Cuban Film Feature: Chucho Valdés Improvises Musical Score

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Monday April 03, 2017


Film Feature: Grammy Winner Chucho Valdés On Improvising the Musical Score for Cuban Film ‘Esteban’
By: Manuel Betancourt

he Havana Film Festival New York kicked off its 18th annual program with Jonal Cosculluela’s inspiring Esteban. The movie tells the rousing story of a young Afro-Cuban boy (Reynaldo Guanche) who suddenly becomes inspired to learn how to play the piano even though he cannot afford to pay the old, cranky teacher (Hugo, played by Manuel Porto) who realizes how talented the boy really is. Esteban scrounges up money for his lessons, fights with his single mother who cannot wrap her head around this random obsession, and begins getting better and better. It all culminates, as all flicks like these always do, in a final heart-tugging performance. There was barely a dry eye in the house at HFFNY’s opening night ceremony at the DGA Theater, with many an audience member openly shedding happy tears once the credits rolled.

Part of what makes Esteban strike a chord is its spare but emotional musical score. Consisting solely of piano arrangements composed by none other than Grammy Award-winner and Cuban musical icon Chucho Valdés. On hand to present the film alongside his director, Valdés was visibly moved when sharing how every piece he wrote for the movie was performed on his own Steinway piano which is signed by his own father, Bebo Valdés. It’s a detail made all the more significant given that the guy who sold him the piano didn’t even know about it. Talk about meant to be!

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