In the ’60s, when the war of ideologies between American capitalism and Cuban communist revolution supported by the Soviet Union was at its peak, Fidel Castro, the then Prime Minister of Cuba declared American music as “music of the enemy”, and banned it. However, the 145 km schism between the borders was inapplicable when the radio waves crossed sides. Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, then in his 20s, serving in the Cuban military, would tune into shortwave radio, as Willis Conover’s politics-free broadcasts came on the famed Voice of America Jazz Hour. With no knowledge of English, he heard the music, and would wait for American jazz trumpeter virtuoso Dizzy Gillespie’s name to be announced alongside iconic trumpeter Clifford Brown and legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker. Gillespie’s world was far away from that of regular traditional and swing bands. His musicianship and extrovert chord progressions had Sandoval hooked. Soon enough he was caught listening to the “banned music” and put in jail. But it didn’t deter Sandoval. Years later, when he found out that Gillespie would be in Havana, he waited outside the ship hoping to meet his hero. “Meeting Dizzy changed my life,” says 70-year-old Sandoval, in an email interview.
Over the years, he toured with Gillespie and the two performed together on many occasions. “It’s a truly marvelous thing to meet your hero, and then form a bond with him. He was my mentor, my friend, my teacher and is still an inspiration to me every day,” says Sandoval. Gillespie had visited India in 1985. More than three decades later, Sandoval, considered one of the most worthy successors of the bebop legend, will headline the three-day multi-genre “NCPA ADD Art Festival” this weekend in Mumbai, as an ode to 50 years of the National Centre for Performing Art (NCPA).
After a solo session, Sandoval’s set will feature keyboardists Louiz Banks and Merlin D’Souza, percussionist Taufiq Qureshi, bassists Sheldon D’Silva and Dee Wood, saxophonist Rhys D’Souza, flautist Rajeev Raja, tabla player Aditya Kalyanpur and drummer Gino Banks.
Sandoval found music when he was 10. Son of an auto mechanic, his family was neither interested in music nor keen that their child learn it. “Also, in Cuba, it was practically impossible to get hold of an instrument, so when I was young, my aunt brought me a small horn and I never stopped striving to get better. That continues even now,” he says.
When a trumpet teacher refused to teach him, he came back home crying, and decided to learn it anyway. He began performing with street musicians and also enrolled in Cuban National School of the Arts, where he was taught by a Russian trumpeter. He performed all over the world with his rock-influenced band Irakere before moving to Florida in 1981. Gillespie, whom Sandoval had met in 1977, helped his friend after repeated attempts at getting citizenship. “It was with his help that I was able to get political asylum and move to the US with my family. He afforded me the greatest freedom as well as more personal and professional opportunities that I could have ever wished for,” says Sandoval, whose life was also the subject for the 2000 film For Love or Country. “It’s tiring, I’m getting old. But no matter how old I get, I feed off the energy of the people I play for, and that keeps me energised and excited for the next show.”
The NCPA festival will also feature other artistes such as Hindustani classical vocalist Ut Rashid Khan, santoor and flute legend Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma and Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia respectively. There will also be a tribute to Ut Allarakha in his centenary year by Ut Zakir Hussain, Kala Ramnath, Shikhar Naad Qureshi and students of Ut Allarakha Institute of Music. The festival will also feature classical dance performances including Kathak by Aditi Mangaldas and Odissi by the students of Nrityagram. There will be Bharatanatyam recitals by two of the finest Bharatanatyam dancers in the country — Alarmal Valli and Malavika Sarukkai. The former will team up with poet Arundhathi Subramaniam for a performance. The concluding session will witness a music and dance duet in a “Maestros Meet” with Birju Maharaj and Ajoy Chakrabarty.