Our trip to Cuba was a success beyond expectation. Having never set foot outside their country before, the four Malian children proved to be brilliant travellers, and quickly adapted to life in Havana staying at the hall of residence for young ballet dancers. Under the watchful guidance of virtuoso balafon player Lassana Diabate, and performing on stage for only the second time in their lives, they dazzled audiences with their musical skills and incredible professionalism. They were joined by many of the Cuban children who took part in our Growing into Music project, who also demonstrated astonishing musicality, especially given their very young age.
Malians and Cubans participated together in a series of music workshops, where they taught each other songs from their respective repertoires. Shy at first, by the end of the trip they all became great friends, overcoming language barriers and having loads of fun!
Mali-Cuba was presented in several venues in both Havana and Matanzas, and ended with a final showcase at the opening of the newly refurbished Miramar Theatre in front of an audience of several hundred children and their families. It was the culmination of ten days of exciting and unique exchange of musical experience and ideas between children of two continents, in which their musical growth was evident on a daily basis.
The four Malian children and Lassana Diabaté are now back in Mali, and of course we are all very worried about the current unstable situation in the country, following the military coup that happened only 12 hours after the children and Lassana had left Bamako. We are in touch with them and they are all well, with happy memories of their time in Cuba, but anxious about the unfolding events at home and their impact on the once vibrant music scene.
Written by the Mali-Cuba team in April 2012