Cuba for All Americans: Bringing Cuban Culture to Santa Rosa

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Rebeca Mauleón performs with her band, 8:30-10 p.m. March 29, Carole L. Ellis Auditorium on the Petaluma SRJC campus. Mauleón will teach at the festival.

Andrew McQuiddy, Features Editor

The relationship between the Cuban and the United States governments weaves a tangled tapestry through history, yet relations between the peoples of each country are smooth as silk. Professor Gino Muzzatti hopes more new connections beckon at the Santa Rosa Junior College Cuban Film & Music Festival, March 27 – 30, with events on both the Santa Rosa and Petaluma campuses.

Teaching English as a Second Language at SRJC, Muzzatti harbors a deep curiosity about other cultures. He’s traveled to more than 40 countries on family trips, but developed a special fondness for the Cuban people upon first visiting there two years ago. That trip inspired this month’s celebration.

“We lived with a family; they have ‘casas particulares,’” Muzzatti said, “and we lived like Cubans.” He rhapsodized over all aspects of the 11-day experience, from the food to the music to the indomitable spirit of the island’s populace.

“Maestra,” Catherine Murphy’s documentary on the Cuban Literacy Campaign of 1961, displays such spirit that Muzzatti built the Cuban Film & Music Festival around the nascent idea to showcase Murphy’s film along with a lecture.

Enter Dr. Orlando E. Raola, Chemistry professor, who overheard Muzzatti mention Cuba while discussing his plans with colleagues during a professional development appraisal meeting. Benefiting directly from the 1961 Cuban Literacy Campaign, Havana-born Raola jumped at the chance to promote his homeland. Raola and Susana Ackerman share their stories via “Cuba’s Literacy Brigade: Women on the Frontlines of Transforming a Nation”, 12:00-1 p.m., March 27, Newman Auditorium.

He also suggested Muzzatti screen “Lucia” (6:30-10 p.m., March 28, Newman Auditorium), an episodic drama exploring the lives of three different characters named Lucia during the pivotal periods surrounding the years 1895, 1930 and 1968.

“I have a very long list of wonderful [Cuban] movies,” Raola said. “It was very hard to boil it down to one.”

Muzzatti’s “partner in crime” coordinating the festival, Extended Opportunities Program & Services Counselor Rhonda Findling also chairs the Women’s History Month Committee. She points to the importance of Cuba’s ongoing political changes within the country and gradually improving relations between Cuba and the U.S.

“My personal interest is the music,” Findling said, a musician herself. “Cuba is known for its multitude of rhythms that are popular world-wide.”

Rebeca Mauleón specializes in Cuban music, although her accomplishments define the term “Renaissance woman.” A tenured Latin American music professor at City College of San Francisco since 1998, Mauleón authored books and articles, composed and conducted music from piano to symphonic to game soundtracks (Sims 2 and 3), received the 2008 San Francisco Jazz Festival’s Beacon Award and the next year garnered a Latin Grammy nomination as producer on the album “It’s About Time” by Orestes Vilató.

Mauleón’s own compositions reflect the merging of cultural influences from around the world, just like Cuba’s own musical history.

“You had the fusion of European and African rhythms and melodies,” Mauleón said, “and of course, that was done by force. So, what largely emerges is a blending of African and Spanish music over centuries, with influences from other parts of Europe, and North American influences such as jazz and rock.”

Cuban songs spread globally, impacting the technical structures of other cultures’ music.

“It’s a music that’s steeped in African polyrhythm,” Mauleón said. “Think of the mambo and the cha-cha-cha and the conga,” she said, noting that Ricky Ricardo’s Cuban bandleader character on “I Love Lucy” deserves some credit for moving Cuba’s music further into mainstream society.

“Cuban music is important because it’s part of our American history,” Mauleón said. “And I mean ‘American’ as in not just the U.S., but as in all of the Americas.”

At the festival, she will speak about Afro-Cuban music (12:30-1:30 p.m., March 29, Forsyth Hall Room 105), then teach a two-hour master class on Afro-Cuban rhythm (2-4 p.m., Forsyth Hall Room 115). The day culminates with Rebeca Mauleón & Her Cuban Collective performing live on the Petaluma campus (8:30-10 p.m., Carole Ellis Auditorium). Class space is limited, though tickets are free and available at the Student Affair Office.

Grants and contributions freed organizers from commercial sponsorship and ensured the vision of a no-cost admission for attendees. Funding came from the Randolph Newman Cultural Enrichment Endowment, the SRJC Women’s History Month Committee, Multi-cultural Events Committee, Associated Students, Bertolini Fund, Petaluma Campus Trust and the ESL, Music and Modern and Classical Languages Departments.

“Overall, we’ve had a lot of support,” Muzzatti said. “I think it’ll be a gem of a festival.”

For festival programming go to: http://www.santarosa.edu/insider .