London Jazz Festival
The Creole Choir of Cuba
Rogelio Rodriguez Torriente, Fidel Romero Miranda, Teresita Romero Miranda, Marcelo Andres Luis, Dalio Arce Vital, Emilia Diaz Chavez, Yordanka Sanchez Fajardo, Irian Esther Rondon Montejo, Marina de Los Angeles, Collazo Fernandes, Yara Castellanos Diaz
Theatre Royal Stratford East
November 17 - 20, 2010
A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!
This is the second time we’ve reviewed The Creole Choir of Cuba in concert in one year. My upcoming review of their transcending CD, Tande-la will be the third. Even so, I’d gladly review the Choir again if the opportunity arose. There’s a good reason for my boundless enthusiasm - SOUL!
All ten choir members, five women and five men, hail from Camaguey, Cuba, an old colonial town, ‘designated a UNESCO World heritage Site in 2008 for its iconic architecture.’ Although they sing mainly in Creole, (the 2nd language of Cuba) a fusion of African, French and other languages, on this occasion, the Choir also performs two numbers in English, and Spanish could also be heard. All of the singers have studied music to university level, and all are members of the Provincial Choir, directed by their spirited leader, Emilia. They’ve been referred to as ‘the most original vocal sound to come out of the country in a long while,’ and if you’re lucky enough to hear them, you’ll understand why. No choir has ever been so genuinely uplifting!
Sounds of solidarity, plaintive, yet strong, as a single female voice wails before a wall of fluctuating vocal rhythm; women, in long, patterned shifts of green, white, gold, orange and brown sway like palms behind the lead singer as do their male counterparts nearby. Connecting souls sing out, supporting the defiantly phrased cry of their female leader, whose voice, like theirs, rings high and true. No instruments, in the traditional sense, have accompanied the first number. I’m amazed that I hadn’t even noticed. It was a traditional Haitian song – Mangaje “Fey” and made for a literally stunning opener. On the second number, Edem Chanté-by Eddy Francois (adapt. Marcelo Andres Luis) male voices establish a beat, which the women sing against, crossing themselves, as conga and small hand held cymbal kick in deepening bass. This leads us into a beautifully lush song called ‘Maroule, another traditional Haitian number adapted by Marcelo Andres Luis, in which a female singer vents her emotions before a mournful backdrop, nearly transforming the theatre into a sacred space in the process. The crowd sits quietly transfixed, bursting into rapturous applause at the end, some whistling and cheering. This is only the beginning and we’re already deeply into it. The first half of this programme continued to build to a crescendo with Edy Francois’ ‘Tande’ (another marvelous adaptation by Marcelo Andres Luis) bewitching us further.
A slight costume change in part two gives the illusion that their give, and our, eagerly accepted listening roles might be have been interchangeable given the right circumstances. In short, all barriers between us and the singers/musicians have been gently, but thoroughly broken down without our awareness of it. It almost feels as though we’ve been in their company all night, they’ve been so warm and giving. But there is not the least bit of boredom about this feeling. On the contrary, we feel as though we’re ready to begin again.
Two women perform a duet as delicate and lilting as two birds carrying themselves aloft. A pattering conga is the cue for the company to join their vocal flight. ‘Wongolo’ (Boutman Espereans in another winning adaptation by Marcel A. L.) is every bit as engaging as spring itself. I abandon myself to this cornucopia of sound as we are carried through every emotion, virtue and vice known to man, with voices ranging from tawdry and sorrowful to elated and joyous, with gracefully executed visitations to everything in between. No wonder, as the songs the Choir sings speak of the toil of their Haitian ancestors who lived in near slave conditions in Cuba having been taken there to work the coffee and sugar plantations. But they also speak of triumph over adversity – the power of the human spirit.
Audience members are invited onstage at intervals, throughout, to sing and dance along, with alternatingly great or tentative results, depending on the nerve and confidence of the participants. One small woman who appears to have Aboriginal features, in a waist length parka in the same dark brown colour as her skin, requires assistance getting on stage, but once there, she seems to fit in with the Choir, her movements are so cheerfully free, as she smiles at them and us, swinging her hips and twirling around, holding her long hair aloft.
Near the end of their incredibly affecting set, the Choir sings a song especially for us, in English – ‘Unforgettable’, of Nat King Cole fame. It is a very special valentine for their new, English speaking friends that is at once sweet and, very touching. A woman sings one verse solo, very sincerely. The applause afterwards is riotous and the choir seems genuinely moved.
What makes The Creole Choir of Cuba so unique? I ponder that question throughout the course of their amazing concert, between each captivating number.
I once heard an old saying about the tapestry of life having lovely, lively colours on its surface and darkly mournful ones below, which tend to peep through. Perhaps that is this choir’s special gift, to reveal both sides of life, sad and joyful through song and to do so in a way that is not only by turns, bittersweet, poignant or beautifully triumphant, but also, singularly powerful and at all times, deeply moving.
Theatre Royal Stratford East
Gerry Raffles Square, Stratford, London E15 1BN
Tickets £20, £12.50
Box Office: 020 8534 0310
Copyright © EXTRA! EXTRA All rights reserved