Cuba is on the mind and tongues of many this year and Okayplayer founder Questlove is no exception to the rule. The recent warm spell in relations between the U.S. and its island neighbor has held out the promise of a veritable renaissance in cultural exchange between the two nations and this past week, Questlove led the charge for American artists on the engagement process. Visiting Havana on a goodwill mission aimed to win the hearts and feet of the Cuban people, Questo provided two nights of DJing to a packed house of young Cubans who came to hear him spin at La Fabrica de Arte Cubano on April 16 and 17th, 2015–just a few days after President Barack Obama and Raul Castro sat down for their historic meeting at The Summit of the Americas in Panama. Says Questlove:
“It’s always been a dream of mine to DJ in Havana. I’ve been to Cuba before with The Roots and its monumental and humbling to be considered an Ambassador of Hip-Hop to this great nation.”
La Fabrica de Arte Cubano (or FAC) is an old factory in the Vedado neighborhood in Havana, which has been converted into a music venue, open to and frequented by a diverse cross-section of the Cuban public. FAC is the leading hub of creativity in Cuba today, pushing the needle forward by hosting events in music, art, design, theater, and film. The venue’s founder, X Alfonso, is one of Cuba’s most respected artists today, and greeted Questlove with a smile and open arms upon entering the venue. The vibes were mutual, as Questlove explained:
“What makes Cuba so beautiful is the open mind to all forms of music that permeates from all of its people. It’s a rarity for me to be able to construct a genre-spanning DJ set of 585 songs and have the crowd embrace every single song. The energy of the crowd reflected the cultural infusion and overall appreciation of music that one should expect when performing in Cuba. I honestly can’t wait to return.”
Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer participated in the performance opening the second night at FAC with a Hendrix-esque version of the Cuban National Anthem, promising to return with the full RHCP band.
Local DJs BJoyce & Edgaro Productor’n’Jefe set the stage for the Grammy winning artist, pumping up the crowd to new levels. The sets were booked from 10:00am til 3:00am, however on the second night, Ahmir delivered an extra hour, resulting in residents cubans joyously dancing til 4:00 am.
In addition to the DJ performance, Quest paid a visit to the legendary studio, Egrem, where The Buena Vista Social Club supergroup recorded, along with many other iconic Cuban artists. Jorge Rodríguez, the Producer and Artistic Director of the famed label toured Questlove through the studios, illuminating the history of the labels inception. After that, both Jorge and local producer Edgaro Productor’n’Jefe took Ahmir to an underground record store, digging into rare vinyl, many of which Jorge produced, an outing that just happened to fall on International Record Store Day. A local film captured the entire interaction around this research and cultural exchange excursion (stay tuned for video!) and we’d like to extend a warm thanks to them as well as La Fabrica de Arte Cubano, You and Me Inc., Jauretsi at Sugar Barons and of course Questlove for initiating this whole goodwill mission.