By David DeRocco
What’s the best way to take the chill off a cold winter night in St. Catharines? Try some hot Latin rhythms administered by Jane Bunnett and company during her special performance at Brock University February 9th.
Fans are intimately familiar with the often fiery Afro Cuban musical stylings preferred the talented Bunnett, a five-time JUNO Award winner, three-time Grammy nominee and celebrated Officer of the Order of Canada. For the past 35 years, Bunnett has been a passionate champion of the music she feel instantly in love with during her first trip to the island nearly four decades ago.
“Right off it was the music,” said Bunnett, leader of the award-winning musical collective known as Maqueque. “There was so much music from the moment we got there. There was a band in the airport. There was a band playing onto the bus. When we stopped in Santiago an hour and a half there was a band in the hotel. All of them playing different styles of music with different instrumentation. It was totally eye-opening. We kept going back and learning more and more.”
That immersive education in Latin music eventually lead Bunnett to record the groundbreaking 1991 Spirits of Havana, which helped introduce North American audiences to such celebrated artists as David Virelles, Dafnis Prieto, Pedrito Martinez, Elio Villafranca, Yosvany Terry, Francisco Mela, Hilario Duran and others. A series of subsequent CD releases continued to evolve her signature sound, a hybrid of modern jazz and traditional and contemporary Cuban music that has thrilled audiences the world over.
For the special show at Brock, Bunnett is teaming up with some of her regular collaborators to deliver a performance she says will be a great musical introduction for anyone who is still unfamiliar with the intoxicating power of Latin rhythms.
“The one we’re bringing to Brock is called Cuban Rhapsody,” said Bunnett, a self-described rebel of a woman who bounced around multiple high schools before finding creative stability as a young clarinet/flute playing music lover. “It’s kind of made up of two groups. The Spirit of Havana group that my husband and I have been running for about 35 years. And also two members of Maqueque, three if you count me. It’s going to be a potpourri of everything, a compilation of all the kinds of Cuban sounds I’ve made over the years. This would be a good show to see. I’m putting something really unique together.”
The Brock show is just one more stop on a lifelong journey Bunnett has been enjoying since casting aside her rebel ways and committing to her instrument fulltime as a teen. And after years of performances, CD and documentary development, endless travels and countless awards, Bunnett admits she’s still surprised where the road has lead her.
“I think it’s kind of magical really, it seems like one of those things. I’ve gone all over the world. I’ve played a square in Marrakesh, Morocco with my saxophone. And the awards are truly amazing. The Order of Canada, that is just a pretty amazing one. I keep thinking of that ceremony and the people who were honoured. That was really special.”