Patria Grande: a giant to wake up
When the Patria Grande festival is mentioned, few people know what is being talked about. Many habaneros are even amazed when they are recounting their four editions.
The initiative to create the Patria Grande festival came from Sebastián Heredia, an Argentine sociologist who, in his multiple trips to the island, has acquired a vast knowledge of his musical scene. His first experience as a producer in Cuba was in 2006, when we managed to bring the rock band Carajo to the Cuerda Viva festival. Later there were other productions, among which the presence of Panamanians Factor VIII at the third Caimán Rock festival in the José Martí gallery, where the audience was almost 10,000 people. Then came great groups such as Notevagustar and Mancha de Rolando, as well as other emerging from the Latin American scene. The idea was to open a window to the contemporary musical South that had been closed since the late eighties, after the unforgettable visits of figures such as León Gieco, Fito Páez, Mercedes Sosa and Chico Buarque, among others.
The Patria Grande festival was the ideal place to bring the contemporary Latin American scene to our country. Since its first edition in 2014, it was sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, the Cuban Institute of Music and other institutions. Its name is inspired by a Bolivarian concept and it proposes to be a musical showcase of what happens in the current Latin American scene, from which many times we only get folkloric references or songwriters committed to social movements.
Sebastián Heredia expressed from the beginning his intention to promote the call of foreign bands, always looking to bring the least two of great call and four emerging. In the first edition were present the bands Notevagustar, from Uruguay, Puya, from Puerto Rico, the Colombian Ra la Culebra, the Venezuelan Curva Sur and the Costa Rican La Milixia. On the Cuban side there were groups such as Tendency and Mint Thesis.
Among the negative points of the poster could be mentioned the difference in quality between the main groups of the cartel and the supporting bands. The biggest applause went to Puya for his Latin rhythm and rumbero fused with powerful marches and metal riffs, counting on the vocal performance of Sergio Curbelo, an interpreter with unique abilities as he is able to slit the voice to the most classic rock style, rapping, and even improvise soneando.
In this first edition of the festival an initiative was born that, unfortunately, has not been repeated. Puya recorded an album of her concert at the Diablo Tun Tun of the Casa de la Música de Miramar. The CD is titled Puya in Cuba. Live and it was signed with the EGREM label. Harold Hopkins, director and founder of the band, explained:
It was born from a curious comment that I made to Sebastián Heredia, one of the producers of the festival. I explained to him that we would like to have a recording of our presentation here to bring us something documented of what we did and he raised it in Cuba among the organizers of the festival and so the matter came to the EGREM label. Managers of the record company listened to our music and liked it, although the label is not very interested in rock, but liked the merger issue, and from there everything continued to develop like a snowball.
In the second edition in 2015, there was the presence of the Argentine band Carajo and the Chilean Sinergia as headliners. The Festival also led to a reunion between two metal giants in Cuba and Argentina: Zeus and Carajo. They had already shared the scene in 2006 during a Live String Festival and this time the stage was Maxim Rock. Dionisio Arce, singer and leader of Zeus, remembers:
"We would have liked to have played on the main stage at the 'Salón Rosado Benny Moré de la Tropical', but we were never programmed there. The organizers selected Athanai. Then we closed the second edition of the Festival at Maxim Rock, in a concert to the full as opening act of Carajo. Each band played their repertoire, there was no interrelation in the scene. I remember that I arrived, I greeted the Argentine musicians, I played my part with Zeus and then Carajo closed the night playing spectacular as they usually do ".
In 2016 the festival increased the rigor of foreign call and brought known Latin American female voices as the Chilean Ana Tijoux and the Argentine band Eruca Sativa, the Colombian Aterciopelados and the anthological All your dead.
This third poster managed to balance the quality between the main groups and the opening acts. Eruca Sativa left an excellent impression in the José Martí Tribune with its powerful metal proposal, despite the fact that it did not have good audio, an indispensable requirement in this type of genre where a sonority prevails that borders on stridency and Ana Tijoux was received with curiosity by the public, and if it did not arouse greater expectations, was due to the absence of an adequate promotion that would effectively reveal the magnitude of his work in the Latin American continent.
The level of the event aroused greater expectation, but coincided with the death of President Fidel Castro and some important presentations were suspended before the mourning that the country kept.
In 2017 the festival was affected by the destruction caused by the cyclone Irma in the country. The cultural infrastructure was badly damaged and the Patria Grande was made in precarious economic and material conditions, being the poorest edition in terms of promotional deployment.
It was dedicated to the fiftieth anniversary of Che's death and the tenth anniversary of the creation of the Cuban Rock Agency. It was attended by Nepentes, from Colombia, Pashpak, from El Salvador, Los Revueltas and Salón Victoria, from Mexico. The presence of Fidel Nadal, ex-member of Todos tus Muertos, was announced, but finally Nadal could not travel to our country because of two earthquakes that seriously damaged regions of the Mexican nation.
