Cuba: International Festival Honors Juan Formell

A program focused on paying tribute to Cuban musician Juan Formell will mark on Friday the beginning of the 1st International Timba Festival ”Forever Formell,” to be held in Havana until August 4.

The organizers of the event chose this date coinciding with the birthday of Juan Formell, founder and director of the legendary Los Van Van orchestra, popularly known as ‘The Train of Cuban Music.’

After a greeting to the participants by Samuel Formell, current director of Los Van Van, the photographic exhibition ‘Por siempre Formell’ (Forever Formell), by artist Ivan Soca, will open the festival at 10:00 local time at El Sauce Cultural Center.

Another of the activities taking place today is the panel of the same name, in which the children of the renowned musician and founders of Los Van Van will talk about the artistic work of the bassist, composer and arranger, and the different stages of the orchestra that won a Latin Grammy award in 2000 with its album ‘Llego Van Van’ (Van Van Has Arrived.

Next, musicologist Nerys Gonzalez will give a keynote speech on the work of Formell, who died in 2014, his impact on the music of the island and other countries and his influence on the way other orchestras play music.

According to the program, the documentary ‘Legado’ (Legacy), by filmmakers NathanaÃ’l Mergui and Patricia Ayala, will also be screened at El Sauce Cultural Center at 14:00, local time.

The first day of the event concludes at La Tropical’s Salon Rosado Benny More with a concert by Los Van Van orchestra and guest musicians starting 9:00 p.m., local time, until midnight.

The 1st International Timba Festival… ‘Forever Formell’ is sponsored by the Cuban Ministry of Culture and the Cuban Institute of Music, along with other entities of the Culture System in this country.

Orchestras such as Issac Delgado, Pupy y los que Son Son, NG La Banda, Alexander Abreu y Havana D´ Primera, Adalberto Alvarez y Su Son, El Noro and Primera Clase, El Niño y la Verdad, as well as La Colmenita Children’s Theater Company will participate in the festival.

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International Timba Forever Festival in Havana Aug. 2-4

The details were recently announced on the International Timba Forever Festival, which takes place in various locations in the Cuban capital from August 2 to 4.

Several spaces will host the event including the Juan Formell hall of the El Sauce cultural center, the Salón Rosado de la Tropical, the Comodoro Hotel, the Areito-Egrem studio, and the well-trafficked corner of 23rd and Malecon.

The program of the festival includes concerts and shows with the participation of emblematic orchestras and important figures of popular dance music. There will also be a photographic exhibition, workshops, demonstrations, conferences and exchanges with musicians, researchers and other Timba specialists and the work of Juan Formell. Likewise the documentary “Legado” and other films will be shown.

Two special moments will be the unveiling of commemorative plaque at the corner of 23rd and P Streets a block away from where the group Formell and Los Van Van will perform in the Mega concert on August 3 at the corner of 23 and Malecon.

For this special concert, the organizers will place two stages and two screens, one at the Cuba Pavilion and another in the Coppelia ice cream parlor. The groups to perform include NG la Banda, Habana de primera and Adalberto Álvarez and his Son. The concert is expected to last around 7 hours in which the participating groups will play continuously without interruption.

The children’s theater troupe the Colmenita is charged with opening the Megaconcert and it will end with the Cuban music train.

The inauguration of the International Timba Forever Festival will take place at the El Sauce cultural center on Friday, August 2 at ten o’clock in the morning and the closing concert will be held on Sunday, August 4 at 8 o’clock in the evening at the Salon Rosado de la Tropical.  

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Elito Reve: “I will die in Havana”

Elito Reve, one of the most important icons of the Cuban popular music, answered some questions for CubaSi with humbleness and grace.

He began playing the claves and then the piano in the orchestra. He still follows the path paved by his father Elio Reve as the leading musician of El Charangon. Here some of the answers of El Charangon’s director who after 60 years remains in the public’s preference.

Let’s begin with some history…

Orquesta Reve was founded in 1956 in Havana. My father came from Guantanamo and brought Changui —musical genre original from Guantanamo— with him. We are descendent from a French man who fell in love with a Cuban slave; thus, there you have the origin of my surname Reve, which means dream. Six generations of Cubans have danced with La Reve. Outstanding musicians like Juan Formell, Cesar Pupi Pedroso, Juan Carlos Alfonso, Yumuri, Vicente Rojas, and young singer-songwriter Emilio Frias “El Nino,” have been part of the orchestra.

