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Reportages Hysteresis. Courtesy of the group leader

Romerías de Mayo: like rain that waters the city

If the first aborigines practiced songs and dances to call the rain, it could be said that the contemporary Holguineros have the Romerías de Mayo, a celebration of young art that takes place in the first week of the month. This year, in tune with the revelry and its usual untimeliness, the first big downpour fell on April 30 in the afternoon. Perhaps it was the weather's way of bringing forward the start of the 31st edition, dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the founding of Casa de las Americas and ICAIC.

The Romerías were in my life that omnipresent celebration in the imaginary of Holguín, which I had always enjoyed, to a greater or lesser extent, without having much notion of its origin or scope. To the question "what are they?" I would have said "cultural activities and the history congress Memoria Nuestra". Fortunately they asked for my collaboration for the latter, and now I can correct my perception of the festival. I had no idea how many times I would hear "thanks to the AHS" or "this should have started already" in a week.

In 1994, Alexis Triana and a group of young dreamers decided to materialize an artistic festival that would bring together young people from all over the country and, if possible, the world. Against all political, economic and blood pressure odds, they succeeded. Much has changed since then, not only in universal history, but also in culture and the world of creation; but the Romerías remain faithful to their principles and their mission to give visibility to young people of all manifestations and from all parts of the globe. Among these manifestations, of course, is music, represented in five fundamental genres: rap, rock, electronic, trova and jazz. It is also worth mentioning the performancesSymphonic concerts and dance performances are held throughout the city center.

If there was one thing my colleagues agreed on rosemary and me last night, is that when we're on the brink of forgetting The song of joy (hymn of the festival of the young creators), 365 days will have already passed. As usual, this hymn accompanied the parade that climbs the city's herd to the Loma de la Cruz, on the morning of May 3. The opening ceremony was held at La Periquera and was accompanied by the music of the Azul Cima project from Holguin, a number by the Codanza Company and singer-songwriter Tony Ávila, among others. Despite the overwhelming sun, which hid behind rain clouds after eleven o'clock, participants and curious passers-by around Calixto Garcia Park enthusiastically enjoyed the presentations, expectant of what the next days would bring.

Codanza. Photo: Oscar Flores.

My first night, a tentative one, sums up the musical experience of Romerías very well: a little trova at eight o'clock, then a walk through the park to dance to some of the songs of the group performing on the stage, then up to the Gabinete Caligari to see a "cockfight" between rappers, go to listen to jazz at the Casa Iberoamericana at half past ten, but not before stopping by the rock club to see how it goes; leave the jazz and go to Electro Romerías until midnight, the time when the jam. Saying goodbye to the group of friends by saying: "tomorrow, less jogging, please".

This variety of spaces and genres is one of the key elements of the festival; being oriented and made by young people, it is to be expected that opportunities for musical dissemination will be created, as times go by and according to what a few years ago was niche and is today mainstream. For example, if you mention Holguin and electronic music, many will think of the Stereo G festival, which is held every year in August on the beaches of Gibara; what they may not know is that without Electro Romerías this event would not exist.

At least, that's how Danilo Guerrero, better known as The Kun, a veteran DJ in the city, told me: "In 2002, Alain Dark and Wichy de Vedado played for the first time at Gabinete Galigari and opened a window to this kind of music in Holguin, encouraging DJs to bring their own mixes, to make their own tracks. From that year on, they would occupy free places in the framework of Romerías, empty spaces not specific for their music. It is to Ernesto Jorge Hidalgo Mariño Tiko SK8to whom we owe the official establishment of Electro Romerías, in 2009, supported, of course, by the AHS, which in recent years has seen an increase of its members in this genre".

This year the organization brought as guests Quantum Project (Santiago de Cuba), Sammix and Acid Polar (Cienfuegos), and Dark Marx (Santa Clara). In the local scene, KSebastian, figure who leads the Almacén del Techno of Gibara, was the organizer of the event. Also featured were Lheo, Axennar, ELECTROZONA, who runs the much-loved Cyber Tropical space, with Whisper as host; Asslan, Rakxo and Acid Seduction, the latter starring in Techno Overload. Among the veterans and non-members of the AHS, Alex6music and Louis Z also played, as well as The Kun himself.

"We are looking for an inclusive, young and authentic production," synthesizes Danilo, urging DJs from all over the country and the world to come to this event. "Electro Romerías is a platform for national and international diffusion and will continue to be so as long as Romerías de Mayo exists".

In the incessant walking of the people of Holguin, not many notice a plaque on the Cine Martí (another crucial scene of Romerías), dated 1923, the year the city won the national contest, organized by a magazine called "Romerías". The Struggleto the question "Which is the nicest town in Cuba? I told this story to Venezuelan singer-songwriter Ernesto Luis, who is already a recurring character in the international friends section.

He introduces himself and talks about Barquisimeto, his hometown, musical capital of Venezuela and "the most beautiful twilights". In December 2023 he released his album, TripFor the album he needed to "make the cow", that is to say: that his friends donated money to be able to record. Finally, the song of the same name was included in the album and we listened to it in the trova spaces to which he was invited. "I talk about the joy, the simplicity of my people, how they fall in love, their idiosyncrasy," he declares with a perennial smile. "My style has cumbia, salsa, merengue, reggae, from all Latin America". A fan of Cuban music, Silvio Rodríguez and Frank Delgado, he also met Polito Ibañez, Dúo Iris, Annie Garcés and his now great friends, Fernando Cabreja and Manuel Leandro Sánchez, through the Romerías, which he has attended three times. Manolito. He defends that Venezuela and Cuba are brothers, "despite the difficulties and wars. To put culture as a flag is wonderful, that's why I invite all singer-songwriters, poets and visual artists to meet in the nicest city in Cuba next year".

