None other than the great Cuban intellectual, Dulce María Loynaz, offers the best opening for the new edition of the La Huella de España (Traces of Spain) Festival in Cuba, this year dedicated to the Canary Islands. In her poem that begins with the verse that provides its title, “La criatura de isla...”, she provides a definition that exalts the inhabitants of these islands: “It appears to me, I do not know why, a different creature. Lighter, more subtle, more sensitive.”
Dulce María (Havana, December 10, 1902 – April 27, 1997) is one of the leading figures of Cuban and universal poetry. Awarded the 1986 National Literature Prize, and the Cervantes Prize in 1992, she also had a close relationship with the Canary Islands through her Canarian husband, journalist Pablo Álvarez de Cañas. Her travel book Un verano en Tenerife (A Summer in Tenerife), an account of her stay there in 1958, was described by the author as the best she had written, although not all accepted it as such.
“I will tell you, simply, what it was like for me, to spend a summer in that little submerged land, awash with water; the first to break the surface of a sea that was everything, and the last to contemplate Columbus’ caravels once they had their prows directed toward the Unknown World.”
Like an incredible tour guide, the author chronicles the history and reality of island life, praises the beauty of the landscape, its geography, and the spirit of its inhabitants, with a language full of love and poetry.
Dulce María Loynaz’s love for the Canaries is reflected across Cuba, as the emigrant community from this part of Europe is actually the third biggest on the island, present in almost all provinces. Cuba’s Canary Islands Association today has 45,000 members.
One such emigrant from the Canary Islands is especially revered by Cubans: Leonor Pérez Cabrera (Santa Cruz de Tenerife, December 17, 1828 - Havana, June 19, 1907), mother of Cuban National Hero José Martí.
From being sentenced to forced labor in Havana at the age of just 16, to his death fighting for Cuba’s independence in 1895, the verses and letters Martí sent to his mother Leonor speak of his devoted love and respect for her.
Several monuments to Leonor Pérez Cabrera have been erected. In the Havana municipality of San Miguel del Padrón, she appears seated, reading the letter sent by her son from Montecristi in 1895. On the occasion of the centenary of her death, a bust was unveiled in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, and another in her native Tenerife, by Cuban sculptor Thelvia Marín.
As could be well expected, the Canary Islands Association of Cuba bears the name of Leonor Pérez. At its headquarters in Havana a press conference was held to announce the 27th edition of the La Huella de España Festival, to be held April 2-9.
Presided by diva Alicia Alonso, Honorary President of the Festival and Director General of the National Ballet of Cuba, it was reported that for the fourth consecutive occasion, serving as artistic director of the event, will be dancer and choreographer Irene Rodríguez, who is also celebrating the fifth anniversary of her own Spanish dance company.
Precisely for this occasion, Irene told this publication that she has conceived a new show entitled “Amaranto, very flamenco and contemporary, very refreshing.”
It was due to the characteristics of this show that Irene decided to call it “Amaranto” (Amaranthus), referring to “a plant native to the Americas that does not wither. I’ve given it this name because the company keeps renewing itself.”
Although the tradition of inaugurating the festival with the 9:00pm canon firing ceremony (Cañonazo) continues, the act will not take place at theesplanade of the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, as in the first edition of 1988, but rather in the Mella Theater, where almost the entire festival program will be held.
The National Anthems of Cuba, Spain and the Canary Islands will be performed by the Youth Jazz Band of the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory and the Hespérides Choir of the Canary Islands Association, conducted by Enrique M. Rodríguez and Yasel Castañeda, respectively.
The “Ballad of the Two Grandfathers,” by Nicolás Guillén, will then be heard offstage, recited by the “watercolorist of Antillean poetry”, Luis Carbonell.
In order to relive the contribution of the Canary Islands to Cuba, especially in rural music (la tonada, or el punto cubano), the festival will feature several guests from these islands, who will share the stage with their Cuban counterparts.
These include the folk group La Vieja Parranda, guitarist Marcos del Castillo, timple (typical Canarian string instrument) player Josele del Pino and the poet and repentista (improviser) Eduardo Duque, who will perform alongside Cuban musicians such as Cuban tres player Pancho Amat, country music singer Maria Victoria Rodríguez, and the outstanding repentista Luis Paz Esquivel.
Also participating in the Festival is Canarian Manuel Hernández González, who among his more than fifty books, wrote Los canarios en la Cuba contemporánea (Canary Islanders in Contemporary Cuba).
With regard to literature, Cuban intellectuals will participate in several colloquiums, among them one dedicated to Benito Pérez Galdós and his work, considered the most universal of Canary Islanders, in particular his Episodios Nacionales, and another to Dulce María Loynaz. The closing gala will feature actress Corina Mestre reading an extract of the aforementioned Un verano en Tenerife.
The Festival will include an exhibition of the posters that have identified its various editions, compiled by Evelio Fernández Reyes, as well as several workshops, among which on Canarian cuisine.
Due to its significance, the Festival attracts the best of Cuban culture: the National Ballet of Cuba, singers like Ivette Cepeda and soprano Johanna Simón; and the musical groups of the different Spanish Associations, especially that of the Canary Islands, such as Rumores del Teide, Rondalla Timanfaya, or the Hespéride Choir.
This Cuban Festival is also unique for Spain, as expressed by Guillermo Corral, cultural counsellor at the Spanish Embassy in Havana, speaking to Granma International.
“We attach great importance to it (the Festival) because it is a link that allows us to reconnect the communities of Spanish descendants on the one hand, and the general Cuban public on the other, with another aspect of their fundamental cultural heritage, that is the Spanish. Similar festivals exist in the world, but not with such clear support from public institutions. They are usually organized by the Casas (community centers), the Canarian, the Andalusian, but this enjoys the unwavering support of the Ministry of Culture, of a personality as outstanding as Alicia Alonso, and the National Ballet, for which I consider it a unique Festival, and also given its size and duration.”
Corral, who has spent a year and a half in Cuba, emphasized: “Spain, as could not be otherwise, maintains a very intense cultural activity here. From our point of view we would say that Cuban culture for us is not foreign, it is another form, different but common to us. Thus we try to participate in all the big events taking place in Cuba, which are many: the Huella de España itself, the Havana Film Festival, the Biennial, and this year we are the guest country at the Gibara Film Festival next month.”
The extraordinary ballerina Alicia Alonso summarized one of the aims of the Festival in its 24th edition: “The Huella de España is a festival of tradition and a tribute to our roots. The peoples have the right to receive the most valuable of historical and cultural heritage, and on this basis, advance along new paths.”