Hispanic Heritage Month: Cultural Influences in Music
As we close out Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 - October 15), BRIC wants to recognize the Hispanic artists who will be performing at our upcoming BRIC JazzFest, October 19 – 26, and the ways that their backgrounds have influenced their music.
This year at BRIC JazzFest, we are thrilled to have several artists bring their stories to our stage, including Cuban pianist, composer, arranger, and producer Dayramir González; Antonio Sánchez, a Mexican-American jazz drummer and composer; and Claudia Acuña, a Chilean jazz vocalist, songwriter, and arranger. Each artist creatively expresses their culture and heritage through music, which can be a unique way to tell a story, make their voices heard, and encourage audiences to act.
In this blog below, each of these artists talks about their cultural and familial influences, challenges in their careers, and how they honor other artists from their countries.
Dayramir González, via an email Q&A with BRIC:
How has your cultural background influenced your music and the work that you create?
In general, music and arts education is highly prioritized and valued among the community in Cuba. I attended a school of music that was very competitive and I grew up in an environment where I had to develop my own voice, identity, and skills in order to be a leader at a young age. I grew up listening to a few strong and defined genres like European classical music; Cuban Timba of the 1990s; traditional Cuban like the Cha Cha Cha, boleros, and son; plus the influence of Chucho Valdes and Irakere blending Cuban jazz with Yoruba influences. The elements from these genres lay the fundamental groundwork for my music.
What is the most challenging thing you have encountered in your career path? How did you overcome it?
[The most challenging thing was] moving to New York with big expectations, and anticipating that I would automatically be on the fast track to success and that I would establish my name fairly quickly, because of the accolades that I acquired during my career in Cuba and while studying at Berklee College of Music. Then I realized that New York was the jungle, the most competitive city in the world, and the city where there were tons of talented people just like me looking for and wanting the same thing.
The things I was looking for in my career didn't happen overnight and sometimes they didn't even happen at all. It was also very challenging for me to cope socially because it was a new culture of people. Living in New York took a toll mentally because it demanded that I was very focused and know that I wanted to be there. Artistically, I had to speak very loud and rise above the noise, maintaining a high level of musicianship at all times, in order to be able to say that I was an artist worth listening to.
To prevail over all these obstacles, I decided to put all my eggs in one basket, and I allowed myself to only focus on one thing: my career. I didn't take work outside of the realm of music even if it meant I would struggle economically from time to time. I think having this approach engraved in my mind that this was all or nothing, and I focused on practicing, composing, and strengthening those musical skills, highlighting what made me different from all of my talented peers.
What excites you the most musically and where do you hope to go next?
Music is an endless way of communication for me. I feel happy that my music brings joy and stirs emotions in so many people. I want to continue dedicating more time to writing music for orchestra, and I am in the process of establishing a crossover sound where I can make Afro-Cuban jazz music more accessible to a wider audience.
I like to be surprised by music. I like to hear the unexpected within any type of genre. Music is so wide and there is space for everyone. If artists stay true to their sound, there will always be a place in the music world for them.
See Dayramir González & Habana enTRANCé perform on THU, OCT 24, during BRIC JazzFest Marathon Night 1.
Antonio Sánchez, in an interview with NPR:
His studio album, Bad Hombre, and his familial inspirations:
“I grew up going to rehearsals, and [my grandpa] would bring whole theater companies to lunch at home. I love the show business side of it. Acting never really interested me, because I was playing drums already. We did a pilot together, I must have been seven. It was a traveling circus, but even in the pilot I was already playing drums: it was a circus story, and in the circus I had a little snare drum, and was playing behind some of the acrobats. Really the main thing that happened from seeing him in action was being inspired to pursue what I wanted to do. Seeing him be so successful, so well respected, so revered, and financially he was always well off. He accomplished a lot. So for me to see that firsthand was a very powerful image, and made me want to go for it.”
See Antonio Sánchez perform on SAT, OCT 26, during BRIC JazzFest Marathon Night 3.
Claudia Acuña, in an interview with The New York City Jazz Record:
Paying tribute to other Chilean artists:
“I consider myself a New Yorker and I do also consider myself an ambassador from my country. Because ever since I moved from Chile I promised myself—and I think that’s why I’ve always made an effort, from my first album—to have even one song in Spanish. [With these songs] I’ve paid tribute to people like Violetta Parra, who was a great inspiration and one of the greatest singer-songwriters from Chile, along with Víctor Jara and others. Even though I’ve been here for many years, my roots are from Chile.”
See Claudia Acuña perform on SAT, OCT 26, during BRIC JazzFest Marathon Night 3.