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Sendero/El Almacén: Cuban Record Label and Arts Collective Looks to Expand Its Horizons

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When we last visited with Sendero/El Almacén, the Matanzas-based Cuban record label and arts collective, in March 2016, we learned about their activities documenting vibrant Afro-Cuban folkloric music. We spoke with label and collective cofounder Luis Bran, who detailed the collective’s history, mission and musical activities, and we also heard from Liliam Cedeño, who heads the contemporary visual arts wing of the group. The takeaway from that hour-long radio program was, in Bran’s words, “El Almacén is walking,” meaning that after several years of gathering support within Cuba, the fledgling arts collective and record label was operational, with exciting projects on the horizon and a growing network of international support. Listen to Afropop Worldwide’s program “Africa in Matanzas, Cuba: El Almacen Is Walking” here.

Six months later Sendero Music is looking to expand its activities, and to do that, they’ve established a Kickstarter campaign. “Having established our studio over the past five years,” Bran writes, “Sendero Music is working towards financial independence. The collective is determined to strengthen our artistic originality and maintain our hard-won creative autonomy as Cuba opens to the global culture industries and corporate world.”

The key words above are “creative autonomy.” Among the many aspects that define the collective’s uniqueness, perhaps their greatest attribute is their vision of creating an umbrella organization home to a range of activities as wide as, on the one hand, documenting Afro-Cuban folkloric music, while on the other, championing the avant-garde through contemporary visual arts and theater workshops for Cuban students.

The Kickstarter campaign seeks to raise funds to purchase professional-quality video cameras, lenses, and lights to expand the scope of their documentary capabilities. And not only are they seeking support to increase the coverage of Matanzas-based activities; they are opening their doors to the world, seeking collaborators interested in dialoguing with the city’s rich and unique artists and resources.

I’ve seen it with my own eyes. While in Matanzas researching the collective and studying the city’s unique batá drum tradition for the March 2016 Afropop radio program I produced, my travel partner, Marcus Milius, and I collaborated on a recording of two songs with Sendero musicians. One was written by Milius and the other by Aliesky Pérez, one of the Sendero prinicipals. In the process of rehearsing and recording the two songs in a day-long session at the studio, Milius and I were amazed to watch the Sendero team produce the multicamera shoot as if out of thin air. We were further blown away when Pérez, the guitarist, songwriter and the collective’s head videographer, and Yosel “Fito” Medina, Sendero’s superlative engineer, returned the next day with two mixed-down music videos, having stayed up all night to mix the multitrack video and audio sessions.

“Cruza Del Mar” (Pérez)

“There’s A Better Day” (Milius)

Sendero’s first global CD release, Transmisión en la Eritá Meta, is due for release in September 2016, and there are many other audio and video projects in the works. Here’s a recent Sendero-produced video of the cutting-edge folkloric group Rumbatimba, performing “Yo Vine Pa Ver.”

Recent Sendero production: “Yo Vine Pa Ver” (Rumbatimba)

As the world marvels at the bounties revealed by an increasingly open Cuba, organizations such as Sendero/El Almacén must be lauded for their pioneering efforts and encouraged to continue their important work.

Visit their Kickstarter campaign for more information:

 

 

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