Toques del Río durante su presentación. Foto cortesía de la banda.
Toques del Río durante su presentación. Foto cortesía de la banda.

Cuban music to stay home

19 minutos / Indira Hernández Alonso

30.03.2020 / Reportages

Four years ago, a frantic crowd gathered at the Ciudad Deportiva to attend the legend of a group capable of adapting, with simple stylistic notes, to any musical time. The Rolling Stones conquered something that seemed impossible. On the other side of the stage, a million people wondered if they had dreamed it. "The best concert of my life", they said... But it is 2020, those days go back in time, the new coronavirus spreads throughout the world and reaches Cuba, as something inevitable. Reality forces us to confinement. A new musical time is coming. Today many also wonder if they are dreaming it too.

Amid the threat of the spread of SARS-CoV2, it was necessary to close the cultural and sports centers, as well as to cancel musical performances and any other planned mass gathering activity. The live events industry is one of the hardest hit by this pandemic and, meanwhile, there are alternatives to keep it alive, both in terms of interaction between creators and audiences and in financial terms. Live concerts through digital platforms are a proven model of music diffusion for some time. Today, with the global impact of Covid-19, they take hold and spread like wildfire on the Internet. The way in which different musical products and activities are advertised, with distribution through the Internet as the only way, illustrates part of the adaptations that, with the Covid-19, assault music with other codes.

Added to this are other questions: how to take advantage of time at home? How to find new hobbies? How to take care of our people? Prudence. Individual and collective responsibility. They are some of the buzzwords. Today, whoever gets bored during quarantine has some privileges. May rigor save, and also music. In quarantine or voluntary confinement, networks are assembling around the world to ensure that physical distancing is not social distancing. Among many other initiatives, the hashtag #QuédateEnCasa (#StayAtHome, in Spanish) went viral, and to support it artists from around the world began to open their homes and give away intimate concerts. In a few days, the global movement #YoMeQuedoEnCasa (#IStayAtHome, in Spanish) also reached us. Will it have the same engagement in Cuba?

Tunturuntu for your home

The Cuban project Tunturuntu —a culture and art news website with a strong presence on Instagram and Facebook— has managed to bring together dozens of artists at the online festival Tunturuntu pa 'tu casa, which held its second edition this weekend. An initiative that is reborn and seems to have come to stay.

The project had already served as media partner of the Jazz Plaza Festival, explains Liliam Pérez, its artistic producer, to Magazine AM:PM, who sheds some light on the beginnings: “The idea arises from the suspension in the country of all public events scheduled for the month of March such as Havana World Music and the Fiesta del Tambor, for example. ”The inspiration was born as a result of Yo Me Quedo En Casa Festival, an initiative that was launched in Spain due to the critical situation caused by the pandemic. "We extended it to Cuba, focused on the Cuban public inside and outside the Island, who in this context do not see their needs for Cuban music satisfied," she says.

The project has brought together dozens of artists at the Tunturuntu online festival for your home.

The project has brought together dozens of artists at the Tunturuntu online festival for your home.

As a platform that provides information on the Cuban cultural scene in all its manifestations, Tunturuntu has been on the internet since last June. At that time, mobile data gained strength among Cubans who, from public points with Wi-Fi and Nauta Hogar, looked out onto a digital ecosystem full of multiple possibilities to explore. “We started with Instagram as a fundamental tool to reach a certain audience. With daily Internet access, people were going to want to know where to go in Cuba, what was happening with Cuban culture and its news agenda. We have grown, we are now six in the team”, says Daniela Treto, in charge —from Barcelona— of the general communication coordination of the project, which she founded together with Isidro Matamoros and Lilliam Pérez, and which already has a large number of followers beyond Cuba.

Tunturuntu pa 'tu casa was conceived as an unprecedented festival to raise awareness about the importance of staying home at a time when the expansion of the Covid-19 must be controlled, a call to responsibility, the caution and entertainment from isolation. It is sponsored by Fonoma, a top-up of mobile credits platform for Cuba, with which it carries out an association agreement and collaborates by facilitating the connectivity of those musicians who are in Cuba.

