FAC is a cosmopolitan space that physically connects you to Cuban art. It's like a giant gallery with unusual and unexpected features. The things I like the most are its different inter-connecting rooms, which mean you can hop from one hall to the next in a matter of seconds, swapping a crowded room filled with hundreds of dancing people to a quiet one where you will be standing alone in front of a video installation or a sculpture.
In addition to this, all areas are fully air-conditioned and equipped with excellent sound systems, as well as bars serving a comprehensive Cuban and International beverage menu. I highly recommend the “pinas coladas” and “screwdrivers”.
One of FAC's most peculiar features is its entry card. It costs $2 CUC or $ 50 Cuban Pesos and it gives you full access to all of the night's shows and exhibitions. The card has a peculiar design resembling the famous “libreta de abastecimiento” (supplies booklet) used by locals to buy goods at the “bodega” (a state-subsidised shop where Cubans buy basic supplies). Food and drinks are jotted down on the card and you pay in cash on the way out.
In addittion Fabrica de Arte Cubano is located on 11th and 26th Streets, in Vedado (one of the trendiest neighbourhoods in Havana's downtown), near Puente de Hierro (Iron Bridge), a pedestrian crossing over the Almendares River, that connects Plaza (one of Havana's municipalities) to Miramar (Havana's most elegant residential neighbourhood). In only a few minutes, you can easily get there from any touristic point in the city.
The Factory's architects
All Cubans knows the Alfonso family for being the people behind this innovative and artsy space. They are FAC's creators. Ele and Carlos are the iconic founding members of “Sintesis”, a revolutionary band in Cuba's music history famous for their exquisite mixes of rock sounds with Afro-Cuban rhythms and songs.
Their sons, Equis and Eme Alfonso, besides each having carried out a successful music career on their own right and taking over FAC's management, have also promoted other projects with the main objective of connecting Cuba with the international musical scene. Equis leads Peace and Love, a festival held in Havana that gathers Norwegian and Swedish artists. On the other hand, Eme organises and oversees Havana World Music, a festival that gathers a wide variety of artists from around the world.
This talented family had always dreamed of creating a recruitment space for the arts and today their dream has come true. FAC is the busiest place in Havana's nightlife scene and an international launching pad for Cuban artists. In this respect, the event I attended at FAC recently, marked a historical occasion due to the different possibilities it opened up to local artists and the Cuban audience. This connection with Latin America can produce a boomerang effect and bring us outstanding artists from the whole continent on a more frequent basis. Harold, a summer-time storm.
Tonight, as every night at FAC, is unique and special. The pianist Harold Lopez Nussa performs alongside its quartet for the event “AM-PM America por su musica” (“AM-PM America for its music”). The event, led by managers and producers from 11 different countries, is aimed at connecting Cuban musicians with a wider Latin American platform of live performances.
The small room named “Santiago Feliu”, after one Cuba's most beloved troubadours, begins to fill up slowly with fans eager to enjoy Harold's performance tonight. It's a cosy and casual place, with wooden stools and minimalist decoration. People come here with colourful drinks in hand and settle down in comfort amid whispers and sips. When the first guitar strums are heard, an energy wave ebbs across the room. As we are all sitting at a distance of less than 10 metres from the musicians, we can feel our silence being filled with different melodies. We have trumpeter Mayquel Gonzalez, bassist Julio Cesar Gonzalez and Harold's younger brother, Ruy Adrian, on the drums.
Mayquel Gonzalez's trumpet is the perfect bridge among classicism, popular music and jazz. He is so precise and technical that he could easily perform as a soloist in a symphony orchestra. Its sound transmits something mysterious, so difficult to describe. Experts say Verdi preferred performers who knew how to own their own sounds and transmit emotions over those technically faultless with no charm. Mayquel would be one of Verdi's favourite players. His music is so cool, expressive and evocative in pieces like “Paseo” or “Guajira”.
Then we have the quartet's rhythmical base, making your eyes widen in sheer admiration. Julio Cesar's expert playing of the bass is intricate, complex, lyric and flows as effortlessly as the sea. Ruy Adrian's drums are like a piano that suddenly produces bass, drums and cymbal sounds. His way of playing the percussion is very sentimental and the sounds evoke emotions that reach a feverish pitch. His skillful hands give way to powerful sounds, and his look, I insist, is that of an isolated pianist.
Meanwhile, Harold leads his small orchestra from behind an electric keyboard. He began to assume this position since his last CD “New Day”. At 32 years old, he is one of Cuba's highest regarded and most versatile pianists, and also a superb composer. His themes are like short suites in which he combines, sharply and deliberately, the lyrical masterpieces of great Cuban musicians like Lecuona with the electric explosions of genius like Davis o Hancock.
At times tender and melancholy, and then torrential like summer storm in the Tropics, Harold's show captivates and fascinates everyone in the room. Hypnosis is the word that best describes the effect of Harold Lopez Nussa's show. After the concert's over, most of the audience stays in the room for a while, chatting about their impressions in a flurry of hushed laughter and astonished looks.
New horizons for Cuban musicians
Gabriel Turielle (President of the Latin American Music Management Forum) is in the audience, sitting in the front row. Alongside Cuba's General Society of Authors and Editors (SGAE for its abbreviation in Spanish) and FAC, Turielle also takes part in the organisation of the event “America for its music”.
Since the re-establishment of relations between the Unites States and Cuba, new doors have opened to some of the continent's most important producers and music managers; allowing them to include in their agendas concerts by artists like Yusa, Kelvis Ochoa and Harold himself. Although they are all internationally well- known, as Cuban musicians they have been kept away from the global limelight without the representation or promotion of big Latin American showbiz companies.
One of the most interesting aspects of this music event led by FAC is the diversity of options that Cuban music can add to. Right now, for example, some people will go to Ray Fernandez's concert, who has a unique talent for making people dance and laugh to his sarcastic lyrics and roguish sounds. Others prefer attending a concert by X Alfonso and enjoy high decibels of alternative rock, funky and hip-hop music.
Every night at FAC is special; but you will only know it if you come here as a “worker” to pick your own sounds for export.
Harold's albums: Canciones (Colibri, 2007), a beautiful selection of pieces that heavily influenced his style, and New Day (Jazz Village, 2013), an incursion into fusion jazz.