Soul Sauce in Cuba

Jazz Band

What would allow a gangly group of American teenagers access into the secretive, communist country of Cuba? Apparently, jazz music. This summer, nineteen students from Groton, members of the campus jazz band “Soul Sauce”, will have the amazing opportunity to travel to Cuba and experience its unique culture firsthand. They will be accompanied by Ms. Lanier, Mr. Dixon, and Mr. Kikuchi.

The trip, planned to take place from June 20th to July 5th, will include a brief, two-day detour to Miami, an exciting destination with renowned beaches that our band will hopefully get to visit during their free time. On June 22nd, they will then fly to Havana, Cuba. Their travels will allow them to learn, and even perform, the stylistic amalgamation of music taken from three different continents: Europe, Africa and Asia, that comprises Cuban music. Afro-Cuban jazz, the specific style that the jazz band will be focusing on, is “based off an unorthodox rhythmic core and contains exotic harmonies and motifs”, explains Zahin Das ’16. “We have the chance not only to visit, but to be immersed in music, where the heart and soul of the country lies.”

The trip is organized in conjunction with Cuba Educational Travel, one of the few enterprises authorized to take American citizens to Cuba. An American guide will accompany the Jazz Ensemble, as well as a local escort. “It’ll all be very authentic,” says Violet Papathanasiou ’14. “I’m really looking forward to getting to interact with the locals. It’ll be good for my Spanish too.” Beyond expanding the proverbial musical horizons of the students going, the Cuba trip will also give them some experience in the modern language and history departments, by immersing them in the vernacular Spanish and the vibrant culture that permeates Cuba.

Though the main purpose of the trip lies in music, there will be plenty of opportunities for sightseeing and other extracurricular activities. “We’ll get to bond and grow closer as a band,” anticipates Violet. The itinerary for the trip includes a variety of accommodations, ranging from bed-and-breakfasts to host families’ houses, and several chances to visit the local attractions, including the renowned Buena Vista Social Club, a popular musicians’ gathering place since the 1940’s. The Groton School Jazz Ensemble will not only get to listen to and learn about Cuban music, but also play with experienced musicians in a collaboration with the Cuban National Writers and Artists Union. “It’s a different style, exotic, and not something we’re used to,” says Michael Ma ’15. Exposure to this foreign jazz may just enrich the band’s usual repertoire.

Unfortunately, this trip will be the last chance that “Soul Sauce” will have to perform as the group it is now; David Howe ’14, Evan Long ’14, Violet Papathanasiou ’14, Bijan Oviedo ’14, Shangyan Li ’14, and Erik Nadeau ’14 will be leaving the Circle after Prize Day, depriving the band of a third of its members. The Cuba trip marks the end of their official Groton careers, and they’ll be missed very much.

Still, “it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit a communist country like Cuba” comments Andrew Sudol ’16. “It’s going to be amazing.” And hopefully it will be. We look forward to hearing all about it upon the jazz band’s return to the Circle come September.

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