MANANA Festival Seeks to Preserve Folkloric Music by Bringing DJs to Cuba

Santiago de Cuba is the beating heart of Afro-Cuban music. As the second largest city in Cuba, it’s a cultural center in many ways. But for folkloric styles of music like rumba, there’s nowhere like it. “All the big bands that play Cuban music like salsa or son or rumba have to play at least once here in Santiago de Cuba to test themselves,” rapper Alain Garcia Artola says of the city he calls home. The renewal of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba could mean new opportunities for the country’s musicians, but it also puts the future of its musical traditions – in some ways sheltered by Cuba’s isolation – in question. Garcia Artola and his friend Harry Follett and Jenner del Vecchio have an idea for preserving and supporting this unique spirit in Santiago de Cuba: they want to host an electronic music festival there.

In a fresh approach to cultural preservation, MANANA Festival would help sustain the traditional roots of Cuban music (rumba especially) and support the artists who keep it a living tradition by creating an environment of cultural exchange and exposing new and hopefully younger audiences to the music. The non-profit festival, which is being funded through Kickstarter, has the blessing of the Cuban government and will be held on May 4-5 at the Heredia Complex as well as various less formal spots around the city. It will welcome international visitors and tickets will be sold to residents of Cuba at a discount to make sure it is accessible for as many people as possible.

If the festival is funded, confirmed performers include dubstep pioneer Mala, whose Mala in Cuba album fused UK bass and rumba, Puerto Rican electronic rumba outfit Grupo ÌFÉ, tropical DJs Sofrito, and master Cuban rumba group Obba Tuke. The artists would share stages and collaboration will be encouraged. “Folkloric music in Cuba is the base for all the music we do here. Our idea is to connect this kind of music, these original beats, with the pioneers and established names in electronic music around the world,” Garcia Artols says, adding, “We know how much folkloric music has to give to the rest of the world.”

Instead of siloing traditional music, the co-founders of the festival want to show the connections between older genres and newer styles of dance music, which are as popular in Cuba as they are anywhere else in the world. “MANANA is about learning from folkloric music as much as it is about sharing electronic music and collaboration. We are trying to create a space for an equal exchange of ideas and culture. I think that when people hear guaguancó (rumba) or the rhythms of the batá they will recognize things they love about good electronic music, and also discover new things that will fascinate them,” Follett wrote in an email.

Manana, by the way, is a concept any rumba musician understands. Garcia describes it as “a feeling, the way a musician interprets his music. When a musician plays and communicates with his crowd, that is manana. It’s about skill and spontaneity, how the musician communicates with the crowd and how the crowd accepts that. The musician is the holder of the manana.” Any good DJ can relate to that.

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UPDATE 11/10/15 5:55 p.m.

Festival Manana has already reached its preliminary Kickstarter goal of $60,000. Celebrate by watching Manana Festival’s live broadcast from the Boiler Room HQ here.