Club Habana: Sharing Cuban jazz and culture

The Vancouver Latin American Cultural Centre (VLACC) presents Club Habana: An Evening of Cuban Jazz at the Vancouver Playhouse (Nov. 4). The event run by artistic director Danais Yera brings together, among others, trumpetist Miguelito Valdés and Grammy-award-winning saxophonist Alfred Thompson for a musical evening of Cuban and jazz music fusion.

Miguelito Valdés, Cuban jazz trumpetist.| Photo courtesy of Miguelito Valdés.

Miguelito Valdés, Cuban jazz trumpetist.| Photo courtesy of Miguelito Valdés.

Miguelito Valdés knew he wanted to pursue music since he was eleven, having played hand percussion earlier than that. However, the music school he went to didn’t teach the percussion proficiency classes he wanted to attend, so instead he took up the trumpet, figuring he’d transition back to hand percussion whenever he could.

While he has since gained more hand drumming experience, Valdés, now 42, has been playing traditional Cuban trumpet and Cuban jazz music for more than 30 years, and has practised more traditional jazz since moving to Vancouver in 2006.

“I came to Canada as a young guy from Cuba, so I did know a little bit of jazz,” says Valdés. “But my understanding of it was not very deep. But when I came to Canada I started to play the real deal, the really traditional jazz that I didn’t do that much in Cuba.”

Valdés first came to the attention of the Vancouver Latin American Cultural Centre in 2015 when asked to perform for the event “Afro-Cuban Dimensions.” Valdés says while that show was more deeply rooted in Afro-Cuban culture, employing jazz in the upcoming perfomance is by no means a cultural compromise.

“This is more like jazz, but it’s going to be jazz the way we [Cubans] play jazz. It’s not going to be like anybody else playing jazz,” says Valdés.

He says Cuban jazz is not so much a blend of jazz music and Cuban music as it is jazz from a Cuban frame of reference.

“When we say Latin jazz, on top of all the Cuban sounds and instruments, it’s the way we interpret rhythm,” says Valdés.

While he notes his recent traditional jazz studies in Canada play a part in how he approaches a performance, returning to a more Latin-influenced style is far from a challenge.

“The show is going to have a bit of both, as I’ve been influenced by traditional jazz,” says Valdés. “But once we start playing that Cuban music, it’s gonna go that way. But it’s for sure gonna be a bit of both worlds.”

Sharing and celebrating Cuban culture

Danais Yera, Artistic Director of the Vancouver Latin American Cultural Centre.| Photo by Chris Brown.

Danais Yera, Artistic Director of the Vancouver Latin American Cultural Centre.| Photo by Chris Brown.

Along with Latin jazz hand-drumming, clave percussive instrumentation and a different rhythmic basis than typical Western music, Valdés says much of the Cuban aspect of the performance lies in its emotion and feeling.

“I hope people take out a lot of feelings,” says Valdés. “In Cuban music, we express the way we feel a lot. We’re really happy people, but we have suffering as well. But I want to express living, and you can see that in music.”

For Danais Yera, artistic director at the VLACC, it’s important the events the Centre puts on have a purpose. For this event, it means celebrating and engaging with a dynamic Cuban culture through music.

“The goal of putting on this show is to connect the audience with Cuban culture by presenting an incredible collaboration among several generations of Cuban musicians,” says Yera.

Yera notes the event is not only about celebrating Cuban art, but also a means of bringing Latin American artists together to create a growing presence of Cuban art in Vancouver.

“We believe that building a solid bridge between artists from Latin America (those who live in Latin America) and Latin American artists (who live in Canada) is a means to satisfy the growing curiosity among Canadians audiences for Latin American arts and culture,” says Yera.

The show, says Yera, is both for people who want to engage more with their own Cuban culture as well as those who want to learn more.

“I hope to see people who haven’t listen[ed to] Cuban music in their entire life, as well as Cuban music lovers,” says Yera. “I would like [for the show] to share some pieces of Cuban culture; a vast culture that is evolving and transforming the way we look at the musical scene and the world.”


For more information on the VLACC and the event, visit