KoSA Music Celebrates 20 Years of Workshops in Cuba
NAMM Member, KoSA Music recently celebrated 20 years of expanding music education and exposing the world to a vibrant music and cultural experiences through its Cuba-based workshops.
KoSa Music was founded in 1996 by performing drummer, educator, and author, Aldo Mazza and Dr. Jolán Kovács, a performing classical violinist, pianist, and university professor. The duo desired to bring attention to music and all its positive power to as many people as possible through week-long, hands-on programs in North America, which have since grown beyond Canada and the U.S. to include programs in China, Italy, and Cuba. At each KoSA event, individuals of all levels and experiences can live, learn, and play with top artists from around the world. Operating under the motto of “Live-Breathe-Play,” the workshops, camps, and festivals include a total percussion environment with classes in all areas of drums and percussion, including traditional drumset, African, Brazilian, classical, Cuban, Indian, and more. The curriculum offers intensive, hands-on classes, all taught by legends in their respective fields. Instructors include recognizable names like Alex Acuna, Kenny Aronoff, James Campbell, Dennis Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, George Gaber, Steve Gadd, Richie Garcia, Horacio Hernandez, Giovanni Hidalgo, Rich Holly, Arnie Lang, Joe Morello, Neil Peart, Dave Samuels, Steve Smith, Leigh Stevens, and many more.
We sat down with Aldo Mazza, founder and artistic director of KoSA Music, to discuss the platinum anniversary of the of program in Cuba.
What was the motivation to start the workshops in Cuba?
I have been a very active artist, performer, recording musician, and cultural entrepreneur for most of my life. Since 1996, we have facilitated weeklong camps and festivals, known as the KoSA International Percussion Workshop-Drum Camp and Festival in North America, with tremendous success. Our faculty were some of the top artists on the planet, and we began to look for ways to bring this success to other countries. Following a trip to Cuba, where I met drummer, composer, and bandleader Giraldo Piloto, I saw the opportunity to team up with some of the nation’s best artists and offer an annual workshop focused on Cuban music. KoSA Cuba Workshop was created in 2001 and quickly led to a collaboration with Piloto and his ‘Fiesta del Tambo / The Havana Rhythm and Dance Festival.’ We have since added a second workshop-festival in Matanzas, Cuba. We are so excited to have the opportunity to continue our mission, offering an intense learning and cultural experience with the very artists who have been the creators and proponents of this music. It does not get more authentic than this!
I believe Aldo Mazza and KoSA have created and host a fabulous international workshop for Cuban music. KoSA Music and the Fiesta del Tambor collaboration has created musical and cultural adventures which have resulted in the most important percussion event in Cuba. I have collaborated with Aldo Mazza for many years, and I applaud the energy, work, and interest he has shared as he builds bridges and expands the community.
Beyond opportunities to play, what else is part of your workshops?
In our Vermont workshops, aside from the focused individual classes, we offer special classes in the business of music, career seminars, and daily rhythm section classes where participants played with our KoSA rhythm section, jamming and getting feedback from other professionals. Each evening of the week-long camp, we open to the public and hold a KoSA Festival concert series that features our faculty performing with the band. Participants also prepare all week to perform in their own finale concert. Since the start of this project in Vermont, we have produced five live CD commercial recordings and a three-hour educational & performance DVD featuring faculty members such as Giovanni Hidalgo, Bernard Purdie, Antonio Sanchez, Ed Soph, Glen Velez, and many others.
The Cuban extension of the program features scheduled classes, playing sessions, special seminars, and outings in Havana. In the evenings, we take our group to attend the concerts at the Fiesta del Tambor, thanks to a collaborative effort by the festival's founder and artistic director, Giraldo Piloto. Fiesta del Tambor features groups such as Chucho Valdes, Klimax, Los Van Van, national dance companies, the traditional group Los Moniquitos de Matanzas, and many more.
In 2015, we welcomed the addition of Sabian and Gon Bops as sponsors and now recognize their contributions with a Sabian Night, where I coordinate featured performances from their endorsed artists and other special international guests. A drumming competition features different categories including drum set, congas, timbales, bongo, and Bata drums. During the festival week, hundreds of students of various ages compete and are judged by six drum/percussion artists. Winners then earn an invitation to perform in front of the 4,000 spectators in the final concert and a new instrument in their respective category. For twenty years, KoSA Music has provided instrument prizes to the winners. These instruments are brought from North America and provide Cuban artists with an opportunity to own instruments not readily available in the country. In the last six years, we have been fortunate to have support from NAMM Members like Sabian/Gonbops, Aquarian, Evans, Ludwig, Pearl, Promark, and Yamaha. Each has supplied the instruments and funding to help facilitate the workshops. We have since built a cultural bridge with Cuba, but we have also established a legal channel for musicians in Cuba to purchase instruments right in their country.
