Edmonds Community College (EdCC) Jazz and Salsa Band students will travel to Havana, Cuba, in March to listen to and learn la musica salsa from world-renowned salsa musicians during the Fiesta del Tambor, or Festival of the Drum.
“We have an unprecedented opportunity to be one of the first collegiate bands from the U.S. to visit Havana, Cuba,” said EdCC band instructor John Sanders. “We will attend the Fiesta del Tambor, which features the best Cuban ensembles from all over the country.”
The memorial festival is one of the largest Afro-Cuban music festivals, where legendary salsa bands like Los Van Van, musicians like Paquito D’Rivera, and bands from across the island of Cuba come to honor Guillermo Barreto, a Cuban drummer and timbalero.
“This experience will change the lives of our students and the minds of the Cuban people when they meet these great kids from South Snohomish County.”
Sanders said the viability of the trip depends on fundraising contributions, and he and his students are trying to raise about $44,000 toward costs for 18 students, himself, and a couple of chaperones.
The students will host To Cuba! A Fundraiser for Our Music Ambassadors, their largest fundraising event, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3, in the college’s Black Box Theatre (Mukilteo Hall).
Salsa band members will showcase their talents along with a guest accompaniment by Grammy award-winning salsa singer Carlos Cascante.
Sanders said many of his students have been “bit by the Afro-Cuban bug,” and the festival will give them the opportunity to hear rarely-encountered levels of musicianship.
“They’re going to hear the music they’ve been hearing on the radio or from albums, that they’ve been talking about and playing in the band,” Sanders said. “They’re going to hear the authentic styles right in front of them.”
Saxophone player Chester Przybysz joined the band about a year ago, and said the Latin rhythms of salsa captivated him.
“When I first joined I couldn’t get the two three clave [a foundational Latin rhythm] out of my head,” Przybysz said smiling, “and I still can’t. These rhythms are stuck in my head all the time, and it’s a really fun and invigorating experience.”
Przybysz and fellow band member and piano player David Ballard credit Sanders with inspiring a passion for salsa, and musicianship, in his students.
When Ballard auditioned with Sanders for the jazz/salsa band, it turned into a lesson about half way through.
“At that moment, I decided I would stay here until I learned everything that man has to teach me,” Ballard said.
Sanders has taught music at Edmonds CC for 14 years, and in 2014, he took a professional sabbatical to pursue his 30-year passion for salsa in Puerto Rico.
“I don’t know why Latin music spoke to me,” Sanders said, “because I’m an Irish dude from Seattle.”
Sanders spent four months living with a family in Puerto Rico, studying piano, and composing and arranging music.
When he returned, Sanders launched the college’s combined jazz and salsa band, which is now in its third year.
He received a Global Engagement Grant last year and was able to travel to Havana in August, and is eager for his students to experience the music of Cuba, as well as the culture.
“Culturally, Cuba is a complicated place,” Sanders said. He said music adds richness to the daily life of the Cuban people, but due to decades of trade embargoes, poverty is widespread in the tiny Communist country.
“They say that it hasn’t been touched by the outside world since 1959, since the Cuban Revolution, and so there isn’t any sense of modernity,” he said. “There isn’t even a Cuban version of a 7-11.”
Stores are sparsely stocked, and although it is colorful, it feels gray, he said.
Although Cuba could be seen as poor in terms of material goods, Ballard said the Cuban people have learned to take pleasure in the company around them and social activities like music and dance.
He’s excited, not only for the musical experience, but for the opportunity he and his band mates will have to be cultural ambassadors.
“So few Americans have the opportunity to go to Cuba,” Ballard said. “Now is such an important time in our lives to see as many different ways of living as possible, so we can measure for ourselves where we want our country to go, where we want our society to go, and how to treat each other.”
As musicians, Przybysz said music will serve as a common language wherever they go.
“If you’re a musician, you have that common connection and the common language of music,” he said, “and you’re able to connect with people so incredibly well through that language.
“If nothing else, that experience is amazing.”
For To Cuba! tickets, go to blackboxedcc.org or call 425.640.1448. Tickets are $10 in advance, or $12 at the door. Not able to attend, but still want to donate? Go to https://bit.ly/2dQoSIy. The deadline for contributions is Dec. 9.
The Black Box Theatre is at 20310 68th Ave. W, Lynnwood, WA. For directions and a campus map, go to edcc.edu/campus.