Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro de Cuba visits Norfolk, Virginia


Sounds of Cuba hit Norfolk ear

Virginian-Pilot correspondent

April 12, 2011

By Yana G. Samberg


Think of it as historical salsa swing.

That may be the most apt way to describe the romantic, horn-and-bongo-driven sound of Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro de Cuba. The group, which began visiting the United States two years ago after an eight-decade hiatus, will perform in Norfolk on Wednesday as part of the Virginia Arts Festival.

“The group has a long-standing tradition in Cuba. They have been around for many decades, and their music really exemplifies the classic Cuban sound,” said Rob Cross, the festival’s executive and artistic director. “I think audiences are going to love the rhythm. It’s going to be hard to sit still when you see them play.”

Septeto Nacional plays what is known as Son, a blend of African-derived music and the music of Spanish colonists’ descendants. The seven-piece band was founded in 1927 by Ignacio Piñeiro Martínez (1888-1969), a Cuban bassist and composer. The band, now led by Eugenio Rodríguez “Raspa” and Frank Oropesa “El Matador,” has seen four generations of musicians pass through its ranks.

Septeto Nacional returned to the United States in November 2009 on cultural visas. Since then, the group has played major cities such as New York, San Francisco and Miami.

It’s not the only Cuban act playing the Virginia Arts Festival. Classical guitarist Manuel Barrueco will perform at the Chrysler Museum of Art on April 25, and the Danza Contemporanea de Cuba dance company will make its American debut at the Sandler Center in Virginia Beach on May 6.

Is it a coincidence that so many Cuban acts are finding their way to American stages? Cross said recent changes in U.S. policy have made it “easier for educational and cultural travel between the U.S. and Cuba.”

However, when Septeto first returned to the United States, U.S. officials tried to minimize the political subtext. According to a 2009 review in The New York Times, State Department officials said Septeto’s presence in the country represented only a return to a literal interpretation of existing laws, not a shift in policy. Whether Cuban artists’ continued ability to come to the United States has larger and longer-lasting political and policy implications, Cross is happy to be able to bring Septeto and other performers to the region.

“Some groups that we bring in during the season are on North American tours, and others perform with the festival and then return home. Septeto was putting together their own tour of the U.S.,” Cross said. “It’s just our luck that they were all available this year.”

Yana Samberg, ygs1971@gmail.com

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