Since its inception, the program has been a very interesting one, the result of an arduous effort seeking to bring together, within the span of a few days, the capital’s rich cultural life, its ballet and dance seasons, the stage arts, the strong visual arts scene, and above all music.

Now Habanarte has taken a very timely step forward, organizing the Primera Linea International Music Forum, in partnership with Womex (the World Music Expo), according to UNESCO, “the most important professional fair” for roots, folk, ethnic, traditional and alternative music.

The initiative is a product of collaboration between Cuba’s Ministry of Culture, the Music Institute and its record labels EGREM, Artex, and Colibrí, with international partners including the World Music Expo organizers who are Piranha Arts (Berlin, Germany), Nordesía (Santiago de Compostela, Spain) and Endirecto (Munich, Germany).

To share the program put together for Habanarte andthe Forum, organizers held a press conference, in the recently renovatedtablao of Havana’s Alicia Alonso Grand Theater, one of the city’s architectural jewels, right on Paseo del Prado, with the participation of Nadia Naranjo, director of Cultural Industries at the Ministry; Ivette Leyva, the ministry’s information officer; and Spain’s Antonio Martínez, from the Primera Línea organizing committee.

Nadia Naranjo explained that the forum is directed toward music professionals, with the purpose of giving Cuban music more visibility, and above all establishing distribution channels. “It’s about offering the world the strengths of Cuban music, and ensuring that those interested know how they can work with our institutions, as a way to contract our artists.”

For his part Antonio Martínez, who has specialized in internationally promoting Latin American performers, especially Cuban, through the Endirecto company, said that Womex chose to co-sponsor the forum “because Havana is a special place and is important.”

A country which has produced names like Lecuona, Moré and Milanés, home to a diverse, talented local scene needs this fair,” Martínez said, “There is supply, there is demand, and we must bring them together. This is our objective.”

The Forum coordinator explained that this year’s activities will focus on promoting Cuban music, but that in coming events, it will be opened to international music, especially Caribbean.

Primera línea will have short concerts, so called ‘showcases’ presented by performers selected by an international jury composed of Maestro Adalberto Álvarez; art critic Pedro de la Hoz; the new director of Colibrí Records, Carol Fernández; plus Antonio Martínez himself; and from France, Christine Semba, director of Piranha Artsspecial programs.

The Primera Línea International Music Forum, co-sponsored by the World Music Expo will take place in Havana’s Alicia Alonso Grand Theater. Photo: Jorge Luis González

They have the responsibility to choose carefully and provide a vision of Cuban music with only 15 groups offering showcases, so that professionals from abroad can see a variety of musical acts during a short period of time, in the Grand Theater’s Alejo Carpentier Hall.

Martínez added that the intention is to present not only musicians, but also producers, sound recording professionals, and others within the industry, to have contact with the international delegations looking to discover talent in Cuba, emphasizing, “It is a platform for interaction. That’s why there is a program of conferences.”

Speaking to this issue, he referred to the theoretical schedule which will feature 14 conferences focused on a variety of subjects, including one providing an update on what is happening in the music market internationally, in terms of author’s rights, commerce, software, promotion, and other platforms; plus another for international businesspeople who know the legal frameworks, procedures and routes through which Cuban artists can be introduced abroad, and those from abroad in Cuba.

According to Martínez, already registered are programmers, managers and producers from Cuba, Spain, UK, Germany, Cape Verde, France, and the United States.

Primera Línea includes visits for professionals to the EGEM and Abdala recording studios; to live music venues, be they classical, popular, jazz or rock; the Art Institute (ISA); the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory; the city’s popular Callejón de Hamel; and the world famous Tropicana cabaret.

Martínez noted, as an important step forward, this year’s inclusion of Habanarte in the Womex circuit of international events, a world tour which began in April with the Atlantic Music Expo in Cape Verde, followed by China, then classical music in the Netherlands. Events will continue, following the festival here, in Colombia during the month of November, and in Brazil in February of 2017.

What can be seen during the festival?

The Cuban National Ballet will inaugurate Habanarte on September 8, as a preview to the 25th Havana International Ballet Festival, scheduled October 28 through November 6. Also participating are the Ballet Español, the Rosario Cárdenas dance company, and Danza Abierta (with the world premiere of Vuelvo, under the direction of Susana Pons).

Dramatic arts will be represented by the El Público and Argos theater companies, led by Carlos Díaz and Carlos Celdrán, respectively, both winners of Cuba’s National Prize for Theater, along with the Rita Montaner Company, and Teatro D’Dos.

In terms of visual arts, the Center for the Development of Visual Arts will host a special show by young artists (to whom the this third edition of Habanarte is dedicated); the Fototeca de Cuba will present Retrospectiva, from photographer José Agraz; the Habana gallery will feature a personal exposition of paintings by Tonel; and the José Martí National Library’s Galería El Reino de este mundo will showcase the work of Ricardo Elías.

Music will be the festival’s strong point, as well it should be. There will be a special spot for trova, with concerts by Frank Delgado, Raúl Torres, Polito Ibáñez, Gerardo Alfonso, Roly Berrío, and Ernesto Blanco, among others; and with the support of the Spanish Collaboration Agency, a joint concert by Adrián Berazain (Cuba), and Alberto Alcalá (Spain).

Plenty of jazz will be played (Yasek Manzano, Aldo López Gavilán, Ruy López Nussa), and popular dance music fans will enjoy performances by the island’s greats, including Los Van Van, Elito Revé’s Charangón, David Calzado’s Charanga Habanera, Bamboleo, Adalberto Álvarez’ Son, Havana D’Primera, Manolito Simonet, and NG la banda.

Habanarte is premiering its own special theme song, titled “Capitalia” by the young violinist William Roblejo, winner of the JoJazz 2010 Prize.

Roblejo spoke with GI saying that the piece was a gift to Havana, and like everything he does is a “fusion of several styles. I call it contemporary jazz, and utilize bluegrass, country, flamenco. Its Cubaness is felt when you play it and when you hear it.”

In 2012, William Roblejo released his first album, Dreaming, from the Colibrí label, featuring the participation of Omara Portuondo, David Torrens, Harold and Ruy Adrian López Nussa.

The Habanarte Festival once again joins another of the city’s most popular cultural events, Arte en La Rampa, which begins July 1 and continues through September 18.

“All the arts at once,” a difficult proposition to carry off anywhere, but especially in a city like Havana, coming soon.