Trumpet player connects with Cuban musical styles

Sarah tancredi

Nick Marquez has returned from a trip to Cuba where he played the trumpet with the world-famous Afro-Cuban All Stars, and discovered a new appreciation for Cuban culture.

Marquez, a 22 year-old City College music major, went to Cuba to assist his older sister Jessie in recording her first solo album. Jessie sings and plays guitar in the nine-piece ensemble “Son Mala,” based in their hometown of Eugene, Ore.

“Cuba is only 95 miles away from the United States, but it seems like it could be worlds away,” Marquez said. “Most of us have misconceptions of what’s going on.”

Marquez’ father lived in Cuba for 15 years, and left after the 1959 revolution. Jessie managed to keep close connections with friends and musicians in Cuba.

She contacted the famous Afro-Cuban All Stars to assist her in the recording of her first solo project. The All Stars are a multi-generational big band, combining a variety of contrasting musical styles within a Cuban musical context. Band members agreed to participate in the project and began recording the first week in January.

Marquez assisted in the studio at least five hours a day, lending his six-year trumpet playing experience to many of the tracks.

Marquez jumped at the opportunity to perform with the Afro-Cuban All Stars, free-style rapping with them on stage at one of their shows. Local children would often ask him to freestyle rap for them. Hip-hop is an important part of the Cuban musical culture.

His younger brother Alex, a film student at USC, joined in on the family production. He documented the three-week recording sessions on film.

Before leaving the United States, the brothers had to receive a Humanitarian Aide license, one of the few legal travel options for United States citizens. The U.S. government’s embargo restricts travel opportunities to the island.

Marquez observed poverty in Cuba, one of the world’s few remaining communist countries, but insists on defending the positive aspects of the country.

“It’s not a place to be afraid of,” he said.

“I learned the history of the Afro-Cuban music, and the religion of Santeria,” Marquez said. “I learned the importance of family.”

Marquez said he grew up a lot.

“I realized how easy it is for me, especially being extremely liberal, how much we take for granted in the United States.”

Marquez said people in Cuba experience simple lives with out the commercialism that dominates America. He said it was a real culture shock returning to the U.S., after three weeks in a country where citizens do not have hot water for a shower.

“The simplicity of the way in which I live my life there is very important to me,” he said. “It was an eye-opening experience.”

If the opportunity arose, Marquez would love to share his Cuban experience with City College students in a presentation.

“I would love to answer questions of people’s perceptions of Cuba before seeing it,” Marquez said, “and tell students we take our freedom for granted, and how much we have on a daily basis.”

Marquez is finishing his final semester in the applied music program, and planning on transferring. Future aspirations include broadcast journalism, audio production, or being involved in music by blending rap, funk, and salsa.

“It is about combining your soul with what you’ve learned, technique-wise,” he said of his musical passion. “It’s about tapping into your soul.”