Global Cuba Fest: A History

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I recently spoke with Beth Boone, the energetic Artistic & Executive Director of Miami Light Project, a 30-year-old cultural organization and home of the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse. Beth has spent twenty years traveling between Cuba and Miami, she estimates between 80 and 100 times, and has facilitated many cultural and artistic exchanges between the two countries. For years, Miami Light Project has brought Cuban artists to Miami to perform, but when in the early 2000’s visas for Cuban citizens to visit the United States became effectively banned, Beth felt she must do more to keep bringing Cuban music to Miami. In 2008, she and co-founder Ever Chavez started Global Cuba Fest, which would focus on bringing Cuban artists who were part of the diaspora based all over the world––including Canada, Japan, Europe, and South America––to perform in Miami. Beth described the festival to me with great affection as “a celebration of Cuban music and Cuban musicians who live in Cuba and around the world, There’s nothing like it anywhere else, so we’re really proud to have it here in South Florida and at the Light Box.”

Despite the ups and downs in US-Cuba relations, Beth and her team still work hard to bring Cuban artists who live in Cuba to perform in the festival, and have been successful in doing so over the last twelve seasons of Global Cuba Fest. She went in depth with me on Cuba’s immigration history, which gave context to the hard work they have done and the challenges Cuban artists face to make the festival a success. “One of the things that’s important to me as the Artistic Director of Miami Light Project and Light Box is to keep that in people’s minds. On the surface, it might all look relatively easy––you go to the concert and it’s fabulous. But, you know, twenty years of work went into it.”

I remember being new to Miami when Fidel Castro died in 2016, and that people of Cuban descent in Miami had widely varying reactions. I talked to people who literally paraded on Calle Ocho and others who felt indifferent (I won’t go into the entire history that Beth divulged when I mentioned this, but if you’re interested in learning more, check out this PBS article that discusses much of it). Some Cuban Americans condemned the lightening of the travel restrictions under the Obama Administration and others celebrated it. Clearly, many of the opinions on shifting relations with Cuba were strongly charged, so I asked Beth about how Cuban and Cuban-American people in Miami have reacted to the festival.

“Gratitude and ebullience. Feelings of deep appreciation and joy because the one thing that people can frequently agree on is the experience of great art and culture. It is a bridge-maker. My experience with Global Cuba Fest has been all positive, whether people are Cubans or Cuban-Americans or exiles or refugees or however they identify."

The festival has launched the career of many artists, including Danay Suarez, who performed with Nu Deco at Global Cuba Fest in 2017 and recorded a couple of her songs on the forthcoming Nu Deco album. Beth said has been thrilled to watch Danay’s career grow, along with the many other artists whose careers have been elevated through Global Cuba Fest.

This season, Nu Deco Nucleus will be performing on the festival––comprised of musicians from Nu Deco, the appropriately-named Nucleus is a microcosm of the full ensemble––clarinet, trumpet, trombone, percussion, piano, string quartet, and rhythm section. The more intimate version of the group performs much of the same repertoire as Nu Deco, with each instrument taking on a larger role. Depending on the venue and performance type, Nucleus is an even more intimate group that brings the same intensity and groove as the full ensemble.

Nucleus will collaborate with two featured artists for Global Cuba Fest 2019––Yusa and Joachim Horsley. Cuban musician Yusa has released several albums of her original music and in 2003 was a nominee for the prestigious BBC Radio 3 World Music Awards as Best Newcomer and Best of the Americas. Beth has known Yusa for years and says “she’s sensational––a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, poet––very soulful, just a powerhouse performer.” Joachim Horsley is a composer, pianist, and arranger who fuses traditional classical pieces with Afro-Carribbean rhythms. He has recently performed with the National Symphony and arranged for artists like Michael Bublé, John Legend, and Ben Folds.

Both Yusa and Joachim will perform with Nucleus on March 6-8 at the Light Box. Tickets are available online or by phone at 305-702-0116.

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