The 2021 workshop was on Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on travel. How did the online workshop turn out?
Our workshop is traditionally the first week of March in Havana, and a new one has just begun each April in Matanzas, Cuba. In March 2020, we canceled both events due to COVID-19. Since we had to cancel two consecutive years of the Havana workshop and festival, we decided this past summer to explore holding the KoSA Cuba workshop live online with all the masters who usually are on faculty. We dedicated several months to test the technology and logistics and finally hosted our KoSA Cuba two-day live virtual intensive with great success. We had legends on the faculty like Yaroldy Abreu, Rodney Barreto, Changuito, Samuel Formell, Horacio Hernandez, Enrique Pla, Oliver Valdes, and musicologist Dr. Olavo Rodriguez. We invited the legendary Cuban drummer Walfredo Reyes Sr. to join us for our in-between class hangs and Q&A moments since he is a living history and bridge between the U.S. and Cuba, especially in the late '50s and early ’60s. We also had surprise guest Dennis Chambers join us in the event to hang with everyone.
The workshops of KoSA in Cuba are a way to keep our roots alive and let the new generation know that the Cuban percussion and the Cuban drums style have a lot of information and powerful rhythms. When Aldo invited me to participate, I wanted to be involved.
When Aldo Mazza called me and told me about this idea, my decision was instantaneous. It’s been amazing to unite the ties and musical knowledge of this instrument. I congratulate Aldo for this opportunity, and hopefully, we can once again gather and share our love for Cuban music. I thank him for having the percussionists and drums of Cuba in mind.
It has been with great pleasure that I am involved with this workshop. I respect the great work that Aldo Mazza and KoSA Music have done to bring groups to Cuba, organizing workshops with people worldwide to teach and exchange our concepts, history, and music. I was thrilled to be part of the online version of this event, a true pioneering moment for Cuba.
I have been a part of KOSA Cuba since the beginning, and I have learned a lot of teaching and pedagogy strategies over the years that I have been able to share with great percussionists and musicians from many parts of the world. When I received a call from Aldo and he told me about hosting KoSA Cuba online, it seemed wonderful. Aldo has always had that vision to help, and I think it was a great idea to gather who live in Havana to help the world experience what Cuba has to offer.
Are you planning to return to in-person workshops?
We are planning a return to in-person workshops and trips to Cuba in March and April of 2022, assuming travel is open and safe to do so. If COVID is still hampering the in-person possibilities, we will continue our live online events as we did this year and develop other interesting online events with Cuba.
What is the impact of these workshops on Cuba’s music scene?
The music scene in Cuba (aside from the COVID-era) is massive and extremely vibrant. The people who attend the KoSA Cuba Workshop are individuals from the US, Canada, Europe, Asia, and South America, all coming to Cuba to have a top-shelf musical and cultural experience. While we are not tour guides, we are artists and active musicians who have developed deep and long-standing relationships with other artists, organizations, and individuals in Cuba. Attendees benefit from these connections by getting a professional and authentic experience through music, history, and cultural context. While Cuba may be a small island, it possesses a musical presence that has been the envy of the artistic world.
What can NAMM Members do to get involved and promote the workshops?
KoSA is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and for many years we have worked to create the 'ultimate experience' regardless of the project cost. In Cuba, this is particularly challenging, but we have made it our mission to provide an Olympic-level experience to all involved and increase access for Cubans to have to the same products, instruments, and possibilities available to us here. I encourage NAMM Members to consider making a tax-deductible donation to KoSA Music and consider assisting us in providing product options for musicians in Cuba. Early on, I brought down much of the product from my personal warehouse to give to musicians who seriously needed the instruments. Now, we have a warehouse in Havana for our workshops and backline. NAMM Members can also help by understanding that music education is critical. This is our core philosophy, and Members can help by even just sharing our marketing with their networks and customers. The more people play, create, and invest in their musical education, the more the industry will benefit in the long run.