Mozart y Mambo - Cuban Dances

"If you can’t dance it, you can’t play it"

Mozart y Mambo – Cuban Dances

“If you can’t dance it, you can’t play it”

Thank goodness Mozart wrote four horn concertos! It has meant that the collaboration with my beloved Havana Lyceum Orchestra continues and this new album is the natural progression of our original “Mozart y Mambo” project.

It was such a pleasure to record the first album in Cuba with a Cuban orchestra, showcasing Mozart along with Cuban rhythms in a glorious mixture of the two. The Cubans love and revere Mozart, hence the statue of Mozart in Havana’s Vieja and their firm belief that ‘Mozart would have been a good Cuban’.

We were so proud – and thrilled – at the incredible global reaction to the first “Mozart y Mambo” album. We were able to raise awareness for the wonderful classical music-making which is going on in Cuba while also making people smile and dance to our mambos.For the concept of this follow-up album, I of course wanted to continue with the rest of the Mozart horn concertos. On this album you will hear the 1st and 2nd – but how else could I share more of my passion for Cuban music? So together with my musical soulmate, conductor José Antonio Méndez Padrón, we decided that next we wanted to showcase the roots and traditions of Cuban music and that the best way to do this would be with an original work.

I commissioned six talented young Cuban composers to write the first ever Cuban horn concerto and thus “Cuban Dances” for solo horn, strings and percussion was born. With “Cuban Dances”, we have created a musical map of Cuba and its musical heritage in six movements from six different areas in Cuba. The result is a fresh and modern adaptation of Cuba’s most well known dances.

Preparing and playing these dances – the Son, Danzón, Guaguancó, Bolero, Cha-cha-chá and Changüí – has been one of my greatest challenges to date. It’s not just the tricky technical horn playing but also because my Cuban friends told me “if you can’t dance them, you can’t play them”. How right they were.

Learning the dances and feeling them in my own body, really helped me dive deeper into Cuban culture. Music is their language – a language which goes beyond words. It’s made up of powerful rhythms which create a whole state of mind expressed by dancing. Everyone dances everywhere in Cuba – it’s vital and fundamental for the Cuban way of life. And I love it. My hope is that together we have created a work that will find a place in Cuban music history.

As well as Cuban Dances and the Mozart Horn Concertos Nr 1 and 2, we also have two more fabulous arrangements by Jorge Aragón of two classic Cuban songs – Viente Años and El Bodeguero. The soloist in Viente Años is the wonderful Carlos Calunga, who was one of the original Buena Vista Club singers – his rendition of this song is heart-stopping. El Bodeguero is pure joy – one of my favourite songs of all time and this arrangement is simply stunning. And then…the very last track is a little encore and we are sure it will make you smile. We hope you enjoy Volume 2 of Mozart y Mambo as much as we enjoyed playing – and dancing it of course!

Sarah Willis, Havana 2022