"The call came from our Instagram page and in less than 48 hours we already had more than 30 confirmed artists. We started on Wednesday, March 18, with the first concerts, and David Blanco opened, ”says Lilliam.

The outcome was the first online music festival to be organized in Cuba, with concerts lasting between 15 and 30 minutes, and which are broadcast from the artists' profiles on social networks and the Tunturuntu page.

Kamankola, Ismael de la Torre, Pepe Gavilondo, Eme Alfonso, Eduardo Sandoval, Idania Valdés, Gastón Joya, Degnis Bofill, Virginia Guantanamera, William Vivanco, Más con menos and A-Seven were some of the Cuban musicians who played live thanks to the benefits of platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

The era of evolution

In the world, artists like Alejandro Sanz and Juanes gave their live performances online. In Cuba, David Blanco —at these days and in the comfort of his home— says he plays a cook, a family nurse, a musician, a poet, and a madman. The singer and songwriter was, along with his band, the first to break through —in an online way— into the Cuban soundscape in times of coronavirus. He had to break the ice and he did it because he considers himself a person who "tries to turn setbacks into victories and sometimes young people do not realize that the data is used for more than just everyday practices on WhatsApp and Facebook", he states. "I think it is time to do a live show and make our songs better known," he told his musicians.

The acoustic concert in the living room of their house was a great surprise for them and for the public, due to the reception of a video and an experience that exceeded 10,000 views, he says, while maintaining that, facing the current moment, his strategy is to follow all the guidelines of the health system and the members of the band are all at home. His work is now reduced, but it is also expanding, he continues composing and working on his upcoming album, which has no name yet, but will be released this year or early next.

The also trumpeter, keyboard player, director, arranger and producer will make a concert with a group of friends, among them Buena Fe and Zeus, for the Cuban Television audience, so that it reaches every house. The date will be April 1st.

Likewise, the energy overflowed in the presentation of Toques de Río, a band that gives a characteristic sound to their show, where hip hop and funky coexist with the tasty Cuban base of mambo and rumba. The themes chosen for the live broadcast this time were adapted and, having neither drums, they resorted to cajon and minor percussion.

"We are a large band of 12 musicians, so we had to reduce the instrumentation. We extreme the security measures, we anticipated that it would be a place with a good connection and the result was really pleasant ”, they expressed.

“Since we had half an hour, we preferred, beyond the interaction, playing and playing so that people could consume as many songs and dance, limiting ourselves to saying hello between theme and theme. On other occasions we had already played this way, semi acoustic, and the sound came out spectacular ”.

Like many other artists, they had to reprogram some of their actions: their second album, scheduled to be recorded in Viñales under the production of Alain Pérez, will have to go to the studio and wait, for now. Likewise, they are editing a DVD of a concert in the Art Factory with the repertoire of the album Pa ’que te sosiegues, while they compose and remove songs from the drawer. Because the music doesn't stop.

Saxophone, piano, bass, drums, percussion and trumpet sounded this time from the rehearsal room of the Cuban saxophonist Michel Herrera, director of the Joven Jazz group. There the members of the project arrived to broadcast live and perform jazz standards. Michel Herrera's strategy for the concert consisted of choosing songs from his usual repertoire, but "from the variety of the style to give it color and make it feel pleasant and intimate".

"Now the way we have to reach [the public] is to set an example and transmit support and good energy," he says.

Flor de loto (Lotus flower, in Spanish): flowers for Cuban music, real and virtual flowers, seeds of melodies that in their germination from the "bottom" of the waters —like sacred roses in Egypt, India, China— can be born after three centuries. Flor de Loto is also the name of a band that was born in mid-2018 and that also joined this initiative. In a bet on voice and guitar (for a week she has been accompanied in quarantine by David, guitarist of the band), they played from the terrace of the house of Gian Luca Magri, leader and vocalist of the group.

With their own narrative, they came out with six themes that increased the intensity of their show: Cosa, Sufi, Suin, Bésame luna, Échate Loto and Agua.

"As we had never done in this format, we resorted to the scale models of the songs, most of them composed by me on an Ipad, and we reproduced that background on the speaker," explains Gian Luca.

