Let’s Get to the Source!

The Pedrito Martinez Group with Issac Delgado brings its Cuban dance grooves to the Sharp Theatre on May 8

Sunday marks the beginning of this year’s The Source Project, an exploration of the ongoing influence of Africa on cultures of the western hemisphere. This first installment focuses on Cuba and Afro-Cuban culture. I’ve enlisted the help of Alexa Burneikis, an expert on world music and dance, to put together a week-long celebration of Cuba at Symphony Space, including a block party, boleros and mojitos in Bar Thalia, Cuban jazz, and a dance party in the Sharp to close the project.

This week I interview Alexa about her influences and vision for The Source Project.

Alexa Burneikis in Havana

Can you tell us a little about your background?

I studied cultural anthropology and was always drawn to music and dance. I worked for the World Music Institute for nearly a decade where I focused on independently managing artists, producing tours and events, as well as curating and promoting other festivals and cultural activities.

What appeals to you most about Cuban culture? Why Cuba for this first installment?

Cuba is one of the greatest strongholds of African culture. During one of the cultural exchange programs I led there years ago, the Nigerian Olympic boxing team was staying in the same accommodations as my program. I invited them to some of our outings, including a Santeria ceremony. The manner in which the ceremony was conducted was a blast from the past for them. The team said it was amazing and remarked how preserved and even “old fashioned” it was — like being at a living museum.

Grammy-nominated jazz musician Yosvany Terry performs in the Thalia on May 5 (photo by Govert Driessen)
Román Díaz and his rumba ensemble perform at a block party on May 1 (photo by David Garten)

What is your vision for the week?

Rather than fitting a performance to a black box, we want recreate the FEELING of visiting Cuba by turning the venue inside out and transforming it with music, dance, (mojitos!), and art all around — all very much interactive. Call and response is a huge part of African culture, and therefore Cuban art forms. The point is for this week to be participatory, immersive, and inclusive — more than simply sitting in a chair and have music played at you. I want people to learn some moves, get up and dance, and sing back the chorus to the performers. I want the street rumba to set the tone for the week ahead, Bar Thalia to become the ultimate mojito lounge, the Thalia theatre to have the vibe of a small Cuban jazz joint, and the final show to have the energy and excitement of a show on the Malecón or at la Casa de la Música.

Xiomara Laugart sings Cuban romantic ballads in Bar Thalia on May 2

Please check out http://www.symphonyspace.org/source for all the events and to get tickets! We can’t wait to share this week with you!

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