How do you feel when you are regarded as a school for other stars in the Cuban musical arena?

We have been lucky to enjoy musicians such as Chucho Valdes, Ibrahim Ferrer, Enrique Alvarez…Being in the preference of the public has not been an easy goal after 61 years. We have created music since my father’s day. I have tried to continue the path. Several CDs have come to light since. Our work is reflected in all those generations that have danced with the orchestra. Our band still has its signature.

How much continuity and renewal can we see in La Reve?

Look, being in the elite is the hardest thing. There are orchestras that get a hit because they are made of good artists, singers, and they have talent. But being there in the public’s preference all the time is not easy at all. My father and I have achieved it. The orchestra still has good national and international preference despite new emerging genres.

I set a full drum work in the orchestra as I wanted to enrich the percussion work of the band. I initiated the use of a bass. A woman works with the orchestra as a singer for the first time. It is a strong band but you need to give a different show every day. I have made some changes for the sake of the group. We have made changui better, different, full of spirit; nonetheless, the musical concept of the orchestra remains the same…”

La Reve and Los Van Van joined forces and performed live at the Sports City in Havana to pay a special tribute. What can you tell us?

It was my idea. I talked to Samuelito and said: look, Elio Reve and Juan Formell have played an essential role in the musical history of our nation. And we must give this Cuban people and the world a live concert…It was named Dos leyendas juntas. The live concert DVD will be launched soon.

What can you tell us about your recently launched CD…?

“Yo me muero en La Habana” is a BIS MUSIC CD. Yomil y el Dani featured one song with us, with the special arrangement of Dagoberto Gonzalez Jr. and Cucurucho Valdes. It is a very beautiful album. It is online already. The song La cuchara has a video and will be premiere in the upcoming days.”

Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Diaz//CubaSi Translation Staff

Samuel Formell and his Family Legacy about the Van Van Band

“Samuel Formell is one of those persons who open the door of his house and invites him to enter. He offers you a cofffee and you even feel his dog as a lifetime’s friend in his house's living room .”

“Even when he was a child, Sami or Samuelito, as he was known by his friends and relatives, had the passion for really different careers. However, it was almost impossible to escape from a musical house.”

“That is the reason; as a director of the main musical and popular dancing band of Cuba, he promotes the musical legacy of his father, along with his mother’s influences he always defends. Let us know much more about this musician and man.”

Samuel. How did music get to you?

“My father did not want to start it, and even before having decided for studying it, the naval engineering was the first career that I always liked. It was something really incredible and after that, I approached”

“The architecture much more and psychology, but I had many music-related concerns and the drums, specifically.” “My brother talked to my father and said to him: “

“I tested Samuel and I think he has a good hearing for music and his answer was that there was already another musician in the band and I already had my plans.”

Samuel Formell and his Family Legacy about the Van Van Band. Photo by Alejandro Rojas

“From that moment on, I left all, taking into account the fact that once you study music by becoming it into your career; you have certainly to dedicate yourself to it since you were a child and stop playing many children’s games due to that theme.”

“To be a good musician, it is necessary to study for many years as I think that study never ends.”

Which would be the musical rhythms if you had to talk to us about them?

“I was always marked by too many musical rhythms. My mother was the best tap dancer of Cuba and jazz, rock and music from the 70s and 90s were always listened at my home.”

“When my father knew her, he used to play the double bass for El Barbarán band and she was a professional dancer who used to travel, made shows and performed at Tropicana, Las Vegas and El Parisién centers and my father liked the way she danced tap and told us when we were children that he was behind that mixed-race woman until he achieved it.”

“My mother had a much better economic position at that time and they became a couple in the end. He father began living at her house and my older brother was born later. However, they could not send another child to her and my father asked my mother to stop working and that happened when Juan Formell was at the Revé musical band.”

Samuel Formell and his Family Legacy about the Van Van Band. Photo by Alejandro Rojas

“Why do I tell this history? Why he was at the helm of the feeling movement and my mother was at home with me? Moraima Secada lived in the corner. Elena Burke used to visit us a lot and Ángel Díaz too. There was then too much influence from them, along with the always present jazz.”

