June 2009

at The Art of Jazz
June 6, 2009 Fermenting Cellar Toronto
A report by Joyce Corbett with photos by Roger Humbert
Anacaona, considered the top “women’s orchestra” of Cuba played at the Fermenting Cellar in the Distillery District on Saturday night and again on the outdoor stage Sunday afternoon as part of the Art of Jazz Festival. They drew an audience of the curious and the enthusiastic with a large component of Cuban-Canadians and Cubanophiles. This was Anacaona’s first concert in Canada.
Some people have asked me what the name means. Anacaona was a Taino (indigenous Caribbean tribe) leader from Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti today), a courageous and beautiful heroine who resisted the Spanish and was eventually hanged at the age of 29, around 1504. Cuchito Castro, one of the founders of the band in the 1930s chose this name for the orchestra. Many of you readers will also know the salsa tune “Anacaona” made famous by the Fania All Stars in the early 1970s.
The group of strong confident women who constitute the band Anacaona today play a mix of traditional and modern Cuban styles even adding a little R&B/soul in the form of a smashing version of Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love”. They also played an outstanding “Quimbara” (Celia Cruz) along with their own hits such as “Mentiras”.

Although currently there are several all-female bands playing Latin or salsa music, Anacaona lays claim to the longest-running. To me, at first, the idea of an intentionally all-female band seemed a little odd, a form of segregation. After all, why? not good enough to play with the guys? a gimmick? a novelty act? If La Charanga Habanera comes to town, they are not billed as an all-male band, but, all-male bands are not unusual. The musical world in general has been cited by many as one of the last bastions of male domination.

The all-female band has become something of a tradition in Cuba. The phenomenon broke out in the early part of the century, probably out of necessity for female musicians who could not get jobs with other “male” bands — if you can’t join them, beat them! In his book From Afro-Cuban Rhythms to Latin Jazz, Raul A. Fernandez mentions “the continuing tradition of orquestas de mujeres (women’s bands), beginning with the charanga of Irene Laferté and followed by the Anacaonas, Las Trovadores del Cayo (led by Isolina Carrillo), and others in operation every decade since then.” An article written by Grisel Chirino* on women’s bands in Cuba mentions three bands formed before Anacaona; La Charanga de Doña Irene in 1928, Edén Habanera soon after and L’Orquesta Ensueño in 1930. Anacaona was originally formed in Havana by Cuchito Castro in 1932. While the other bands are now gone and part of musical history, Anacaona is still going strong. None of the original group are members of the band today but some are still with us. The famed and much-loved Omara Portuondo is a former member.

Georgia Aguirre with Anacaona
Georgia Aguirre, the leader and impressive bassist insists on keeping the level of the musicianship in the band high and also insists on professional polish and showmanship. The band’s sound was unfortunately somewhat distorted by the poor acoustics of the Fermenting Cellar on Saturday night, but their musicianship and professionalism was unshakeable and unmistakeable. The first set was good, but the starring set was the second one — deeper, richer, more Afro-Cuban. Son, salsa, timba, rumba, mozambiqué, conga — Anacaona played it and the audience danced it. So did the band.

Not good enough to play with the guys? a gimmick? a novelty act? No, no, no. A band to see and enjoy.

If you are in the Toronto area and you missed their first show in Canada, you can still catch them before they return to Cuba. They will be playing at Lula Lounge on July 17th.

*Read Grisel Chirino's article

We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
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Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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