Review: The Cuban-American Music Festival Successfully Debuts at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes

Changüí Majadero was just one of the fantastic acts at the Cuban-American Music Festival.

Changüí Majadero was just one of the fantastic acts at the Cuban-American Music Festival.

For the past couple of decades there have been several Cuban cultural and music festivals held in the Los Angeles County area. For example, “Presencia Cubana,” aka the Cuban Music Festival held in Echo Park, was a yearly event for a couple of decades, while others like the L.A. Cuban Festival have been more sporadic. On Sunday, June 4, at the historic venue of LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes (LAPCA) located adjacent to the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument and Olvera Street, a newcomer, the Cuban-American Music Festival, made an impressive debut.

Curated by Peruvian-born producer and DJ Guido Herrera-Yance of Yambu Productions along with the folks at LAPCA, the festival featured food from several local restaurants, wines from Baja California, homemade tropical flavor ice creams, works by Cuban-American artists, as well other kiosks.

Spread out on the beautiful exterior spaces of LAPCA, which include a grassy lawn, herb garden, surrounding trees, fixed bandstand and large shaded area with fixed canopies, the sold-out event had a very tropical, Southern California vibe. It even managed to add a very distinctive part of Cuban reality from the island of the past 50-plus years, and that is a “cola” (a cue line) as people lined up along the sidewalk patiently waiting their turn to enter as seductive Cuban music emitted from the background.

Of course, no Cuban festival could be without the island’s famous music, and this one was no exception with an array of talented local bands gracing the stage in the almost eight hours of the festival which started at noon. Throughout the day, the music permeated the spaces and the people to such an extent that you can even find on YouTube a video of a member of the LAPD on duty putting on quite a show with his outstanding salsa dancing moves in full gear.

The live music lineup included Changüí Majadero led by Chicano tres player Gabriel Alejandro Garcia playing an early form of Cuban dance music called Changüí; the Arsenio Rodriguez Project, who specialize in the son genre; the very popular Rumbankete, who not only plays salsa but also timba, which is like salsa music on steroids mixed with jazz, funk and other influences. Towards the end of the evening the headliner, Yeni Valdes, former vocalist of legendary Cuban band Los Van Van made her awaited Los Angeles debut as a solo act to the ecstatic crowd.

As a Cuban-American who has lived most of the past 48 years in the Los Angeles area and has seen just about all the Cuban artists passing through town and attended almost all of the festivals in the area, I can attest that this event was one of the best of its kind. From the security perspective, the quality of the space, the organization, the talent, food and beverage kiosks, just about all was top notch and for only a $20 entrance fee. As we Cubans say “Bueno, Bonito y Barato,” and in this case you can add “spectacular!” Can’t wait for the Cuban-American Music Festival 2018!

Humberto Capiro is a Contributing Writer for Living Out Loud - LA, covering lifestyle and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter: @HumbertoCapiro

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