“Those were my great influences not only to me but also for my father to create the Charanga format with the drums that is the first in Cuba which appears a dancing band with that musical instrument, electric bass and so on.

Which music did you use to listen to and like, specifically?

“At that time, I used to listen to my mother showed to me like Ballads in English. She used to sing very well by using the Blue style and that influenced me a lot when I started the Arts school.”

“The musician almost always tends to become attached to the good harmonies as you train you ear. I study classic music and I think it is from there where the proper technique comes. The power about knowing how to listen to the sounds and making orchestral arrangements train you completely. It is compulsory to study piano even though you wanted to play trumpet, bass pr whatever and that took me to the contemporary Jazz music and that is what I have always liked listening to, even at present.”

We have talked about art and its influences thus parts, but it is time to tell us the way Samuel is at home.

“I have almost always had each month, a day where I wake up something that occurs at home. That is what I could not have studies from architecture. I have made many transformations and I built them from zero. I made myself the designs.”

“I like cooking everything, sea food, a paste which is the knowledge learnt from my father that passed me on the cook’s legacy.”

“I am also very fond of movie, photography. I respect the sound bands a lot and I do think that no one could match the process of creating music for a film as that increased your level. You have to study the script and it is really difficult when you have a scene that lasts a minute and a hundredth. It is certainly difficult to compose a melody without happening it, taking into account that could give the related continuity or the opposed effect, as well.”

“It is a hard work because that is the way the feelings are expressed, but it is a very rewarding outcome in the end.”

Samuel Formell and his Family Legacy about the Van Van Band. Photo by Alejandro Rojas

Now that we are talking about the film world, what is your relation with the audiovisual world?

“I do like the Cuban movie, the Latin American movie as it is the most complete art due to its many platforms. I believe that music keeps that path through video clips due to there is a screen and being there. The audience watches constantly and the tendency about listening to music has been lost, especially in the public places and that is why to be allied to the cameras, videos through 4K and HD formats and they should really have certain quality to be able to show them worldwide.”

At this point, I imagine that you have many things to be fulfilled. Which are them?

“I have many illusions and of them is about the Van Van band never to disappear. That is all a dream and a demand because we are not going to be alive forever. Moreover, my own son could join us or even not, however, all it is certainly a dream due to the band is already an additional emblem for the Cuban.”

“Nevertheless, if you asked about a dream of mine, it would be playing at a symphony orchestra of London as I would really like it.”

What else would you like to do as a musician, apart the Van Van band?

“To be honest, I have right now some projects which have anything to do with the Van Van orchestra that takes lots of my time, but I think Samuel Formell sharing with friends, musicians playing Jazz, funk and songs in English, lots of improvisation with cords and local bands and doing much more and feel attached to the music that made me grow, is certainly my debt.”

Samuel Formell and his Family Legacy about the Van Van Band. Photo by Alejandro Rojas
Time becomes an enemy sometimes. How do you use it to do many things?

“It is difficult, the musical instrument that I play the people often do not know how it is really is. My work is like the one carried out by three musicians at the same time and not only from the musical point of view but also physically one, the I have had to deal with it, I almost undergo a surgery due to my two elbows were affected, so if I had a surgery, the Van Van band would not be performing for four months and there was not any certainty about them being properly recovered after the physical therapy treatment. It was then decided to add mother cells into them with a related treatment for almost a month and I ended up really well. “

“I start here because in my personal life, apart from the band I have always to have a space for physical exercises and trying to be fit which is a habit I had not before.”

“In addition, I have to deal with all the family, I am the father of my nephew, who is the little brother who left my father and other relatives like my sirter Elisa, my suister Paloma, taking into account that Juan Formell was the one who protected the family, even economically, so I have to keep doing the same so that they are all ok.”

“There is a moment when I read, do Yoga and I always find time to be focused, adapt myself to the music, interviews of television, and the videos of the rehearsals. The tours are really intense for us. We go and we waste sometime some time in cities where we do not know absolutely anyone, so I take advantage of any period of time to be with the family.”

“We wanted to know how was Juan Formell's Jazz. We insinuated first, we asked for it later and he sat down and began playing later and we had not another option other than sitting down and enjoying from that show and drinking coffee.”


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