Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rock ’n’ roll intervention helps Cuban musicians

Rock 'n' roll intervention helps Cuban musicians
By Heath McCoy, Calgary Herald March 23, 2012

For the past five years Edmonton filmmaker and photographer Drew
McIntosh has been staging what he calls a "rock 'n' roll intervention"
for the benefit of the young people of central Cuba.

He's launched five punk rock tours through the region — featuring such
western Canadian club bands as 7 and 7 is, Slates and Hang Loose from
Edmonton, Kids on Fire from Winnipeg and Vancouver's Vicious Cycles —
something that was previously unheard of in that part of the world.

Perhaps more importantly, he's worked hard to help central Cuba build up
its own indie rock scene by donating instruments that were largely
inaccessible to musicians in the restrictive communist country. Twenty
electric guitars, a few drum kits, a couple of amps and assorted PA
parts have gone a long way to helping develop a budding Cuban rock

All the while he and a group of fellow photographers have captured
images from this mission, dubbed Solidarity Rock.

The best of those are on view Saturday at the House Gallery at 2607 35th
St. S.W. The Solidarity Rock photo exhibition will be followed by a
musical benefit at the Palomino Smokehouse that will feature popular
Calgary acts Forbidden Dimension and Miesha Louie of Miesha and the
Spanks, as well as Winnipeg's the Vibrating Beds.

Proceeds from the show will be used to send another shipment of musical
instruments into Cuba in April.

"This photography show highlights the first four years of the Solidarity
Rock project in Cuba," McIntosh says. "It captures the emergence of a
real rock 'n' roll movement in a nation that was rooted in tradition."

Adds the 32-year-old photographer: "Musicians from here have been able
to do some interesting things in that country and we've been able to
support the idea of free expression through art and creative
interaction. I think it's important to share these photos and this
visual representation of what we're doing in Cuba."

McIntosh formed Solidarity Rock in 2007 when he accompanied the band 7
and 7 is to the central Cuban city of Sancti Spiritus, where friends had
invited the group to play. McIntosh came to shoot a documentary of the

He was surprised to find that while there was a great desire for rock
music among the region's youth, they lacked the basic necessities needed
to start local bands.

"Even things like guitar strings just weren't available," McIntosh says.
Nor were microphones, cables and guitar picks.

"We put together a big care package with that stuff . . . and basically
filled in the gaps with the things they needed," he says. "And the idea
of a touring band, going from one town to another for a show, that was a
really big deal. Six or seven shows in a row was kind of beyond reach
for what people could do. . . . They didn't have access to a lot of

Relationships were fostered during the first Solidarity Rock tour and a
passion grew within McIntosh to build a music scene for the
rock-deprived Cuban youth.

"That's how this back and forth interaction started," McIntosh says.

"It's an interesting dynamic because when the (Communist) revolution
happened the government tried to instil a uniform Cuban culture. Things
like rock 'n' roll were illegal."

The fruits of Solidarity Rock's mission can be seen in the photo
exhibition, McIntosh says. The work of photographers Sandy Phimester,
also from Edmonton, Aaron Bocanegra from Los Angeles, and Cuba's own San
Reina Calvo will also be featured.

Meanwhile, McIntosh continues to make big plans for Solidarity Rock. He
hopes to bring a Cuban rock band called Arrabio to Canada in the near
future and he's taking a mobile recording studio to Cuba in the summer,
intent on recording three albums of Canadian and Cuban collaborations.

"You see kids that were really young the first time we came there with a
band, and they've learned that people can express themselves through
their music and take the world in their hands and live the way they want
to," McIntosh says, explaining his motivation to make Solidarity Rock
grow. "That's a really powerful thing."


The Solidarity Rock photo exhibition will be on view at the House
Gallery (2607 35th St. S.W.) from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday followed by a
concert at the Palomino Smokehouse.


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