The 2nd Primera Línea International Music Forum was a success, meeting expectations in each of its three basic parts: the business workshop, the academy, and the showcase; according to Mario Escalona, one of the event organizers and director general of the Recordings and Musical Editions Company (EGREM).

The Forum had been scheduled to take place in September, but due to the powerful impact of Hurricane Irma, organizers were forced to reschedule for the end of November.

This time round, Primera Línea had a new venue, the Plaza de 31 y 2 Cultural Center, in the Havana neighborhood of Vedado, recently opened and offering a theater, concert halls, and conference rooms.

As in the first Forum, in 2016, the second event was organized by the Ministry of Culture of Cuba (Mincult), the Cuban Music Institute (ICM) and the record companies EGREM and BisMusic, and had the international backing of Piranha Arts (Berlin, Germany) in its capacity as organizer of WOMEX (World Music Expo); Nordesía (Santiago de Compostela, Spain); and Endirecto (Munich, Germany).

On this occasion, Primera Línea was attended by more than 40 international delegates, businesspeople, and speakers, including: Fabienne Krause, general manager of Classical:NEXT, an event organized by Piraña Arts (Germany); Antonio Vizcaya of Producciones Mirmidon and Álvaro Stucky of (both from Spain); María Semushkina of Usadba Jazz Festival (Russia); and René Goiffon of the Harmonia Mundi label, Rachel Faro of Ashe Records, and Marguerite Hoerberg of HotHouse Chicago (all from the U.S.).

Outstanding Cuban singer Idania Valdés is gifted with a powerful voice. Photo: CubaSI

The opening concert of Primera Línea 2017, in the Teatro Martí, featured Ruy López-Nussa and his group La Academia, as well as special guests such as singer Beatriz Márquez; pianists Ernán and Harold López-Nussa, and Alejandro Falcón; and percussionists Iván Ivanovich, Alejandro Aguiar, Janet Rodríguez, Natalí Chongo, and Ricardo Cabrera.

This stellar start gave way to the showcases - short 45-minute concerts in the two halls of the La Plaza Cultural Center - of 16 groups (selected from among 150 proposals), that showcased the variety of genres of Cuban music: Ruy López Nussa himself, Joven Jazz Band, Emilio Morales & los Nuevo Amigos, Michel Herrera & Madre Tierra, Achy Lang & Afrocuba, and William Roblejo’s Trío (representing jazz); Eduardo Sosa (trova); Septeto Morena Son and Septeto Ecos del Tivolí (traditional son); Cubaclamé (danzón); Bárbara Llanes (lyrical singer); Maikel Dinza & Soneros de la Juventud (son); Orquesta de Cámara de La Habana (classical); Afroamérica (Cuban folklore); Idania Valdés (singer); and Alain Valdés (salsa).

(acuerdo-sony-egrem1) Edgar Berguer (left), chairman and CEO International of Sony Music Entertainment; EGREM Director General Mario Escalona (center), and Afo Verde (right), Sony Music Entertainment Chairman/CEO of Latin America, Spain and Portugal, signing the agreements between EGREM and Sony Music Entertainment, Havana, September 15, 2015. Photo: Oriol de la Cruz / AIN

The 19 specialized conferences and panels that were held as part of the Forum covered a broad range of themes, including: “The music industry’s contribution to inclusive and sustainable development. The case of Cuba, the island of music,” by the Project of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and Mincult, and the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA); “Cuban institutions’ cooperation models with international businesspeople,” presented by Endirecto from Spain and Cuba’s ICM; “Contemporary perspectives on concert music,” by Classical: NEXT of Germany and Cuba’s National Concert Music Center; “The Ticketing Project: An instrument for promotions and sales,” by Eventim, Spain; “New markets for Cuban music,” by María Semushkina from Russia and Cathy Barbash of the U.S.; and “Digital world,” a panel headed by EGREM Director General Mario Escalona.

Escalona, also a member of the 2017 Primera Línea Organizing Committee, agreed to talk to this publication regarding the objectives and results of this second edition.

Can we talk about the cultural industry concept?
For some years, there has been terminology that refers to the creative industries, including different lines, from the operation of facilities to the intangible, incorporated assets. Within the creative industries we talk about the cultural industries and within them the music industry.

The value chain of the Cuban music industry includes creation, production, distribution, and consumption. Each of these components has its own elements, for example, in creation there is artistic teaching; or everything that has to do with the 17,000 musicians recognized today by our Institute of Music; and forms of production (recording studios, copyrights, distribution and consumption). The Cuban music industry includes this value chain.

Are these aspects discussed in Primera Línea?
This is one of its fundamental objectives, to present the Cuban music industry that, incidentally, has already managed to define a strategy. I refer in this case to the Project of the Ministry of Culture and UNIDO, where means and ways for the coming years are presented.

Can you tell us more about this Project?

Mincult and UNIDO signed a contract last year on the basis of a donation from Korea’s International Cooperation Agency, of a figure that exceeds one million dollars, destined mainly for training, improvement of recording studio technology, and the design of a platform for the sale of digital music.

We recently had the opportunity to present the Project at the UNIDO offices in Vienna, and it was well received, to the point that we are already talking about a second stage after 2018, different donors are being sought, and it is possible that the 2018-2021 Project will soon be approved.

Is Primera Línea
a means to promote EGREM?

This production by EGREM, alongside Artex, has offered enriched experience to organize events of this nature and ensure an exchange of experience regarding the tools needed to be able to better export our products and ensure better distribution and promotion of Cuban music in the future. In the showcases we presented Morena Son and Echoes of Tivolí, and for them it has been satisfying. Following the performance by the female group, several Canadian businesspeople approached us with the purpose of signing them up to attend summer festivals. Therefore we already have a result, one of the objectives of this event.

Tell us about the panel organized by EGREM.

We called it “EGREM: Digital world,” and we addressed today’s trends and how they affect a musical company like ours. I should tell you that we have everything computerized and we are implementing all digital work systems, we have also started promotion through the web and we are now opening online sales. We are moving into digital media, for example, providing Cuban music to listen to digitally. Also a platform to download music, where through the Internet one can download an application and, with a discount, download songs to their phone.

Doesn’t EGREM have a contact with Sony Music?

That’s right, it’s another variant. The contract signed with Sony Music is for physical and digital albums. They have incorporated a website, “The Real Cuban Music,” which offers us the possibility of displaying our catalog, dormant for several years, in the most important distribution networks. Different projects have been presented in Latin America, the United Kingdom, Japan, Eastern Europe. I am referring to a collection of six albums with rhythms such as cha cha chá, guajira, son, nueva trova. It’s a compilation that has what is called a list of songs and also a DVD that shows how to dance those genres, combining music and dance. The worldwide release by Sony Music last May was a real event.

Some highlights of Primera Línea in general?

In addition to the academy, the commercial agreements that have been established thanks to the six Cuban stands (including those of EGREM, Colibrí and Artex), and two foreign stands – Endirecto, which focuses on promotion, distribution and live music performances – and something new, with the ticketing agency, which is dedicated to online sales of event tickets.

We are seeking to cover all kinds of events in Cuba and are even trying to incorporate the cultural centers of both EGREM and Artex, so that those interested can discover what is happening every day, be it jazz, trova, or salsa.

The second edition of the Primera Línea International Music Forum provided another showcase of the Cuban music industry, an event already proving to offer palpable results both in terms of the promotion of live performers, digital music, and knowledge of new technological tools.