell the complete experience: Afro-Cuban or salsa dance classes, a welcome dinner enlivened by El Septeto Santiaguero, or knowledge about dance on wheels. of casino by the hand of Adalberto Álvarez from his home.
Meanwhile, the Varadero Josone Rumba, Jazz & Son Festival is consolidated in the music scene, not only in Cuba but in Latin America, as a must for the best musicians of the Island and the region. One factor that increased the attendance in its second installment of 2019 was establishing a ticket for the entire event at 6 CUC for Cubans, while for foreigners it was 10 CUC. And of course, we cannot forget the lavish technical assembly and the meticulous production designed to, in 28 concerts, bring together an overwhelming line-up that has gone from Los Van Van, Alain Pérez or Gilberto Santa Rosa to the Peruvian Eva Ayllón or Ghanaian jazz ambassadors. as Weedie Braimah and The Hands of Time.
With Issac Delgado, its creator and president, we are looking for the key to success: “I believe that a festival has to be profitable and we design it that way. I think that it should be available to everyone, so for it to work it must also be done for Cubans, not just purely for tourism. From the beginning we set well what kind of music, what audience you want to reach and where to present the artists, and to achieve all that you need the support of a good team and many months of preparation. You have to work with a lot of planning and passion for the audience, with love for what you do. "
Taking into account these credentials, the event sponsored by Egrem stands out then as one of the most promising and strong exponents in its bid for a real change in the projection of Cuban music towards a profitable company.
One word comes up, over and over again: "profitability." In search of that Olympus there are several paths, as some of the actors involved have mentioned. However, the alliance with the Ministry of Tourism is a line to take into account in the script of this long history. In Cuba, tour operator agencies handle accommodation, cultural tourist packages and international accreditations for events. Tourists or those interested in general, to book, must do so through an intermediary such as Paradiso, by email, and not through the organization of events, most of which do not have ticketing tools and sometimes no websites. own from where you can manage these reservations.
The booking system of our festivals is in urgent need of undertaking modernization processes; to look for payment gateways and ways to simplify and stimulate communication, to effectively work on such a relevant and promising phenomenon for the socioeconomic development in Cuba as musical tourism of events.
In addition to making the cultural richness of a given region visible, festivals activate the resources that are present in it, acting as dynamizers of local economies. The very application in Cuba of the musical cities model can report a very positive impact, and some steps have been taken with the inclusion of Havana in the Unesco Network of Creative Cities, which we learned about thanks to the Mincult-Onudi international cooperation project -Koica "Strengthening the competitiveness, organizational performance and export capacity of the Cuban music industry."
Yolaida Duharte, its general coordinator, points out that the project sought to target those festivals with the greatest scope, design proposals from complementary actors such as export offices and booking agencies, and develop ticketing platforms for the sale of musical programming.
The seven festivals organized by Egrem are also designed towards this business segment: in addition to the aforementioned Varadero Josone Rumba, Jazz & Son and Havana World Music, there are Chocolate con Café, Ciudad del Mar, Piña Colada, La Canchánchara and A bridge towards Havana.
The oldest record label in Cuba is one of those that has stimulated the export of the “Cuban music festival” format as a line of business. According to its general director, Mario Escalona, at the end of 2019 the export of live performances ―in the border and abroad― and the sales of tickets to cultural facilities for this purpose or festivals organized by them represented 82% of the income company totals.
Escalona provides some of the strategies focused on linking its festivals with tourism: design of musical routes for the visitor and the professional sector; study of audiences and contexts to insert the attractions of each territory; advance sale with guarantees for participants; increase in packages with opportunities for greater use of the festival; and alliances with Cuban and foreign entities, with public and private actors. While progress has been made in this regard, the truth is that many challenges remain.
The foreign visitor comes to Cuba under the promise of a varied musical offer; but he is given the same hackneyed experience, unattractive for the times. It is not the same to draw an isolated strategy for a musical tourism focused on the personalization of each destination, than to integrate the particular attractions of the territories of our geography into the programming.
For example, do you remember the Habanarte Festival? The one who promised, in 2014, to deliver "all art at once" and who planned to turn Havana into one of the main Latin American places for cultural tourism? By 2017, what was intended to be a cultural feat on the Island, no longer existed. And the thing is, if you want to prioritize the capital as an ideal destination, let's prioritize it; but managing well its visuality, the personalization of the locations and the conception of the show.
Strategically orienting the Cuban music industry towards the development of event music tourism means local specialization, outlining market interests, perfecting and resizing existing promotional designs, and establishing a serious relationship with producers.
December 2019. British Culture Week at the Cuban Art Factory. Roy Luxford, Director of Programming at the Edinburgh International Festival, talks about how the Scottish capital does not sleep when this enormous creature transforms tradition into a colossal source of resources. And one, who reads this, cannot help but think of Cuba, of its potential to do something similar.
However, in the Cuban scenario, for Alfredo Carballos, PhD in Economics from the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (Flacso), the operating structure of the Mincult, where this product is based on the planned execution of budgetary resources, for now, it makes the institutional organizers avoid one of the producers' headaches: uncertainty and the risk of losing. For this reason, the also bassist of the Cuban rock band Tendencia places other questions in the debate: Who are the producers? Are they entrepreneurs? Are there tax benefits? How, then, do these non-commercial logics affect the efficiency of the music industry sector in Cuba?
Given this, Dr. Tania García, from the Juan Marinello Cuban Institute for Cultural Research, considers that a possible solution to lighten the burden on the state budget could lie in structuring a mixed financing system as a regulated modality on precise and transparent bases.
In a country like Cuba - where it is valid to clarify that entry is free or at moderate prices - having a healthy festival circuit in economic terms implies identifying and consolidating markets, distribution channels, promoting capital mobilization, granting tariff and tax incentives and promote exports. It all comes down to making decisions and acting.
In the midst of all these plots, there are other questions, just as complex and that, at this point, jump to the eye: if an artist proposes an event, in principle, does it benefit from the influence of the artist and vice versa? Let's put it another way: if an artist feels the need to have his own festival and is authorized, would he be being granted a kind of niche of influence, a space of power?
We must begin to think about Cuban festivals within the perspective of the global behavior of the consumption of cultural goods and services; place the sights on how the markets of cultural industries stimulate national creation, access, diversity and identity processes.
And finally, what has a pandemic that has shaken the music industry taught us and invited us to reconfigure its processes? Why not encourage digital commerce from various platforms and services, including holding festivals and online contests? What attention does the insertion in live streaming markets and marketing campaigns associated with cultural products deserve?
Words like profitability, economics of culture, conservation of musical heritage, cultural and economic policy, and music event tourism are in the answers, and yet they seem to be only the beginning.
Indira Hernández Alonso
Journalist that if you search, you will find. Filling in a title. With the vital urge to discover to investigate. A moments calm in the chaos and chaos in the calm. Artist's soul without the confessed skill, but with the sensitivity. Writing is not for tomorrow. Today, I keep typing.