La Luz Del Son: The Sound of Cuba Comes to Philly

This weekend, locals were treated to the arrival of a brand new band: La Luz Del Son, bringing the music of Cuba to the streets of Philadelphia.

Featuring 11 core musicians—five Philly locals and six Cubans—the group came to be when Temple alumni Jake Kelberman and Samuel Harris joined forces with Cuban tres player Nestor Manuel. Kelberman had been taking video lessons from Manuel, a master tresero who has played with Cuban bands all over the world. Kelberman, who also plays guitar in the band, describes the formation of the band as almost an accident. “Nestor and I had been speaking about him coming up to visit Philly,” he says, “and originally the plan was for him to just play with Sam and some local musicians, and one thing led to another. Sam decided to go all out, and Nestor connected us with some other great musicians.”

After months of planning coordinating schedules and travel for those musicians, the band convened for a weeklong flurry of activity. They met for two days of rehearsal before a Friday night concert at Church of St. Luke & the Epiphany in Center City. Kelberman arranged the concert in partnership with local nonprofit Artcinia, for whom he serves as co-artistic director. The performance celebrated the music of the late Cuban bandleader Adalberto Álvarez and featured Temple director of jazz studies and Grammy-winning trumpeter Terell Stafford.

Stafford was excited to contribute to the project and spoke effusively about the value of sharing music from other cultures and the opportunity to educate audiences. “A lot of us play Latin music,” said Stafford, but it’s very unique to bring in Cuban musicians who grew up in this culture, and they bring their culture, they bring their education, they bring their experience and share it with us.”

They performed again Sunday at Church of St. William in Lawncrest, that time without Stafford. After the two successful concerts, La Luz Del Son returned to their de facto home base at Notsolatin, a rehearsal and performance space in South Philadelphia. They spent Monday recording an album to begin the next phase of the project. The band recorded late into the night, trying to capture their essence in a single shot before the out-of-town contingent left Philadelphia on Tuesday.

The album will seek to kickstart the band’s ongoing life and showcase the joy and energy of Cuban music. According to the group’s musical director and other co-founder, Samuel Harris, sharing those qualities is exactly why the band exists. “I think everybody that I’ve ever met, when I’ve shown them timba or son [two Cuban musical styles] or anything, they hear it, they get transported to a different place,” says Harris. “I don’t think that happens with every kind of music.”

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