PARMA in Cuba: Then, Now, and Looking Forward

What began as an idea, an effort to uncover a unique musical perspective, and CEO Bob Lord waiting at the baggage claim of Havana’s Jose Martin Airport on a hazy post-travel afternoon in late 2015 has grown into something even more impactful in reality than in the vision. PARMA’s efforts to go to Cuba, to extract the best of what Cuban artists have to offer, and to showcase this virtually isolated talent to the rest of the globe, have met with excitement and the forging of lasting relationships – to say the least. 

We’ve seen first-hand that, despite being somewhat of a cliche phrase, music truly knows no boundaries. While relations between the United States and Cuba have been challenging at best, even up to the present day, music has remained a constant source of connection. As we move forward into unsteady territory with the future of US-Cuban relations, it bears remembering how far we have come, and how far we can continue to go.

PARMA’s work with Cuba began in 2015 with the first recording sessions for ABRAZO: THE HAVANA SESSIONS, the very first album on our Ansonica Records label. ABRAZO, translated to “embrace,” could not be more aptly titled: bringing American composers together with Cuban artists, this album signaled the first welcome connection between two nations that have otherwise been at odds for over half a century. 

Composer Christina Rusnak (standing, fourth from right) and members of the Ensemble Vocal Luna at the recording of Rusnak’s compositions on INTERSECTIONS.
Percussionist Enrique Plá laying down tracks at the ABRAZO sessions.

The composers found a deeper, almost transcendental understanding of the music from the Cuban artists, one which defied language. “The pianist isn’t playing what I wrote,” composer Tim Miller stated at the recording of his Hot Miami Nights. “He’s playing what I wanted.” Again, music knows no boundaries.

The pieces were not only praised by the composers themselves. ABRAZO met quickly with critical acclaim, lauded by Gramophone as being a “daring foray” into new music, new connections, and new collaborations. 

 

ABRAZO was just the beginning. Ansonica Records has become the home of nearly a dozen Cuban-centric albums, from the vibrant studio recordings of ESPONTÁNEO (“a sampling of the best of Cuban music, bringing together Afro-Cuban rhythms, rural traditions and Spanish influenced guitars.” – World Music Central) to the unearthed archival recordings of MÚSICA UNIVERSAL and the collaborative spirit of INTERSECTIONS and CORO DEL MUNDO (“This is a glorious recording” – Latin Jazz Network). 

Bob Lord (left) and PARMA Cuba Lead Producer Dayron Ortega (right) review scores with performers and composer Jeffrey Jacob (second from right).

The budding connection between nations and musical cultures has been felt on both sides. “I believe that the work PARMA is doing is extremely important for the cultural collaboration between our countries,” stated Dayron Ortega, PARMA’s lead producer in Cuba, after the ABRAZO sessions. Working hand in hand with Dayron over the years (including navigating the challenges of obtaining a visa with Dayron to bring him up to visit the PARMA HQ in New Hampshire), we have been able to uncover hidden gems of Cuban talent, unearth moving recordings buried in the archives, and introduce deserving artists to listeners and stages around the globe.

Where are we now? With recent changes in US-Cuban relations, the future remains uncertain all around. But one thing remains – PARMA wholeheartedly believes in the spirit of the Cuban people, culture, and music. Our relationship with this nation is only at its beginning.

Keep an ear out for new sounds on Ansonica soon! Explore the full Ansonica Records catalog here.

Photo Credits: Mike Labrie

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