Duo Fábula. Photo courtesy of the Group

Holguín has a privileged position on the map. Westerners and central travelers make a 12-hour trip, or less, and they are already in the city of parks; the rest of easterners, depending on the province, have to choose from a machine to a wagon. "You have to come to Holguín, because nobody goes to Pinar," jokes José Luis Izquierdo Hernández, better known in the artistic world as Luisiño, leading member of Dúo Fábula. "Pinar del Río is a little matchbox, sometimes it lights up and sometimes it doesn't, it depends on the humidity." It is his third time in the Romerías, together with Frank Falcón. Specialized in trova and singer-songwriters' songs, with a background (Luisiño was the producer of the company Alas Teatro), they arrived on this occasion with two performancesin collaboration with fellow theater actor Luis Alberto Alemán Martínez. They had already worked together in More than wordspresented in 2023 and reissued this year.

Performance with Luis Alberto Alemán

The new performancean original idea of Luis Alberto, is called The Mute Eye and was staged in the city's parks and open spaces. Through music - much of it composed specifically for this project - and textless performance art, this work makes reference to issues of today's Cuban society that we all see and suffer from, but few denounce.

The festival champions good music and that is why it is so exciting to listen to bands coming for the first time, as was the case of Hysteresis, a progressive rock and metal band, formed in 2017, with five members coming from the National School of Music. This time they came invited by the AHS, although they had already participated in the HG National Rock Metal Festival last year. Jorge Antonio Fernandez, leader of the group, told me about the rapport with the Holguin public, a youth that is delivered in concerts and shower them with attentions.

Also from Havana we could listen to Stell Brain and Congregation; and from Camaguey, Sex by Manipulation and Mountweaze; while from the patio we had Complot, Gore Encyclopedia, Claim, Mephisto, among others.

Personally memorable was the fourth night, when I heard Polito Ibáñez in concert for the first time. It was not a mistake to take a table from nine o'clock and make time in conversations, greeting friends who passed by, scrolling or simply in silence until midnight, when it began, because by then there was not a needle in that terrace, and the waiters could not keep up; it took them longer to get out of the crowd than to prepare the orders. Most of that audience probably already knew what I discovered that early morning: that Polito is, par excellence, an artist full of youth, even with his jokes of back pain and kidney infection from the trip. He did not say goodbye when it was his turn, but two songs later. In his words, "he opened the Romerías" and I can understand why he returns: the Holguín public and the foreign guests receive him as a friend, with open arms, eager to listen to his stories -the new ones and the usual ones- without caring about the serenity, the standing, the involuntary delays, the heat.

The Heat Transfer, Photo by: Ernesto Alejandro "Guillo"

The wonderful thing about art is that it can be planted in the hearts of people of any profession or field of study and, once there, germinate with groundbreaking force. This is what the jazz trio from Cardenas, The Heat Transfer, led by a mechanical engineering graduate, proves. Alejandro Arteaga, its percussionist, explains to me that the name comes from the thesis topic of Andy G. Ginoris, the director: heat transfer, because what they seek is to transmit their energy to the public, in defense of the pure soul of jazz. "They won the scholarship Kingdom of This World The AHS grant, to record what will be their first EP", Yudenys Polledo, their producer, proudly tells me, "but beyond this tremendous achievement, what we always defend is live music. In Cárdenas we have a fixed space in JazzTá and that fills us as much as the scholarship", adds Sayron Saúl, the bass player.

And live jazz is enjoyed by all those who come to Romerías, being the custom of the jam Jazz Ensemble, which starts at midnight at the AHS bar. The Puff, a band formed by students of the José María Ochoa Conservatory of Music, previously presented at the Gibara International Film Festival and at the Esquina del Jazz itself in the framework of Romerías, always starts at dawn. After having experimented together in the jamThe Heat Transfer expresses its desire to also participate in the festival, open to exchange with other styles and in other locations.

The Puff at the Jazz Corner. Oscar Flores.

The Romero audience does not know about awards or interpretative mastery, although they appreciate them; they know about enthusiasm, humility, generosity; about giving back what they receive, about leaving their feet and throat (and their shame), in exchange for good anecdotes.

"The Romerías de Mayo is about new voices, reunions, endless dawns and a city that vibrates when visited. It's about living in a cultural bubble for a couple of days, about forgetting everything you know (because there are no blackouts on the stages) and feeling Cuban, tropical, Latin, with the unlimited accumulation of energy that implies. It's about history, cinema, visual arts, music, dance and friends," he would now answer the question at the beginning. Because there is no today without yesterday, there is no Romerías without the young people who now sow what others will continue to harvest in 30 years, and that the rain kindly waters.

Ana Laura Rodriguez Gonzalez More posts

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  1. Bárbara Martínez says:

    Excellent article ana, it has the spirit of the Romerías.

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