In this fourth edition, reggae and ska prevailed as the main stylistic trends. In a general sense, it has been the darkest edition. Sebastián Heredia catalogs it as inconclusive because it could not be fully met with what was planned in the pre-production phase despite having three scenarios: The Cuba Pavilion, La Burriguera and the Benny Moré Salon de la Tropical. For the Cuban part was announced to the Crusade, Toques del Rio, Jorge Kamankola, Stoner, Athanai, Honey with Lemon, Sweet Lizzy Project and Zeus, but not all could climb on stage. In this regard, Neris González, representative of La Cruzada, comments:
"Of the Crusade at the end only the rapper Gustavo González participated, who took the stage at the Salón Rosado Benny Moré de la Tropical with two foreign groups, Salón Victoria and Nepentes. Improvised a flow in some measures in a theme of each band. The Crusade was planned to play in the Burrow and it rained and the concert was suspended. "
Throughout its four editions the festival has been moved by several of the most important cities in the west and center of the country -Pinar del Río, Havana, Santa Clara and Sancti Spiritus-, and this year it intends to include Matanzas in its tour .
The Cuban metal scene has been the most favored in terms of inclusion in the poster, especially bands like Trend and Stoner. The latter has been in three of the four editions and we still have fresh memories of her concert last year with Colombian Nepentes.
Patria Grande is an event that invites you to dream. I wonder if he could reach the size his name deserves; if it could be a space for Cuba as it is the "Cosquin Rock" for Chile or the "Rock al Parque" for Colombia. They are questions that remain open. Potential has, even to encourage its promotion with economic tourism packages. We see it when we see that two of the figures included in the poster of the most recent edition of "Cosquin Rock", which was held in the first half of October, had already participated in the Patria Grande festival -I refer to Ana Tijoux and the Synergy band.
Here opens a question that brings us to the Cuban reality. Why have Cuban bands been absent from the Festival that summon thousands of people in their concerts while the Patria Grande has had to settle four times with audiences that do not exceed the order of the hundreds of people? It has been taken for granted that, if visitors are able to attract large audiences in Latin America, they will also do so in Cuba, a logic that, as is evident, has repeatedly failed.
This festival offers a unique cultural product for our environment. If we review the main figures that he has brought to our country in four years, we will see that the selection includes from artists nominated or awarded with the Latin Grammy to interpreters who aspire to be the face of the contemporary scene in our continent shortly. However, a large part of the Cuban public that could attend to applaud them has not shown interest.
To pretend that the festival modifies the preferences of the audiences or that it forms new audiences is one of its objectives. But this writer believes that in reality, the right audience already exists, you just have to discover the way to motivate it. The festival must increase its promotion levels conscientiously, preparing the promotional campaign well in advance so that the information has the desired effect. In this sense, another festival, Havana World Music, has managed to attract a much larger audience by relying on an excellent organization of promotional management, whose planning begins a year before, and consists of a campaign that is implemented over several weeks, before and during the event. This aspect should not be underestimated and if it is not overcome, Patria Grande will continue to be unable to occupy the cultural space it deserves.
It is admirable that opportunities are offered to emerging groups and bands that do not enjoy adequate visibility in the media, but it is not advisable that in their poster they have repeated Cuban groups in consecutive editions.
In 2016, through the Patria Grande, the Teniente band from Pinar del Río visited three cities in Colombia. The following year, the power trio Capital Stoner was able to manage his first foreign experience and make several presentations in Argentina. After his return to Cuba, Joel Martinez, representative of Stoner, commented excitedly for the SabaRock radio program:
It was a dream come true. The band had a first contact with Argentina, with everything that Argentina represents for rock, especially when it is sung in Spanish. All expectations were exceeded. The Argentines opened their arms from the first moment. Being Cuban in Argentina makes the difference for good. The audience was incredible.
This year the Patria Grande festival reaches its fifth edition and awaits groups that know the favor of an international audience such as Here comes the Kraken, from Mexico, and Verge of Umbra, from Belize. Since 2016 the Festival has had a thematic purpose. In its second edition it was dedicated to highlighting the presence of women in contemporary Latin American song, in the third the image of Che was exalted and this year its thematic axis will revolve around Metal and has among its purposes to support Cuban rockers and promote the interaction of local and foreign bands. It is also of interest to the event to promote initiatives that help the project of reopening the Maxim Rock venue, "la guarida" of rock in the Cuban capital from 2007 until November 18, 2015, when it closed to undergo a reconstruction plan that it has gone on for too long, a void that has significantly affected the illusions and the economy of those bands that advocate the promotion of a national rock.
Patria Grande faces several challenges in order to honor its name and one of them is to increase audience levels and its cultural impact. Achieve a balanced poster in the artistic quality of their bands without underestimating the contribution of the nationals and guaranteeing suitable technical conditions for their development. These are achievable goals and some depend only on the will and the delivery of a good team that works with time so that the seed germinates in the best way.
This festival is a sleeping giant that we can wake up with our scream from the public.
Licenciado en Historia por la Universidad de La Habana. Desde 1991 se desempeña como director de programas en la emisora Cadena Habana, y en 2008 entra al departamento de música de Radio Habana Cuba. Director de varios programas musicales. Colaborador del programa Cuerda Viva y sus premios anuales.