In Havana (and in Williamsburg) with Fabien Pisani Rolando Prats (SP)
This Thursday, February 1, at the Café Teatro Bertolt Brecht, in El Vedado, Havana, on the first act of what is expected to become one of the points of reference of Havana's musical landscape, ZAFRA JAMS will be launched, in a joint effort with PM Records and the National Laboratory of Electroacoustic Music. The founder and main organizer of ZAFRA JAMS and of the projects which have originated these jams and provided them with the basic frame of support is the Cuban musician, filmmaker, musical producer, and cultural promoter Fabien Pisani. We have talked several times with Fabien Pisani about Musicabana and his other projects in Cuba, and now in particular about ZAFRA JAMS, both in Havana and Williamsburg (Brooklyn, New York), cardinal points between which Pisani constantly shuttles at the exclusive rhythm of the demands of his projects, which occupy him full time and to which, for those of us who have seen him work, he has given himself in a contagious and stimulating way. We thought it timely to share some of his reflections with all concerned readers, in Cuba and elsewhere, on the eve of this coming first night of ZAFRA JAMS at the Bertolt Brecht, on the corner of 13 and I, in El Vedado, Havana. (Rolando Prats, Editor, Patrias. Actos y Letras).
1. In March 2016 you achieved something that until then would have seemed impossible: putting Diplo and Major Lazer in front of half a million young people, in the most politically charged place of the Malecón, and being able to tell them: play and say what you wish. That huge and surprising celebration not only ended without setbacks, but also left many with a taste of fulfillment and promise, that in Cuba it is possible to be at the same time audacious and constructive, sincere and smart. Just two months later, in May, you filled two venues, Jardines de la Tropical and Fábrica de Arte Cubano, with people of all ages and from various countries during the first edition of the Musicabana festival. All this by means of imagination, will, effort, patience, and with scarce financial resources, including your own. What has happened ever since with Musicabana and your other Cuban projects?
We have continued to work so that Cuban institutions understand the importance for Cuba of an event like Musicabana and approve its second edition. There are other projects on which we have worked very hard, but for one reason or another they have not come to fruition. For each project carried out there are a few that lagged and which nevertheless have required the same level of effort. There is a lot in all this of gambling in good faith, and I don't necessarily speak here of money, but of time and effort, even of illusions. We have insisted because we are sure that what we do is necessary, not to say urgent, not for an imaginary Cuba of the future, but for this Cuba of today, these Cubans who we already are, so that all of us, even those who can see us with lack of interest or with suspicion, can gain from it.
The desire continues to be to bring the Cuban cultural industry to levels that are more in tune, and in the long run up to par, with the realities, the needs, and the possibilities of the moment, and to promote financing mechanisms that complement and support the work done by the State cultural institutions, without countering or hindering it. In general, and in theory, on paper and at the level of good intentions, there is consensus among these institutions and those of us who are trying to put in play other resources, especially intellectual capital and human resources, and our own imagination, at the service of the culture that we all claim to love and defend.
It is necessary, however, when talking about or trying to do anything within this vast domain that we call culture, to understand the intrinsic value rather than the cost of any cultural project, and at the same time to develop these complementary economic mechanisms so that Cuban culture may continue to be enriched and better known, in a sustainable and sustained way, without having to depend on foreign benefactors or international circumstances. It is necessary to understand that the bottom line does not define, in culture, whether it is worth betting on an idea or project, but the capacity that such an idea or project has to re-vitalize and even enrich, re-size, a feeling of belonging and self-recognition that, in a country like Cuba, has always been associated with familiarity in the diverse. It must be understood that Cuban culture is everything that is happening in the country from a creative perspective, not only art, literature, cinema, or music, or the audiovisual universe as a whole, but a collective state of expression of new realities, new expectations, new needs. In that sense, even in Cuba and among Cubans, there is still a very limited idea of what is being done culturally in the country. I even believe that before there was a deeper awareness of all that, and there was less distance between Havana and the rest of the country, not to mention a less simplistic and even caricatural image of Cuban culture outside of Cuba.
All this said, what's keeping us busy right now is ZAFRA JAMS, a party we're launching this week at Café Teatro Bertolt Brecht in El Vedado, which we'll be doing every Thursday. This effort has precedents in a couple of similar parties we did in Williamsburg, New York. But what interests us is to do this in Cuba, especially factoring in that in Cuba money is not yet the key factor or the ultimate consideration. In that sense, in the case of the possibility of doing great things with relatively little money, Cuba remains a singular, perhaps a unique place.
2. What do you wish or imagine for these parties at the Bertolt Brecht?
Although many would be surprised to hear this, there aren't many good musical parties in Havana. And the main objective of ZAFRA JAMS is to create another space for dance, music, joy, reunion, pride, and mutual recognition. One of the things that surprises me is that the horizon of cultural reference for young people in Cuba seems to have narrowed, particularly with regard to music. In a country that has always been the center of so many innovations and the origin of so many musical influences, very little Caribbean, African, Brazilian, indie or electronic music is heard and danced today. And there goes the rhythmic and musical concept of these parties: to reinsert in the conscience and to bring back to the conversation this diversity, to put it back into dialogue with what defines us, to foster those synergies that have always come naturally to us. How did we do that? Talking with young DJ's from the National Laboratory of Electroacoustic Music with whom we share a certain understanding on these issues, and inviting young DJ's from the African community of Havana, mainly students, to participate in these parties, these jams.
3. On balance, what would you keep as a net gain from these almost two years of direct cultural action in Cuba and what do you expect to achieve?
A conviction and a hope: that there is so much to do, and that it is possible to do it. That the institutions should have more trust in all of us who are trying to create cultural value, to foster and enrich Cuban culture. That we may be counted on, we may be given the opportunity to contribute not only financially, but also through the creative will and energy that we have to offer, our professional connections and knowledge, and, of course, that we may be taken into account at the level of ideas and decision-making. We want to contribute, but also to participate. And the strange and frustrating thing is that foreign actors who have no in-depth knowledge of what is happening in this country, no long-term commitment to what we are experiencing, no other projection than that of the speculation and the adventure, are often given priority.
We are the ones for whom Cuba has never ceased to be the horizon and the starting point. There is no success outside Cuba that, no matter how big it may be, we don't want to re-invest and re-create at home. In this case, it is not even a matter of only bringing this or that type of music or these or those other musicians to Cuba, but of creating in Cuba, with Cuban resources and Cuban creators, the ferment and the conditions so that we do not have to depend on bringing this or that person to Cuba to feel that something is happening, sometimes almost as a favor, or as the satisfaction of an old curiosity, or as an indulgence in exoticism, but so that Cuba alone, by itself, by its own weight, as it was the case in different stages and for many years, becomes once again an unmissable place, and an indispensable element of any musical equation in the world. And because ideas such as nation, independence, sovereignty, freedom or simply future are to a large extent fermented, fostered, and defended within and from culture. It is in the domain of culture, as the richest expression of life, that these ideas often take shape and become image, and, as such, become tangible, present, and indispensable.
(In Brooklyn and Havana, 30 January 2018)