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Western professor celebrates Cuban music and culture after 50-year embargo

Western professor Gustavo Camacho. // Right: Photo courtesy of Gustavo Camacho
Western professor Gustavo Camacho. // Photo courtesy of Gustavo Camacho

Western music professor Gustavo Camacho has embarked on a 10-day tour of Cuba with a brass quintet, a group that is the first of its kind in the country for the last 50 years.

The quintet was organized by Mike Davison, distinguished trumpeter and professor of music at the University of Richmond, who has been to Cuba 29 times for his research on Afro-Cuban culture and music.

Davison said the music and the culture keep him going back to Cuba time and time again.

“Cuba is really one of the most art rich countries in the world, and I’ve been all over the world,” Richmond said. “They view music as just as important as food, and when you play for them they are totally in the moment.”

The trip began May 1 and has been in the works since June 2014, before the Obama Administration announced tensions were going to thaw between the U.S. and Cuba after 50 years of sanctions and travel embargoes.

“Despite the 50 year embargo, the whole point is that music continues to evolve even though governments and politics have, tried anyway, to get in the way,” Camacho said of Cuba.

The group was formally invited to perform in Cuba by Daniel Guzzman, the president of the music festival “Concierto Santiago 2015.” In addition to their performances, the group will also give workshops and master classes to students of the Esteban Salas Conservatory, Camacho said.

They are also planning to spend some of their time doing more informal and impromptu types of performances while in Cuba, Camacho said.

“Cuban musicians, when they’re playing at a cafe or any other venue, they’re really open to any musician that comes in from the audience to join them if they want to,” Camacho said. “So we plan to do that.”

Mark Lusk, music professor from Penn State University // Photo courtesy of Brian Ross
Mark Lusk, music professor from
Penn State University. // Photo courtesy of Brian Ross

Davison is excited that the door is finally opening to Cuba, because it has been difficult for Americans to visit the country in years past, he said. After falling in love with the music, he is glad he now has the opportunity to share the experience with the other members of the quintet.

“Cuba is not my place, but I have the opportunity to get people in there,” Davidson said. “It’s really a joy for me to open this place up and then to be able to play with incredible musicians.”

The quintet will travel through Havana, Sancti Spiritus and Santiago de Cuba where they will have their main performance of the trip at the “Concierto Santiago 2015.”

The other members of the quintet are John Aley, Mark Lusk and Velvet Brown. The members, aside from Brown, worked together at the Interlochen Arts Camp, which is where they formed their idea for the quintet. Interlochen is a yearly camp in Michigan where faculty and guest artists help students study music, theater, visual arts, film, creative writing and dance.

Brown works with fellow quintet member Lusk at Pennsylvania State University, which is how she became a member of the group.

Camacho recently became a professor at Western, beginning his work in the music department in 2014. He is the assistant horn professor and the brass area coordinator.

A trio of Cuban musicians play outside of Camacho's hotel. // Photo courtesy of Brian Ross.  Right: Western professor Gustavo Camacho. // Right: Photo courtesy of Gustavo Camacho
A trio of Cuban musicians play outside of Camacho’s hotel. // Photo courtesy of Brian Ross.

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