Traditional and modern: all the faces of Havana, at La Mercè

La Mercè finally plays host to Havana as its guest city. This year, Barcelona’s Big Annual Festival will be bathed in the Cuban capital’s traditional culture, but there will also be examples of more contemporary cultural creation from the city.

Havana is not a one dimensional city; it includes many surprisingly rich realities. All of them will be present at a La Mercè that focuses on the island’s traditional culture and the influence it has had on the other side of the Atlantic. However, it also looks at newer, more modern examples of creativity, in the form of either dance or visual arts.

The Cuban capital should have been La Mercè’s guest city in the 2020 edition of Barcelona’s festa major, but the health conditions caused by Covid-19 made it necessary to postpone the participation of Havana, a city that has just celebrated its 500th anniversary. This year, the Cuban capital will finally make its appearance in a festival with cultural projects which, in spite of obvious differences with the projects created in Barcelona, make it clear that the two cities have a common vision in terms of culture, creativity and art. The presence of Havana in this year’s La Mercè festivities will be a good opportunity to continue strengthening the ties with Barcelona in general and with our city’s cultural industries in particular.

The two cities share a common history. While many Catalans travelled to Havana (and to Cuba in general) in the 19th century, their return as ‘Indians’ brought back examples of Cuban culture to Catalonia’s geography and society, and although that culture was from far away, it was by no means strange to us.

It is no accident that Havana and Barcelona have been twinned since 1993. The twinning occurred through the two cities’ mutual interest in promoting joint projects for renovating and conserving architectural heritage and for sharing knowledge in this area. Consequently, from 2005 to 2009, in cooperation with the City of La Havana’s Historian’s Office, directed by Eusebio Leal, Barcelona developed an international cooperation project that was centred around Calle Barcelona street and its surrounding area in the Cuban capital. In addition to renovating various buildings, the cooperation project created a landscaped area (the Espacio Barcelona-La Habana), where a Gaudí-inspired bench and a fountain, like those found all over the Catalan capital, were installed.

In this year’s La Mercè, the traditions of Havana are represented by various artistic groups, including Ancestros, by Marieta Sánchez, a Cuban who has been living in Barcelona for some time. She offers a theatrical production that includes Afro-Cuban dances, Yoruba narrations and all the poetry that the island’s African roots are steeped in. Would you like more tales from Havana? Well, Marieta Sánchez also turns herself into Tía Tata to tell all the children who visit Ciutadella Park stories from Cuba, as well as from around the world.

Contemporary dance

In reality, with only 500 years of history, Havana is a young city. And the creators who live there are younger still, members of a rich, diverse and really dynamic scene, as we will see during this year’s La Mercè. For example, in Cuba there are many innovative contemporary dance companies. Some, like MiCompañía, have a long history in Havana’s dance scene. The company and its director, Susana Pous, are visiting La Mercè to offer dance workshops, in addition to two shows that can be seen at Ciutadella Park; with a modern touch, they review the most representative dances of Havana (Especial Havana) along with the choreography Infinito, in which eight dancers speak of their past and self-discovery, based on a variety of family ties, memories, secrets and conflicts.

There will also be Cuban dances from a Barcelona school, Modanza, which will bring Caribbean rhythms to Ciutadella and teach anyone who is interested how to dance to them.

Estació del Nord Park is another La Mercè venue that will have a strong Havana presence. There will be jam sessions from Cuban musicians and dancers, and you will also be able to see virtual-reality images prepared by Andy Ruiz, a Cuban creator who is an IT Sciences graduate and audiovisual producer. Enjoy images of Havana that will instantly transport you to Cuba.


Music, visual arts and cinema

In the end, Cuban rhythms will be strongly represented in La Mercè’s music programme, whether it be the more modern beats offered by the BAM Festival or Mercè Music productions, such as rap or urban music from La Dame Blanche (Thursday 23 September). Watch out for the Cuban Night on 25 September (on Moll de la Fusta), with performances from the pianist and multi-instrumentalist Roberto Fonseca – one of today’s great modernisers of Afro-Latin jazz, the Barcelona group Las Karamba, and the collaborative music experience from the Cuban group Interactivo. And at other venues, such as Palauet Albéniz, you can also listen to Cuban rhythms, this time from Salcelona. On Sunday 26 September, you can enjoy a performance from the Voses project’s symphonic group, with the collaboration of Maria del mar Bonet: the Habana Concerto, a tribute to the Cuban capital’s 500 years of history, with a solo performance from the Cuban composer and pianist who created the work, José Maria Vitier.

Remember , during the festivities, the Filmoteca de Catalunya is also offering a film cycle where we can take another look at the greatest work of Havana director Fernando Pérez Valdés, including Últimos días en La HabanaSuite Habana and La vida es silbar.  Havana on the big screen.

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