Whether or not Nashvillians travel for a Thanksgiving feast, come Tuesday The Kings of Salsa offers a tantalizing tour of Cuba on November 22. The sumptuous spread of island music and dance will be laid out at 7 PM at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center.
The cast will stop in Music City as part of their first USA tour. With few changes in the lineup of musicians and dancers, they’ve been on a four-year run across Asia and Europe, moving audiences from the edge of their seats to dancing down the aisles. I asked the Lord of the Dance, Artistic Director/Choreographer Roclan Gonzalez Chavez, to reveal the fuel behind his tour de force. He explains:
“My motivation to create a show like Kings of Salsa is precisely to share with the world the great music and dance of Cuba along with presenting a new generation of Cuban artists who carry on with the tradition along with giving it a new edge.
The goal of the show is to pay homage to the great performers of Cuban culture along with showing to the world the greatness and diversity that our island has to offer. I hope that the audiences will walk out with the impression of having spent one night in Havana without having to pay for an airfare. This tour is a tremendous success in my opinion as all the performers and myself feel we really have connected and touched our audience.”
Of the US tour he adds:
“We started working on a US tour in 2008. The cultural exchange is a great experience. This tour is a great opportunity for such a young group and to be the ambassadors of our culture in the world. It is incredible that in only two months we have visited almost all the United States, something that a lot of people in the world would love to have done.”
“Mambo” means “conversation with the gods.” Chavez says:
“The dancers who inspired me the most are the Afro-Cuban dancers of my country. What inspires me in my creative process are all the tribal dances of Africa.” Of Cuba Ashire, the 9-piece band that propels dancers in a mix of traditional and contempory dancing including street salsa, hip hop, rumba, and cha cha cha, Chavez says, “The music is what drives the show.”
Chavez, born in Havana in 1976, graduated from the Cuban National Art school in Havana in 1996 with distinction in contemporary and folkloric dance and was the only person that year awarded a post graduate scholarship to study Choreography. I asked about his early dance experiences, the influnce of folkloric music (rumba), and how he reconciles the advances and modernity of the music with its rich history and tradition. He explains:
“I was born in a neighborhood where the drums and the Afro-Cuban music was very strong. My neighborhood was a very popular neighborhood for its Afro-Cuban culture and that’s where I have first encountered music and dance.
Rumba is very important within the Cuban culture and the movement is really what reconciles the advances and modernity of the music with the rich history and tradition of the Rumba. La Rumba is in the heart of all Cubans. There are no Rumba schools in Cuba. It is in the streets, in the homes and in the blood of Cubans.”
I asked what music he listens to personally and what music he recommends/advice he has for beginning dancers. His response:
“I consider the Cuban “Son” and Cuban music in general my favorite music. I listen to Irakere a lot, Los Van Van, Tower of Power, the music of the musical Chicago, James Brown and a lot of jazz.
As for the must-have songs, colors were made to fulfill different tastes so each person really sees or hears music in a different color. The color they pick will the right one for them as long as they have fun. They need to forget about counting 1,2,3,4… and start enjoying. Don’t forget to listen to the music in its depth, listen to the rhythm and forget about counting. Too much calculation. I do not remember any of my Afro-Cuban friends counting to me when I was young and learning how to dance.”
Of his international recognition, he humbly asserts: “I do not believe I am an international star. I believe I was born to participate in the shine of Cuban culture which is the true star and the root of Latin music.”
Of his troupe, he says:
“The group has been created for the purpose of the show in 2008. We are a group of 18. There are many schools for dance in Cuba but the most important is the Escuela Nacional de Arte [ENA] and all the members of this group have graduated from the ENA. In Cuba, the youth only has to think about studying. It is all I can remember from my youth, the importance of growing artistically. Our group is the best at delivering the Cuban truth. What comes easy is enjoying what we do.”
I asked if his show bashes borders in portraying a new Cuba and if Cuba will always be home. His response:
“Art does not have any borders. The image people have about Cuba is their personal perception. Cuba was, is and will be only one. An island of music, passion, sensuality and controversy.
Cuba has always been my home. Cuba will always be my home… We usually go out on tour twice to three times a year to share our happiness with the world. I have been on tour for five months now, from Australia and New Zealand to Switzerland with another show and now with Kings of Salsa in the US.
After the end of this tour we are all going back home to Cuba to enjoy our beautiful island, our happy life and what we plan for the future is carrying on perfecting new ideas to offer to the world The Cuban essence.”
Will Roclan Gonzalez Chavez have time for some country line dancing while in Music City USA? He’ll only be here one day, but he’s game:
“I know Nashville is a cultural hub in American music. I have never had the occasion to dance any country line dances, but I would love to have the opportunity to do so as I love to learn everyday about new music and dances.”
The Kings of Salsa will be at the Nashville Symphony Schermerhorn Center November 22, 2011, 7:00 PM, located at One Symphony Place; Nashville, TN 37201. Tickets here. FOR A CHANCE TO WIN 4 FREE TICKETS, GO TO THE GIVEAWAY ON HISPANICNASHVILLE.COM HERE.