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KoSA Cuba's "Live from Havana" is a Historic First

Sep 27, 2021, 08:00 AM by Rhythm Scene Staff

KoSA’s co-founders and directors wanted to do something different to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their internationally recognized KoSA Cuba workshop. As travel sadly was still not possible due to the flight restrictions imposed by the pandemic, they needed to figure out a way to bring Cuba to their loyal participants this year safely, while simultaneously helping the incredibly talented Cuban musicians who, like everyone else, were affected by the sudden halt of their industry.

“Live from Havana,” held June 26–27, 2021, can best be described as a unique and historical feat for KoSA Music. After countless trials to see if such an event could actually be pulled off successfully, Aldo Mazza developed a program and a method to deliver live music classes in real time from Havana. The two-day intensive went off without a hitch, and it was truly a life-changing experience, not only for the attendees, but also for the Faculty/Artists in Cuba, as many of these artists had never used Zoom before or ever taught an online class to participants. Attendees ranging in age from 20 to 88 appeared on screen from all over the U.S., Canada, and Europe. For many, this was the first experience learning about the music and various rhythms of this magical island, and what an experience it was learning directly from all these legends right from Havana!

The program began with a highly informative session by musicologist Dr. Olavo Alen Rodriguez, who presented a highly colorful and entertaining seminar on the history of Cuban music. This was followed by the renowned drummer Horacio Hernandez (Santana), who put participants through a rigorous workout of clave drum set independence exercises. 

After lunch, the program continued with the legendary percussionist Changuito (the creator of songo), who taught independence and soloing concepts on timbales. This was followed by the incomparable Oliver Valdes (studio legend) who discussed the evolution of songo, as wells as Afro and Latin jazz styles on drum set. The last class of the day was led by the highly talented Enrique Pla (Irakere), who demonstrated how to play Cuban rhythms using sticks, brushes, and hot rods.

After each class, a question-and-answer period and hang was scheduled with the faculty and attendees. The icing on the cake was the special guest appearance that day by acclaimed drummer Dennis Chambers (Santana) and the esteemed drummer and percussionist Walfredo de los Reys Sr. (Tito Puente), who spoke about his life experience as a Cuban who also lived a huge part of his life as a successful musician in the U.S. He shared his stories and recounted experiences over the course of his six-decade-long career as a prominent and active Cuban musician.

The next day, the KoSA workshop began with composer, drummer, and Artistic Director of the famed “Fiesta del Tambor” Giraldo Piloto (Klimax), who addressed the concept of the timba style. Yaroldy Abreu (Chucho Valdes) next shared his masterful knowledge on conga rhythms and techniques as well as his approach to playing the guiro. Other memorable presentations were given by Samuel Formel (Los Van Van), who took participants through the evolution of the songo style and his own personal development and approach of this style with Los Van Van. The final presentation did not disappoint as the celebrated drummer Rodney Barreto (Chucho Valdes) gave an outstanding presentation on the influence of funk in timba and Cuban language on drum set.

Participants throughout the weekend also had a chance to win door prizes thanks to the sponsors of this year’s event, which included Sabian, Pearl, Gretsch, LP, D’Addario, and Canadian Musician. While KoSA hopes to return in person and in Cuba for its next scheduled event — the first week of March 2022 — this virtual rendition was as good as it can get according to one young participant from the U.S., who aptly wrote, “The level of expression and enthusiasm could be felt through the screen, and I found it interesting to learn about the complex culture of Cuban music. Once again, I thank you!”

For more information on all things KoSA, visit and Click here to check out a short video of the KoSA Cuba 2021 highlights:

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