Despite needing a translator for a recent interview with the Spanish-speaking Havana Cuban All-Stars, nothing is lost in translation when it comes to the music.
The energetic band will deliver an eclectic mix of Cuban sounds when it swings through Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City on March 14.
“The diversity of music is what makes (our) music so great,” bandleader Michel Padron said via an interpreter. “I think Cuban music is unique because of the different rhythms used — Son, cha cha cha and others. We use four different rhythms in the first four songs of our show.”
The Havana Cuba All-Stars provide a welcome difference to much of the predictable musical fare, including an album with a single and nine songs that sound like that featured track. Anything goes with this ensemble, comprising an amalgam of top Cuban musicians.
The band, which formed in 1996, renders what Padron calls “traditional music with a twist.” The group’s songs are moving and unpredictable. The cuts range from celebratory to melancholy. There is balance and also a welcome playfulness.
“We like to have fun,” Pardon said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
For the first time, this tour is bringing considerable visual stimulation with the Havana Cuba All-Stars. “Asere! A Fiesta Cubana” features five dancers, two couples and one soloist.
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“It adds a dimension to the show,” said Padron, a charismatic and dynamic trumpet player. “It’s still about the music, but this makes it more fun to watch. Of course, we still want the audience to dance, also.”
“Asere” means “friendship,” and Padron and his bandmates hope to help break the ice between America and Cuba.
“Ours is a message of friendship using music as the connection,” he said. “We are musicians. We do not get caught up with political things between countries.”
When Padron was asked about the difference between audiences he encounters in America and those in his country, his answer was simple.
“People are people,” he said. “The people in the United States are friendly and have received us very graciously. Everywhere we perform we meet new friends. This country is so big! We travel by bus here and the drives can be very long but very beautiful.”
With a three-month tour, Padron is homesick for his family in Cuba, but he’s making the best out of his professional situation, since he’s traveling through America. He doesn’t encounter much off the road, however, since it’s all about the show.
“I wish I could experience more of it,” he said.
Padron said he is making his Iowa City debut, but has traveled to Iowa before.
“I think we played Ames last year, if I remember correctly,” he said. “But new cities and towns are always fun. We are not usually in places long enough to see a lot, but we try to.”
On the flip side, Padron hopes that Americans visit Cuba.
“It’s a most amazing place,” he said. “There is no place like it.”
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Padron is on the money. Cuba is unique. Havana is chaotic, sad but beautiful. Refreshingly, it has no billboards or signs of crazy commercialism. The countryside, with such gorgeous towns as Cienfuegos and Playa Giron, is tranquil and pleasant.
Padron didn’t provide details about his homeland to entice visitors.
“I think rather than try to describe these beautiful places in Cuba, I would say everyone should plan a trip to Cuba and discover these things for themselves.”
Americans can visit Cuba, however restrictions are tighter under the current administration than under the previous administration. However, fans of Cuban music don’t have to board a plane to experience Cuban music in Iowa City.
“We’ll bring the music to you,” Padron said. “Relax and have fun.”
WHAT: Havana Cuba All-Stars: “Asere! A Fiesta Cubana”
WHERE: Hancher Auditorium, 141 E. Park Rd., Iowa City
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. March 14
TICKETS: $10 to $50, Hancher Box Office, (319) 335-1160, 1-(800) HANCHER or Hancher.uiowa.edu/2018-19/HavanaAllStars