When most people think of Cuba, they tend to imagine fine cigars, lovely beaches and beautiful architecture. This Latin American nation is also known for its rich musical history: It is, after all, the birthplace of rhythms such as danzon, conga and rumba.
Last Saturday, a Malaysian audience managed to get up, close and personal with some of the nation's most famous music at From Malaysia To Cuba: A Bridge Of Music, a classical concert which took place at the Soka Gakkai Malaysia Cultural Hall in Kuala Lumpur. This concert, performed by the Selangor Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (SPYO), was held in conjunction with the The Republic of Cuba's 60th Anniversary and the National Day of Cuba. It was presented by the Cuban Embassy in Malaysia, Soka Gakkai Malaysia (SGM), SPYO, and the Friends of Cuba Association Malaysia.
In his opening remarks, SGM President Michael Kok said SGM had been collaborating with the Cuban Embassy since 2004, and had organised many events together, including art exhibitions, talks and film festivals.
He quoted Soka Gakkai International president Daisaku Ikeda in saying: “Music speaks directly to the heart. This response, this echo within the heart, is proof that human hearts can transcend the barriers of time and space and nationality.
"Exchanges in the field of culture can play an important role in enabling people to over come mistrust and prejudice and build peace.”
The concert saw many songs by acclaimed Cuban composers, both modern and classic, including Bella Cubana by Jose Silvestre White Lafitte, Allegro – Preludio y Guajira by Beatriz Corona and Ire a Santiago by Roberto Valera.
The 30+ member-strong orchestra, conducted by SPYO founder Chan Ling Chee, definitely did justice to the wide variety of music being performed.
Their violins, cellos, percussion and flute, among others, blended wonderfully in capturing the soul and spirit of the Cuban rhythms. The concert's final number, Jose Antonio Quesada's Hoy Mi Habana, featured the powerful vocals of Havana-born performer Meyvis Sahily Guilarte Miranda: a definite end on a high note!
The most popular song, however, was undoubtedly Guantanamera by Joseito Fernandez: a very catchy tune which has been covered by acts such as the Sandpipers, Joan Baez and Julio Iglesias since it was originally written in 1929.
In attendance at the concert, among many guests, were Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Malaysia Mohamaddin Ketapi and Star Media Group Berhad CEO Andreas Vogiatzakis, both of whom said they had enjoyed the performance.
“We've always had a very close, good relationship with Cuba, which continues until today. We will continue to maintain that, and keep working together on aspects like culture and so on,” Mohamaddin said.
Ambassador of Cuba to Malaysia, Her Excellency Ibete Fernandez Hernandez expressed that she was impressed with SPYO's performance. "I wasn't sure at first that everything would go OK. It's the first time Malaysian musicians had played Cuban music! But when I went to their rehearsals, I knew it would be a success. Because they played like Cubans! It was just amazing, especially since they had never been exposed to Cuban music before,” she said.
"I hope relationships between Cuba and Malaysia can be strengthened. There would be a lot of meaning in that. It's not just about politics. It's about culture, about bringing people together.”