Creole Choir of Cuba Coming to North America
When one thinks “Cuba” the idea of creole culture doesn’t often come to mind, but the island shares a long and intertwined history with Haiti and the Dominican Republic. A million Cubans speak creole, a fusion of African, French and other tongues. The islands have a shared history: many Haitians fled to Cuba after the revolution of 1790, others during the oppressive regime of Duvalier.
In the 1800s more than 30,000 Haitians emigrated to eastern Cuba with another wave occurring from 1920 – 1940 and yet another in the 1980s. Today, estimates of the Haitian population in Cuba range from 300, 000 on up to 1 million. Each wave of immigrants had its own distinct characteristics and brought with them the strong musical and dance traditions, their religion, customs, rituals and cultural habits on their journey from Haiti to Cuba.
This history of immigration has been poorly represented and nearly ignored. But that is changing now with the voices of “Desandann”, known worldwide as the Creole Choir of Cuba. The Creole Choir celebrate the history of their Haitian descendents enslaved to the Caribbean from West Africa. The Creole Choir’s ten remarkable singers come from Camagüey, Cuba’s third city, down towards the eastern end of the island. They grew up and studied music in this old colonial town, designated a UNESCO World heritage Site in 2008 for its colonial architecture. They have nurtured music passed down in their families since the early 19th century, gradually adding modern Haitian sounds following their own first visit to a Haitian festival in 1996.
The Creole Choir were founded in 1994 during the ‘Special Period’ when the Cuban economy fell into a black hole following the end of the USSR and of Soviet support for the revolution. Food was short while homes and work places often went dark due to lack of electricity. It was at this difficult time that members of the Professional Choir of Camagüey who were descendents of Haitians, decided to re-forge the resistance songs and laments of their forebears. Lead by their Choir Director Emilia Díaz Chávez, Grupo Vocal Desandann, as they are called in Cuba, revived the songs of their ancestors for modern times. Desandann literally means ‘descendents’ and as the choir say: “For us music is like food, it feeds the spirit and is a major inspiration for everyday life”.
Vibrant dancing and spectacular harmonies and undiscovered music of the Caribbean performed by a vocal and percussion ensemble little known outside of Cuba. The Creole Choir of Cuba have preserved musical treasures from Haiti, Dominica and Cuba within their rich descendant communities in Cuba.
The group is composed from the descedants of several waves of Haitian migrants who escaped slavery at the end of the 18th Century or more recently came as labourers to work Cuba’s sugar plantations. With information gathered from generations of Haitian immigrants, The Creole choir of Cuba promotes and performs music of Haitian origin, especially “La Cancionistica”, music which has been enriched by elements of other Creole speaking Caribbean countries.
After performing at WOMAD and the Edinburgh Festival in 2009, the Creole Choir of Cuba was signed to Peter Gabriel’s Real World record label and has been touring internationally since. The group has been incredibly well received—a fact that only pays homage to the vibrant and captivating rhythms, heartfelt harmonies, and fresh, inspiring energy given in every performance.
The Choir have just announced their first major U.S. tour, with 23 tour dates in autumn 2011, from September to November. With irresistible melodies driven by richly textured harmonies, and Caribbean rhythms , their first U.S. release showcases the impassioned singing of a group celebrating its roots.
The album “Tande-La” is available now for download on Real World Records. A physical release for North America is in September.
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