The Creole Choir of Cuba
Monday 17 May
Wilton’s Music Hall, London E1
While introducing the choir, our MC John Simpson remarked that the venue we were in had a ‘Cuban’ feel to it. He wasn’t wrong; Wilton’s Music Hall in London’s East End is the oldest surviving Music Hall in the world, and it does give the impression that it could fall down at any time (“carefully neglected”, as one audience member put it). Looking as old as it did, you were reminded of those crumbling concert halls and old nightclubs that always crop up in films set in Cuba. The choir fitted in perfectly.
The machinery working to bring the Creole Choir of Cuba to an international audience has been grinding away for over a year now – ever since Simpson and his production team discovered them singing during a trip to Havana, and got them booked for last year’s WOMAD and Edinburgh festivals. The choir’s real name is ‘Desandann’ (descendants) and it’s made up of the descendants of Haitians who have emigrated to Cuba over centuries. Through song, they have preserved aspects of Haitian culture that are hard to come by these days – even in Haiti itself. The choir are now as identified with Haiti as they are with Cuba – which has resulted in their being at the forefront of Cuba’s contribution to the ongoing disaster relief effort in Haiti. Call it divine providence or just being in the right place at the right time; either way you can’t deny how very timely it is.
Armed with just their voices, two congas and a variety of shakey things, Desandann had us all in their grip for the best part of an hour. In that time, we scanned the emotional spectrum – all the way from pathos and melancholy through to elation and sheer joy. They treated us to laments, upbeat merengues and Haitian folk songs, all with a heavy dose of Africa running through. We clapped; some of us even danced. As the choir sang their last song, they walked down the aisle, dispensing hugs and handshakes to the audience as they disappeared one by one into a door in the back of the auditorium, leaving us clamouring for more.
After their WOMAD appearance last year, the choir recorded an album at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios. It’s due for release in four months’ time and I’ve heard some of the tracks. Get it – that’s all I’m saying.