"Now we are focused on social media, promoting the products that we already have on YouTube and making the arrangements to publish new content recorded in the studio", including their EP, whose first single, under the name of Siento, will arrive soon.

Electronic music and its many followers also found their space in these live performances.

Dj Landeep, for example, took advantage of the stay at home to join what he classified as a “great experience. It was my first experience of this type and thanks to this medium I released part of my new EP live, in which I am working. People who saw me loved it, ”says this DJ who started in the deep house and his style has evolved to the use of Afro-Cuban, African, Latin and Caribbean rhythms with a flavor mixed with electronic contemporary music.

For his part, Dj Jigüe had already dabbled in online transmission in other countries, but never in Cuba, where —he claims— he had a lot of fun:

“We decided to launch ourselves into the adventure and we tried to create the conditions so that the sound and the image were of the highest quality. It was quite a challenge, very crazy in the studio, recording with both cameras and with a capture of microphone sound to the console and then to the card. We even spent the night before the broadcast downloading the software. ”

Tony Ávila also joined “to change this, our house”. From the calm of the living room of his home in Cárdenas, Tony transmitted —in a chair and with the guitar— his live concert, which was not free from the ups and downs of the connection, but also not of good energy. Topics such as El mundo d los más, Madre, and Como quisiera ser came out of that space. On the uncertain future, he commented that “the situation is difficult . Directing the projection towards the networks is a healthy alternative. Still, I am concerned about my musicians, but life comes first. Now to stay at home ”.


The pandécima of Alexis Díaz Pimienta

Alexis Díaz Pimienta assures that "repentismo is an exercise in public nudity". The Cuban writer and repentista does not stop composing, placing good commas in the verses he writes, in the tenths to which he dares; he puts his skin on paper, on the air, on the internet, and leaves them for posterity:

Buenos días confinados,

desde mi casa en Sevilla.

Hay un sol con mascarilla

encima de los tejados.

Hay pájaros inspirados

dando un concierto gratuito.

Vaya streaming exquisito,

vaya twits inteligentes,

trending topics diferentes

de los que yo necesito.

And he continues in his small videos spread on his profile, followed by hundreds of people these days.

An essential bookcase serves him as a background from his Seville confinement, where he proposes to provoke an online "pandécima against the pandemic", as a poetic and playful way to pass the quarantine.

A year ago he sang and exchanged improvisations with Joaquín Sabina, during the Cádiz Carnival Proclamation. Today, Alexis Díaz Pimienta takes advantage of confinement and adds his words that come in the form of improvised oral poetry; say good morning and release your tenths, your sudden creations:

Buenos días, confinados;

es domingo, hay cuarentena;

la situación no es muy buena,

continuamos encerrados .

Algunos están cansados

de vivir entre paredes.

Pero yo puedo y tú puedes

vencer este desconcierto:

al fin hemos descubierto

para que sirven las redes.

Every Thursday, while the quarantine lasts, Alexis meets with the tenth on YouTube, sponsored by the Ibero-American Center for the Tenth and the Improvised Verse and the Oralitura Academy, from where he teaches workshops, reading of tenths, repentismo sessions. Likewise, via Facebook Live he teaches his introductory workshop to the tenth, where even the singer Juanes was encouraged to improvise.

Tenths vs. Coronavirus is the name of the Special Digital Workshop for children, where he shares music, games, poems and songs.

Exchange of improvisations and tenths of repentistas via online, due to their communicational potential, have served to call for preventive actions and have a fun and creative time.

Other challenges

Despite their unfortunate origin, these initiatives by artists through the internet constitute a well-received experience by artists' followers and the industry itself.

The musicians take advantage of this period of "pause" to practice, compose, produce and increase their presence in the social media, who have many potentials that evidently had not been fully exploited until now by them.

From the point of view of the local industry, we could speculate that the challenge will be to find alternative ways to reward artists, as things evolve. Will the possibility of monetizing these online concerts be examined in any way? In this minute it is impossible to know how long the current panorama will extend. Let us not lose sight of the aggravating fact that there is a generational tradition that unites many musicians in one family, and the absence of their main source of income can work against them. The priority must be to defend life, but we must also save music.

