Experiencing Cuba Through PARMA’s Eyes

After 54 years of diplomatic silence, in July of 2015, President Obama restored relations between the United States and Cuba, finally ending some of the tensions that were created between the nations during the Cold War.

The PARMA Recordings label, Ansonica, was founded in 2016 and is focused on “presenting finely crafted contemporary music from across the globe.” The first album released on the label, ABRAZO:THE HAVANA SESSIONS was recorded in Cuba a few months after the doors opened. PARMA had the extraordinary experience to be the first recording company to travel and record in Cuba. PARMA recently traveled back to Cuba in April to record INTERSECTIONS, the second album release on the Ansonica label. 

Two of PARMA’s long-time A&R Representatives had the opportunity to travel with PARMA CEO Bob Lord and the signed PARMA artists (Jeffrey Jacob, Heidi Jacob, Steven Block, Sergio Cervetti, and Christina Rusnak) for the project back to Havana to record INTERSECTIONS. We got the chance to sit down with Sam Renshaw and Alex Bourne to ask about their experience helping with the recording sessions in Cuba.

Sam Renshaw, Vice President of A&R and PARMA staffer since 2008, was a part of the first trip to Havana, Cuba in November of 2015, a few months after the Cuba borders were opened back up to the United States. Sam also traveled to Cuba in April and will travel again in January with PARMA for the next recording session to produce the third album release on Ansonica.

In order to prep for the first trip to Havana, Sam read Cuba: A New History by Richard Gott. He said, “I didn’t know what to expect, so I tried to go in with an open mind the first time. [Cuba: A New History] helped give me a historical background on the island, but overall I found [Cuba] to be a fascinating place, filled with passionate people, beautiful and unique vistas and architecture, and most importantly: incredible musicians.”

As Vice President of A&R, Sam is able to travel to conferences and banquets for composers and clients often. However, traveling to Cuba for a recording session is a whole other game. Sam went on to say, “Since these sessions are more involved and complex than any other session trip we organize, there is a lot more interaction with the group of artists as a whole, and we get to experience the culture, music, studio, food together over the course of our program in many different ways. I love working directly with our artists to help them bring their music to life, but it’s also a lot of fun!”

Overall, Sam explained that Being in the studio and listening to one of the first collaborations between Cuban musicians and American composers in over 50 years come alive was an unforgettable experience. Getting to speak face to face with many different Cubans and learn more about their perspective was also an experience that I will never forget.” 

Alex Bourne, Senior A&R Representative with PARMA since 2012, experienced Havana, Cuba for the first time in April. Before he landed, Alex knew that the culture was amazing and that the climate was hot: “both rang true” he joked. As soon as he was there, and took in the Cuba surroundings, he said, “ I found myself interested in the infrastructure and how someone in Havana/Cuba lives their day to day life.”

A huge part of the role of an A&R Representative is not only to create new relationships with composers/artists but also to stay in constant contact with clients on all forms of their recording sessions, a lot which is done over the phone and by email. However, Alex was able to have a hands-on recording experience with his clients while in Cuba. 

Jeffrey Jacob, composer

It’s very rewarding to work with our artist’s face to face and experience everything from time in the studio, to trips into the countryside.  We often focus on the music, which is of course what we’re in Cuba for, but it’s nice to get to know our artists in a different context and learn about their inspiration,” Alex said when asked about working with his respected clients. He continued, “Being in the studio together creates an excellent environment to get exactly what our composers have envisioned (either on paper or mentally) into real, audible, tangible recorded music. ” 

After being in Cuba for a little more than a week,  Alex said that “One of the most memorable moments of the trip was seeing the Malecon (sea wall) on the edge of Havana.  I was in a van with our composers from our April trip, and seeing how far the Malecon, and Havana, stretched down the coast was unforgettable.”

INTERSECTIONS will be released October 14th on Ansonica. 
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