Music review

Cubafest closer showcases Gema Corredera’s luminous talent

The annual Global Cubafest closed with a concert that beautifully expressed the event’s goal of celebrating and exploring Cuban music throughout the diaspora.

The show at Miami-Dade County Auditorium Saturday night featured Gema Corredera, who has lived in exile since 1994 and in Miami since 2009; her mentor, Marta Valdes, a revered 78-year-old songwriter from the island, and a stellar lineup of Cuban jazz musicians based in New York and Miami.

It was a stunning showcase of Corredera’s luminous musical talent that should mark a turning point in her career. (Global Cubafest is produced by Fundarte and Miami Light Project. The Corredera event was co-presented with Artes Miami, headed by Aida Levitan, who was among those responsible for the concert that revived the career of legendary bassist Orlando “Cachao” Lopez almost two decades ago.)

Directed by the saxophonist Yosvany Terry, the concert also offered a vital, contemporary vision of Cuban jazz that retains its roots in Cuban musical tradition. (That freshness was in sharp contrast to the festival’s opening concert by Ivette Cepeda, a singer from the island whose performance was marked by a sense of almost stereotypical nostalgia.)

Corredera was the glowing center of the show, a quietly confident and prodigious musical talent. Her velvety voice has some of the burnished golden tones of a trumpet or saxophone, but can also take on a poignant, silvery harmonic sharpness. She sings with supple, beautifully defined rhythm, and while her voice is powerful, she doesn’t wallow in elongated high notes or vocal histrionics.

The excellent band — Terry on reeds, chekere and guiro; his brother Yunior Terry on stand-up bass; Osmany Paredes on piano; Alfredo Chacon on congas and percussion; and Miami-based Haitian drummer Obed Calvaire — surrounded Corredera with a richly textured musical fabric. They delivered effortless virtuosity, relaxed but unerring rhythmic swing and luscious musicality.

The lineup mirrored that on Corredera’s new solo album, Derramando Luz (“Spreading Light”) the source of many of the songs. They ranged from the infectious Afro-Cuban spiritual Anana oye to the flowing, richly melodic title track. Songs like Despacito (“Take It Slow”) by Pancho Cespedes and En el mapa de tu cuerpo (“On the Map of Your Body”) by Julio Fowler (one of four backup singers) were fresh takes on the tradition of sensual, extravagantly poetic Cuban love songs, and the intricate but almost conversational rhythm of filin, the sentimental Cuban style of the 1950s and ’60s.

Valdes is one of the few major filin songwriters still living. Her appearance Saturday – her first in the United States – was an emotional one for Corredera and the near-capacity audience of 800, which included acclaimed singers and songwriters Luis Enrique, Marisela Verena, Amaury Gutierrez, Malena Burke and Albita Rodriguez.

Valdes, who looked fragile but bantered easily with the audience, performed several of her most famous songs, including Tu no sospechas (“You Don’t Suspect”) and Palabras (“Words”) on acoustic guitar. Corredera chimed in to accompany her teacher while kneeling at her feet. It was apparently to hold a balky sound cable, but made for a potent image.

That tribute to the past didn’t pull this concert into nostalgia, nor into political speeches. “In this world of crisis, we keep on loving,” Corredera proclaimed, as she launched into the exuberant Chevere. “The heart doesn’t rest.”

Neither does the energy and inventiveness of the Cuban music that she and the other musicians performed Saturday.

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