Daniel Bárcenas, guitarist of the band Rapzodia, says “with the online concerts the musicians can calm down a little the frustration caused by the cancellation of all the events in which we were going to participate. It is a good form of entertainment since people are taking refuge in the internet, but the prices to access are still very expensive; so it is perfectly understandable that people want to invest their time or data in other things. "

In the background and in the shadows, as in adventure films, is the Cuban Telecommunications Company (Etecsa, in Spanish), which has long been the target of communication complaints, especially on digital platforms. Hundreds of netizens have expressed their disagreement with the still high prices and the slow connection in Cuba, controversies that from time to time reach peaks. Citizen complaints abound, that despite what some believe little are thinking about political militancy. Associated with these shows (which we know are not exactly a priority in the lives of many Cubans) phrases like "I hope I have mobile data to be able to see any of these concerts" jump. The #BajenLosPreciosDeInternet tag, by the user @ClientesEtecsa , managed to position itself for several days last year as a trend on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Today revives the claim in times of the new coronavirus.

Víctor Cárdenas is a Cuban singer-songwriter and comedian, one of the many users who right now finds the best information and leisure route on the internet, for the ways of interaction that can be catalyzed, for the vitality of Facebook groups, for people virtual you discover with related interests, by the so-called challenges, tremendous creativity, collective ingenuity.

“You can have all this from the tranquility and security of your home, but the issue of access to the Internet by mobile data is still controversial. If we take into account Etecsa's average Cuban salary-price relationship, it is not uncommon for there to be a feeling of nonconformity among users and be a constant reason for protest", he explains.

Michel Herrera during his broadcast. Photo courtesy of the artist

Michel Herrera during his broadcast. Photo courtesy of the artist

I came back… to your home

And since it seems that the coronavirus does not stop, Tunturuntu pa ’tu casa, either. Before, from Wednesday to Sunday; now, from Friday March 27 to Sunday 29, a second edition of the festival has already taken place.

In practically 48 hours both editions were prepared. With a proven effectiveness in the previous call, this time artists such as Roberto Fonseca, Haila María Mompié, Luna Manzanares, Suylén Milanés, Alejandro Falcón, Adrián Berazaín, Jorge Aragón, Nube Roja, among others, joined us, says Iván Vergara, who manages Tunturuntu communication and public relations. The idea continues to be to share the same space, where all genders come together to raise awareness about the responsibility of staying at home, he adds.

Likewise, now, as an echo —successful, timely, and necessary to open the spectrum and scope— the joint project of the Cuban Institute of Music with the Ministry of Culture (Mincult) and the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television is taking place these days. , for the television broadcast of new concerts. The list includes Eduardo Sosa, Marta Campos, Polito Ibáñez, Daiana García and the Havana Chamber Orchestra, Pancho Amat and the Cabildo del Son, among many others.

The director of communication of the Mincult, Alexis Triana, reported that the possibility of launching the Cubadisco 2020 Festival online is being considered, with the possibility of establishing online voting and that there is no need to suspend it.

The Canal Clave, Radio Progreso, the YouTube channel of the Ministry of Culture and around 100 Facebook pages are linked to undertake a project that involves Rueda Producciones, Lía Videos and i4Films in production.


Although it is true that concerts through digital platforms reach their full raison d'être by inhabiting other codes such as the interaction that broadcasts allow in streaming, this alliance of Cuban state institutions also allows the television programming grill a series of concerts by artists that, although they will not have the communicational charm displayed via the Internet, it does serve to massify their audience.

This way of doing concerts symbolizes a good form of promotion, with its advantages and disadvantages. Platforms such as Tunturuntu, which began an unprecedented musical journey in Cuba, the efforts of Cuban Television to extend this type of practice and the other manifestations of those who will show their work from their own forms of self-management, demonstrate that the music business is malleable enough and ready for changes that can revitalize that cultural industry.

Perhaps this format came to Cuba to stay, after we have returned to normality in our lives. The evolution of a landscape without the Covid-19 remains to be seen. We live in a moment of transformation of the music industry scenarios, with new challenges, and perhaps new opportunities. What there is no doubt about is that "a song may not save the world, but it improves it."

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.

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