Cheery Cuban rhythms remember loss

With eyes squeezed shut, it’s easy to picture summer in Cuba. And maybe this is what Jesus Hernandez Sanchez is trying to do.

With eyes squeezed shut, it’s easy to picture summer in Cuba.

And maybe this is what Jesus Hernandez Sanchez is trying to do.

Tucked in a doorway, outside the Yukon College residence where he’s staying, Valle Son’s guitarist shakes a pair of maracas.

He is gazing at the rain.

It’s the third time the Cuban band has visited the territory, but this time there are some new faces in the eight-piece group.

And Sanchez’s brother is no longer with them.

“My brother died two years ago in an attack in Cuba,” said Sanchez, his thick Spanish cadence surfacing.

“It was hard for us, but we have faced that.”

However, this was not the only loss the band faced in the last few years.

During Valle Son’s last North American tour, its tour manager had a heart attack and died.

“They gave us the best they had to make Valle Son go on,” said Sanchez.

“So we have to live for them.

“And most of the music we play was written or arranged by my brother.”

Returning to the residence hallway, Sanchez joins his bandmates and, with minimal gear, they make their way to the college pit.

A small string of coloured lanterns is tacked to the cement stairwell above the sunken stage area.

Chips and salsa are available on nearby tables.

The idea was Salsa with salsa, jokes an organizer.

From a few cases instruments emerge — a bassoon, a flute, bongo drums, a bass.

And Valle Son begins to warm up, as students drift in.

“All our music comes from our roots,” said Sanchez, whose father and grandfather are both musicians.

Valle Son plays its namesake traditional Cuban music — Son.

But by adding a bassoon to the mix, the band has given its music a unique feel.

“We want to go on playing traditional Cuban music, Salsa and other styles to maintain this line we are doing,” said Sanchez.

“And we are working hard to have a very outstanding recording.”

Six years ago, the idea of cutting a record was not a band priority.

“Havana has some professional studios, but it’s too far to travel and there is lots of competition,” said Sanchez, who lives in Vinales.

Besides, the band already plays five nights a week in Cuba, so promotion is not really a problem.

During one of its Cuban gigs, vacationing Yukon Arts Centre executive director Chris Dray saw Valle Son performing.

Dray was so impressed with the band he invited it North for Whitehorse’s inaugural Street Fest in 2000.

When Caribou Records manager David Petkovich heard the band, he asked if it would be interested in recording.

Three days later, Valle Son cut its first album.

“It’s difficult to record in Cuba, and they were grateful for the opportunity,” said Petkovich.

Caribou brought Valle Son back three years later to tour North America and cut another album.

“And it’s great, when they played at the Street Fest, there were about 600 people all getting down, dancing at Third and Main,” said Caribou office manager Kristina Mercs.

Until this year, Caribou had trouble shipping Valle Son’s CDs to Cuba.

“They had to send them down in people’s luggage,” said Sanchez.

“But now the Cuban government has made it easier.”

In the college pit, the band is ready to play.

A string of students from the daycare are sitting on the carpeted steps.

The singers grab some peculiar percussion instruments, including one that looks like a ribbed jar that’s played by running a stick over it.

Suddenly the grey day and the dull college tints disappear.

A guitar, called a Tres because it has three sets of two strings, picks up the melody.

The little kids bop their heads to the bongo beat.

And, by the second tune, the kids and their guardians are up dancing.

For some of Valle Son’s members, this is their first trip outside their country.

But by now, Sanchez is getting familiar with Whitehorse, a city that is about the same size as the band’s Cuban hometown.

“We come from a small place like this and we love this place — it’s our second home,” said Sanchez.

“There’s magic here.”

The band will be playing at its CD release on Friday night at Rotary Peace Park.

The show begins at 7 p.m.

Dancing shoes are recommended.