Havana Cuba All Stars rock Etherredge Center stage
On the night of February 14, the Etherredge Center hosted a performance by the Havana Cuba All Stars, as part of the Cultural Series.
The Havana Cuba All Stars are an acoustic Cuban music and dance group who “showcase swaths of melodies” and traditional Cuban beats with a fresh, “contemporary lens.”
Michael St. John, house manager for the Etherredge Center, described the Cultural Series as a program hosted by the center to “bring in talent and culture from all over the country as well as all over the world.”
He remarked that they will bring in anybody who has something to share with Aiken, being a small, limited town in its “ability to experience culture.”
The effect of the series is represented in its full-house crowds each year. According to St. John, the Cultural Series, started in 1986, still has some of the original attendees of the first event.
Jack Benjamin, former house manager, booked Havana Cuba All Stars as his farewell to the Etherredge Center last year. He originally found them touring in Augusta a few years prior and decided he wanted to bring Cuban talent to Aiken. This is their second appearance in the Cultural Series, brought back due to the high demand of guests who saw their earlier performances.
Inside the theater, the 12 person acoustic band drew from crowd interaction, raised hands urging audience members to stand, dance, clap, and sing. Hands pressed to chests, the singers closed their eyes and turned their faces to the lights, expressing the emotion the music evoked.
One member of the dance group Identitidad, Barbarito Montagne described the music as “a feeling, something you can express.”
Identitidad was drawn to performing with Havana Cuba All Stars because of “their roots,” or something they all grew up with in their families and hope to recapture and spread.
Between songs, musical director Michel Pardon explained the significance of some of the dances performed. While some were purely traditional Cuban choreography, there were also some sets with Afro-Cuban influences called “son” - a focal point of the musical group.
According to the group’s story, printed within the program, “‘Son’ combines African rhythms with song structures from the Spanish musical tradition.”
The musical group also draws from other distinct styles, each with individual contexts and stories to fully capture the rich and diverse Cuban culture. With the passionate traditional style from Havana Cuba All Stars combined with modern contemporary dance, Identitidad captured more than the culture Friday night, but also the attention and movement of those inside.
Numerous times throughout the night audience members stood and swayed with the beats, clapped along with the singers and sang their own praises to the stage. Nearing the end of the performance, cries of “otra vez!” echoed through the buzzed atmosphere.
Havana Cuba All Stars described their music as “a sound for a new generation” with the delivery of an “explosive punch.” The intensity of the vocals along with the unique melodies proved their statement. The personality of each performer and singers were all brought together by the passion of delivering their culture in a personal, inventive style. Those who could not understand Spanish could still experience the energy radiating from the stage.
While highly successful, the Cultural Series still lacks a prominent demographic in the Aiken area- students.
“Students are a slippery crowd,” said St. John. “We come at it from two angles: offer different things or mitigate the cost.”
“I was a student here, I know how it is,” he continued. “If you’re interested [in an event] but are not sure you can afford it, you should email the box office. We’re interested in getting students in here, even if we have to work something out. There are so many ways to get in to see a show.”
Some of the Etherredge Center’s special offers include flash sales of significantly lower prices at the door and saving returned tickets for students only.
St. John urged students to come visit or email the box office to see if there are any leftover tickets in the event of a return. The box office email is firstname.lastname@example.org.