A packed audience at the Seven Arts Centre in Chapel Allerton in Leeds were enthralled with a virtuoso performance by the legendary Cuban jazz violinist Omar Puente in conversation with the Yorkshire journalist, Peter Lazenby.
Omar Puente, who was accompanied by the renowned Cuban pianist Jesus Batallan, has played the jazz violin across the world with such famous musicians including John Williams, Kirsty MacColl, Jools Holland, and Ruben Gonzalez, the Cuban pianist who was a member of the Buena Vista Social Club.
He told his Leeds audience that in Cuba the people “eat, drink, and live music” and that he is determined to pass on what he had learnt from his life in Cuba and the Cuban Revolution to young people in Yorkshire which he now regards as his second home.
Music, dance, art and sport are a central part of life in Cuba which believes that culture and sport has a role in building a better world, and the success of the film Buena Vista Social Club has attracted worldwide interest in Cuban music and Cuba where education is free for all citizens at all levels including university.
Omar described how he first arrived at Leeds Bradford airport in the fog without a word of English, no friends, and no money but he had come to Yorkshire to be with his wife Debbie Purdy who he met in Singapore where she was working as a music journalist.
He was born in 1961 in Santiago de Cuba during the Cuban revolution where his father was a doctor and his mother a nurse. He first became interested in music when as a child he was given a violin which had been passed down through three generations of his family. When he was a teenager his mother insisted his family moved to Havana so he could continue his musical education.
Omar spoke of his work with young people in schools in Yorkshire and as a lecturer in the jazz violin at the Leeds College of Music where he said he had taught students from across the world and had learnt so much from them.
He described his visit to Africa, to Ghana and Nigeria, which had been a big influence on his music and especially how Cuban music had been shaped by a combination of African rhythm and Spanish harmony.
Although he has played and taught jazz all over the world, across Europe, Africa, and the Far East and from Los Angeles to New York’s Central Park in the United States, he said how much he has valued his time in Yorkshire where he has lived with his wife Debbie in Bradford since 1997 and of the influence on his music of the multicultural community of Yorkshire.
The atmosphere was electric in the very special venue of the Seven Arts Centre in Chapel Allerton as Omar almost raised the roof as he made his violin talk and sing before an audience spellbound by his music.