James Poet: go-go music for Cuba and its good people
On a terrace in El Vedado and with the Hotel Nacional in the background, James Poet Woodert feels right at home. The FutureBandDC leader has traveled to Cuba four times -three of them this year- as part of a cultural exchange program to bring to the island a little bit of go-go music, genre defended by his group.
Since 2013 the FutureBandDC has combined the best of funk, gospel, hip hop and soul to bring to life this musical style that, while primarily limited to its geographic area of origin, Washington D.C., has a devoted audience. The genre go-go is, since February 2020, the official music of this city.
On this occasion, James Poet traveled in the company of three other members of the group to finalize exchange projects and future presentations on Cuban stages, among which is the great opportunity to showcase their music in the next edition of the Jazz Plaza Festival.
-We know that there is a great interest, both from the city of Washington D.C. itself and from the musicians who defend this style, to expand the music go-go outside that territory. Why is Cuba an ideal setting for this?
-The origin of music go-go has Latin influences in the percussion, some specifically Cuban, and it's just the right thing to bring that music back to this country, to reintroduce people to that heritage of the drum from Africa that came to Cuba and then was included in the rhythms of Washington D.C., a way of completing the cycle.
-How much has your perception of Cuban music changed after your visits and exchanges with Cuban artists?
-This is my fourth visit. I came for the first time in 2020 and this year I came in February, May and now. Being exposed to the work of artists in Cuba has made me see how important music is to the culture and people here and how seriously it is taken. It is inspiring. The talent and energy of the music here, I take it with me to continue my work.
James Poet's visit and his upcoming presentation at the Jazz Plaza Festival has been the result of several exchanges with officials from Cuba and Washington D.C., interested in promoting the dissemination of the go-go music.
"Although we present ourselves as a grouping of go-go music, this genre is influenced by many other styles, including jazz. We also understand that this event is not only about jazz, but a space for music and exchange in general, and we believe that our work can complement the rest of the proposals within the festival".
-You will be performing the last three days of Jazz Plaza at the central stage of the Pabellón Cuba, at the Fábrica de Arte Cubano (F.A.C.) and at the Casa de la Cultura de Plaza, respectively. What are the band's expectations for these concerts?
-It is our first presentation in Cuba, we are very happy about it and expectant with the reception of our music. Personally I am also interested in witnessing the work of others to learn from them, as well as to give the Cuban public a glimpse of the culture of Washington D.C., especially of the genre we defend.
At the International Jazz Colloquium, which will also be held at F.A.C., we will offer master classes to share the origin and history of the music. go-go and the influences of styles such as funk, gospel and, of course, Latin percussion. We also plan to demonstrate the playing of instruments such as the junior congas, which bring a distinctive sound to our music, together with students from the ENA [Escuela Nacional de Arte] with whom we have already had a meeting and it was a beautiful moment that we wish to repeat.
Knowing how much can be done in cultural matters in this country has inspired him to extend his knowledge and music to other cities, and to create opportunities for Cuban artists to show their talent in the metropolis where the go-go genre was born. To that end, Poet says, the first steps are being taken, including the creation of the Global Music Exchange program, together with cultural promoter Merary Hall Fortun, an alliance that will make possible this "long term link that will bring culture, art and music from Washington D.C. and take culture, art and music from Cuba there," he said.
“Beyond the professional experience,” he concluded, “it was very important for me to visit Cuba, to see what life is like here and, above all, how, with or without resources, good people are good people.”