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Cubadisco is Cuba's most important awards program for its recording industry, but it is also much more. It is a true feria with a week of concerts, a trade show during some years, an international symposium where scholarly papers and artistic presentations are given and a rare opportunity for the entire spectrum of music made in Cuba and by Cubans abroad to come together in one place for a week. Cubadisco 2020 was postponed due to the COVID pandemic, and it was decided to merge the entries for the 2020 edition with those for the 2021 edition into a combined competition. Unfortunately for those of us who love to attend the event physically, as this writer has done for several years, the ongoing pandemic resulted in this year's event being a virtual one. There is a bright side, however - within Cuba, Canal Clave is carrying several hours of Cubadisco-related programming on television every day, and some portion of those events will also be shared with the world via social media. It won't be the same as experiencing the event in person, but it WILL perhaps be more than the photogalleries and commentaries that we share here every year. Watch this space for daily updates, commentary and links to relevant pages and resources beginning May 15, 2021.
May 15, 2021: Nominees and Winners / Video Links
More than 300 reccordings and DVDs were entered for consideration for the 2020-2021 awards period. Depending upon how one counts, 224 nominations emerged (not including the various special prizes). It is worth noting that of these, only 175 (78%) of the nominations went to Cuba's "big four" discographic houses - EGREM with 87 (including collaborations with other labels), Bis with 49, Abdala with 9 and Colibrí with 30. Twenty-eight nominations went to smaller Cuban labels and independent productions, and twenty-one went to foreign labels and independent productions. SONY, which is extremely active in reissuing archival music from EGREM, only had one nomination for a new release. More than 18 small Cuban labels and independent productions obtained nominations this year, which signals an apparent continuing diversification of the recording industry in Cuba notwithstanding concerns by some pundits that Decree 349 might have a consolidating effect upon that industry.
Of 53 prizes that were awarded specifically for recordings (as opposed to career recognition and other general awards), 37 (70%) to the big four, EGREM with 12, Bis with 14, Abdala with 1 and Colibrí with 10. Another 13 went to small Cuban labels and independent projects, and 3 went to projects and labels based in other countries. Although those percentages might seem concentrated to the untrained eye, when viewed through the lenses of Cuba's raw discographic production, the levels of concentration in the Latin GRAMMY awards (obscured somewhat by the presence of sublabels owned by the majors) and the peculiar circumstances of the pandemic, they are not unreasonable.
La Corchea, an exquisite music publication in Cuba (you can visit their Facebook page and see some past editions here), has graciously sent us and given permission to publish the official nominees and winners booklets in .pdf format. A thousand thanks to them for doing this.
You can download the official nominees booklet here.
You can download the official winners booklet here.
Now then, about videos: Canal Clave, Cuba's superb dedicated music television channel, is carrying Cubadisco content does not livestream directly, but StreamingCuba, who incidentally deservedly won an award for their excellent Estamos Contigo series in social media, is carrying significant parts of the broadcasts in Facebook Live. As this writer is typing these words, he is watching a documentary about Omara Portuondo after concerts by the Cuban Sax Quintet and Los Van Van with Elito Reve. For the first time ever, you can see a significant portion of Cubadisco in StreamingCuba's Facebook page.
May 16, 2021
Although StreamingCuba's Facebook page is probably still the best place to watch a Cubadisco event live, not everything is being archived there, so it is worth checking two other places periodically for archived content - Canal Clave's Facebook page and the YouTube channel of the Ministerio de Cultura de Cuba. For example, it is MINCULT's YouTube channel where you will find yesterday's documentary about Omara Portuondo. Be patient with the Facebook Live presentations, which can have moments of poor connectivity even when done entirely within the United States. The experience is still worth it.
One very important difference between Cubadisco and the GRAMMY / Latin GRAMMY awards is that the latter competitions require that recordings be released within a certain time frame in recognized commercial outlets in the marketplace. Recent rules changes have also practically compelled competing artists to release their recordings to specified digital outlets even though digital might not always be the best medium for some genres such as classical music and jazz. Cubadisco, on the other hand, does require that a recording be completed and that some copies be available, but there is no similar rule regarding availability of the recording in the commercial marketplace. Consequently in any given year, even some Cubadisco winners may not necessarily be available for purchase by consumers, especially those outside of Cuba, at the time that a prize is awarded. This has been especially true in the case of academic music and jazz recordings on the Colibrí label, which have at times experienced significant delays between the presentation of an album and its availability to consumers in the marketplace. Since Colibrí's primary purpose has been to document culturally-important music deemed to have relatively low commercial potential, one can perhaps understand the allocation of limited production resources in favor of more commercial releases, but one can also make the case that the quality of Cuba's most highly-cultured musical output is one of its most important forms of what political scientists refer to as soft power, and that resource will not be used to its full potential until made more readily available to a global public notwithstanding the very legitimate domestic debate about the need to develop a more vibrant internal market versus the need to increase exports. This writer hopes that as the world becomes more familiar with the less commercial but high quality aspects of Cuba's discographic output, there will be increased demand to accelerate the availability of its exceptional academic and jazz music.
May 17, 2021
One aspect of Cubadisco that is new this year (and something that has been proposed but rejected repeatedly in the North American GRAMMY / Latin GRAMMY awards) is a sort of people's choice award for the most popular recording, to be decided by Cubadisco viewers. We will be watching the outcome of that with great interest.
If you can't watch virtual Cubadisco in real time, the best repository for archived video footage is rapidly becoming the YouTube channel of the Ministerio de Cultura de Cuba, which already contains several hours of footage and is growing daily. In am going to post a linked version of just two items in the hopes that you will go visit the channel and watch more.
This first item, if you are hispanohablante but new to Cubadisco, is a presentation from the first day of the Simposio Cubadisco that provides a capsule history of Cubadisco from its origins in 1997 as the successor event to the EGREM awards. There are some tidbits that even I did not know, and I have been a regular for a few years.
This next one, Cubadisco es rock, is an excellent sample of the current of rock in Cuba.
And, of course, there is a lot of excellent timba in the channel, but you'll have to go there yourself to see it.