I made my first trip to Cuba in 2009, and met award winning filmmaker Gerardo Chijona. A mutual friend Joe Perez, founder Cuba Travel Services, suggested I meet Gerardo. I found him to be very generous with his time as he was in the middle of editing Boleto al Paraiso (Ticket to Paradise) one of his films which takes place during Cuba's 'special period' of acute shortages. Last year, I hosted his daughter Laura and partner Lorenzo in Los Angeles where they met with several artists and head of the Pan-African Film Festival.
One of the highlights from my initial trip to La Habana was to visit with the most influential figure in modern Afro‐Cuban jazz, pianist, bandleader, composer and arranger Chucho Valdes. His career spans over 50 years, winning five Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammy Awards. At his home, I also met his wife and manager Lorena and their son Julian who could not resist showing off his multitude of musical talents. I later hosted receptions in Los Angeles for Chucho and his band while on a tour. It was a unique opportunity to meet Cuban artists.
Chucho Valdes returned again to Los Angeles in October with his newly expanded Afro-Cuban Messengers honoring Irakere’s groundbreaking work. The performance at Disney Hall was the Southern California stop for the Irakere 40th anniversary tour. I was happy to share this cultural experience with two Arts and Cultural Bridge Foundation’s grant recipients, performance artist Amy Kaps and writer, photographer, singer Byron Motley.
Another enlightening cultural experience I had was working with Cuban director Ian Padron, promoting his film “Habanastation”, Cuba’s 2011 best foreign film, official entry to the Academy Awards. He was able to meet actors and US filmmakers such as Oliver Stone, Michael Moore and Mike Medavoy.