The Creole Choir of Cuba is scheduled to perform on Tuesday, 8 February, 7.30pm at Barbican in London. The show is part of a 15-date tour, their first one in the UK tour.
Desandann, the Choir’s Cuban name, literally means ‘descendents’ and with the songs on their album ‘Tande-La’ (which translates to ‘listen’) they tell the stories of their Haitian ancestors who were brought to Cuba to work in near slave conditions in the sugar and coffee plantations.
Their mesmerizing sound, jubilant dancing and deep spirit first made them a hit in this country at the 2009 Edinburgh Festival. It was there that the producer of BBC 2’s ‘Later … with Jools Holland’ saw the Choir, a cornucopia of remarkable voices, and was so impressed he asked them to appear on the show. This happened in May 2010 when they performed the uplifting and emotional ‘Chen Nan Ren’ – a freedom song denouncing neo-colonialism and colonialism while conveying the celebratory and glorious feeling of resistance which harks back to the freedom songs of the 1960s circa Martin Luther King and the struggle for racial equality in the USA.
Various interviews and sessions followed – including a BBC Radio 2 session with a genuinely impressed Mark Lamarr – and even Jo Wiley played a track on Radio 2. The Choir performed to invited media and guests at a memorable show at the magical Wiltons Music Hall in East London in May, and in November their sold-out 4-date residency at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, as part of the 2010 London Jazz Festival, thrilled audiences.
In addition to Spanish and French, the Choir mainly sings in Creole, Cuba’s second language, spoken by almost a million people, a pragmatic fusion of African, French and other languages. It’s the language of a people twice exiled: first to Haiti from Africa through the iniquitous slave trade; then from Haiti to Cuba tricked into second slavery by their French masters after the Haitian Revolution of 1790. Other Haitians arrived in the 20th century fleeing political upheaval, poverty and oppression during the barbaric regime of Papa Doc Duvalier which held power from the 1950s to 70s, marked by reigns of terror and the brutality of his private militia, the Tonton Macoutes.
In a testament to their enduring relationship with their spiritual homeland, the Choir spent two month-long tours in Haiti as part of Cuba’s relief project following the January 2010 earthquake. Working in cooperation with the Haitian Cultural Ministry the group ran workshops with children within displaced persons camps as well as performing for the public in specially arranged concerts.
The Choir – six women and four men, aged 27 to 61 – hail from beautiful Camagüey, Cuba’s third city, an old colonial town which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 for its iconic architecture.
They have studied music to university level in Camagüey and are all members of the Provincial Choir, which their leader Emilia Chavez directs. Desandann emerged out of this choir in 1994, a difficult time for Cubans when the economy fell into a black hole following the end of the USSR and of Soviet support for the revolution. Food was in short supply, while homes and work places often went dark due to lack of electricity. The singers decided to re-forge the resistance songs and laments of their forebears, to celebrate the history of their Haitian descendants enslaved to the Caribbean from West Africa. To the songs that had been passed down in their families since the early 19th century, they added more modern Haitian sounds.
The album ‘Tande-la’ is out now Real World Records.
The Creole Choir of Cuba are:
Dalio Arce Vital
Emilia Diaz Chavez
Fidel Romero Miranda
Irian Esther Rondon Montejo
Marcelo Andres Luis
Marina de Los Angeles Collazo Fernandes
Rogelio Rodriguez Torriente
Teresita Romero Miranda
Yara Castellanos Diaz
Yordanka Sanchez Fajardo
UK tour – January/ February 2011
Thu 27 Jan – GATESHEAD The Sage Gateshead, 0191 443 4661
Sat 29 Jan – GLASGOW City Halls/ Grand Hall (Celtic Connections), 0141 353 8000,
Tue 1 Feb – BRISTOL St Georges, 0845 40 24 001
Wed 2 Feb – ABERYSTWYTH Arts Centre, 01970 62 32 32
Thu 3 Feb – SWANSEA Taliesin Arts Centre, 01792 602060
Sun 6 Feb – BRIGHTON Dome, 01273 709 709
Tue 8 Feb – LONDON Barbican, 020 7638 8891
Wed 9 Feb – CROYDON Clocktower, 020 825 31030,
Thu 10 Feb – BURY ST EDMUNDS Apex, 01284 75800
Sat 12 Feb – MANCHESTER RNCM, 0161 907 5200
Mon 14 Feb – BIRMINGHAM Town Hall, 0121 780 3333
Tue 15 Feb – BASINGSTOKE The Anvil, 01256 844244
Fri 18 Feb – SOUTHAMPTON Turner Sims, 023 8059 5151
Sat 19 Feb – CHICHESTER Cathedral, 01243 782595
Sun 20 Feb – NOTTINGHAM Theatre Royal, 0115 989 5555
Buy the album or MP3 downloads: