"Oye Cuba! A Journey Home," Documents Arturo O'Farrill's Personal Search and His Grand Vision Through Film

photo by Damaso Reyes

I’ll never forget the trip I took to Havana in 2010 with Arturo O’Farrill and his family, chronicled in a Village Voice cover story. At the start, I was focused on a very personal quest. As I wrote:

The dream was simple, really. Through the support of his Alliance organization, Arturo wanted to bring the orchestra he leads in his father’s name back to Cuba, which Chico left for good in 1959. He had toyed with the idea for some time, but it became a firm goal, a mission, in 2002, after his own first visit to Cuba. “I’m going to do this,” he’d told me toward the end of that trip. “And even though Chico never made it back to the island physically, his music will be played there. I feel like he’ll be there with us. The people will embrace his music. And somehow, to some degree, all will seem right with the universe to me for just a split-second.”

Yet by the end of trip O’Farrill’s focus, and mine, grew grander:

“I’ve been thinking long and hard about this,” Arturo said. “The reason I went was not to canonize my father. I did want to hear his music in Cuba and to see my mother there. But there’s another thing: I want jazz to stop dying this awful death, this strangulation. I think the future of this music has to do with the acceptance of a larger picture of it, which has always been the deeper truth anyway.”

Fresh off his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra’s second Grammy win, O’Farrill prepares for a landmark cross-cultural concert at Manhattan’s Symphony Space May 1 and 2, and readies his next CD, recorded in Cuba last year. Both are titled “The Conversation Continued,” which, O’Farrill told me, was inspired by the ending of my Voice piece:

“That final Sunday night in Havana, after the premiere of his new piece, the Mella’s massive brown curtain drew slowly shut, until finally only Arturo was visible. He was speechless. He simply waved. The curtain closed. The door had been thrown open, the larger conversation to come.”

Little did we know how the context for all this would change.
During that 2010 Cuba trip, director and producer Diane Sylvester had her cameras focused in the same direction as my pen. Like me, she’s stayed on O’Farrill’s story. Her remarkable film, Oye Cuba! A Journey Home,” six years in the making, is nearing completion. It traces both an intimate personal tale and a transformation of culture, attitude and politics that has far-reaching implications—that continuing conversation.
I can’t wait to see the scenes she’ll screen at a celebration and fundraiser on March 23rd at Drom, 85 Avenue A, in Manhattan’s East Village. O’Farrill will also make play a rare solo-piano set at the event.
VIP Benefit Reception at 8pm & Concert 9pm | $150
Purchase VIP Reception Tickets here.
General Admission Concert & Screening 9pm | $50/ $25-Student & Senior
Purchase General Admission Tickets here.
“I was first moved by Arturo’s story and that of his father,” Sylvester told me, “and what seemed like such a tragic loss on their part in terms of their ability to connect with their own history. What Arturo ended up championing and creating was an incredible movement; he was among the leaders of artists who pushed to move history and policy.”
In a way, the arc of Sylvester’s project has mirrored O’Farrill’s work of late.
“It has been my mission from the beginning that the making of the film serve as an exchange between Cuban and American artists, and that it tells the story in a multi-dimensional way,” she explained. “As the project progressed and Arturo was forging ahead with this incredible effort to open up cultural exchange and having these beautiful collaborations with musicians, I began meeting some amazing Cuban filmmakers. Their knowledge of jazz and Arturo’s family surprised me, but it spoke to the cultural knowledge that is very deep within Cuban culture, and their approach to filmmaking was incredibly collaborative. I wanted to be sure their perspective and influence were part of the film. We became our own exchange, which is I think makes the film so much richer.”
From the press release:

This moving feature length documentary chronicles O’Farrill’s passionate mission to reconnect with Cuba, the homeland of his legendary father, Latin jazz composer Chico O’Farrill. While uncovering his family’s history and that of the music he loves so much O’Farrill breaks down political barriers and ignites a musical revolution.
The film Oye Cuba! is directed and produced by Diane Sylvester and is in itself an artistic exchange as the filmmaking team is made up of Cuban and American filmmakers including award winning co-Directors of Photography Kirsten Johnson and Luis Najmias, and Cuban Co-Producer Gabriela Remirez among others.
The evening will begin with VIP Reception and cocktail hour, which will be followed by a screening of a selection from Oye Cuba! and the concert by Mr. O’Farrill. We will also have a silent auction, and we will honor several friends and long-time advocates whose dedication and passion have advanced the cultural dialogue between the United States and Cuba.
The evening’s honorees include a Special Recognition of Carole Rosenberg, the founder of the American Friends of the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, as well as our valued supporters:

  • Myriam Castillo, TPH Project Services
  • Cynthia Elliott, Symphony Space
  • Alan Ibbotson, The Trampoline Group
  • Doug Rice, RD Rice Construction
  • James Wacht, Lee & Associates NYC LLC

The evening’s proceeds will go toward supporting the completion of Oye Cuba! A Journey Home, we thank all of our supporters for their generosity. Oye Cuba! is fiscally sponsored by IFP and partners with the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance (ALJA). Oye Cuba! has received support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the New York State Council for the Arts.
March 23rd at Drom, 85 Avenue A, New York.

VIP Benefit Reception at 8pm & Concert 9pm | $150
To Purchase VIP Reception Ticket Visit: https://vip-ofarrilloyebenefit.eventbrite.com
General Admission Concert & Screening 9pm | $50/ $25-Student & Senior
To Purchase General Admission Tickets Visit: https://ofarrill-oyeconcert.eventbrite.com

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