Last December, the night before Barack Obama announced that he would seek to update U.S. relations with Cuba, Arturo O'Farrill and The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra played a gig at Havana's U.S. Interest Section.
O'Farrill took the ALJO there to record an album in the hopes of illustrating that, in spite of the divide between the two countries, the musical conversation had never stopped. With Obama's announcement, they immediately found themselves in the middle of a historic moment that infused the recording with the kind of jubilation that mixes laughter with tears of happiness. The perfectly timed result, Cuba: The Conversation Continues, captures that cross-cultural collaboration, with cutting-edge works written by a carefully selected group of U.S. and Cuban composers.
O'Farrill has deep roots in Cuba: His father, Chico O'Farrill, was born there, and was becoming a well-known musician there before he moved to the U.S. and became part of this country's Latin jazz revolution. The younger O'Farrill was invited to the Havana Jazz Fest back in 2013, and that set off the deeper dive into Cuban music which ultimately resulted in this record.
We will no doubt hear more about Cuban music as politicians work out the details of improved U.S.-Cuban relations. Don't be surprised if some of the news coverage is superficial, ignoring the two countries' long musical history together. You'd do well to start your listening with Cuba: The Conversation Continues and its lesson on how a respectful collaboration can defy politics and dictators.