Celebration of Cuban grooves to start Bury St Edmunds Festival

Omar Puente
Omar Puente
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A big band with a ‘massive’ sound is preparing to descend on Bury St Edmunds in two weeks’ time.

Acclaimed Cuban violinist Omar Puente and his 10-piece high energy Raices Cubanos band is set to transform The Apex into a celebration of Cuban grooves at Bury Festival’s opening night gig on May 15.

“Seeing people smile, that makes me happy – good vibes and good feelings, job done,” said Omar, who loves seeing audience members dance during his performances.

“My plan is to combine the dance music and Latin jazz band sound to give them the option of listening or dancing to the music,” he said.

And though there is the chance to pick up a few salsa moves in a pre-gig dance class, how well anyone dances is much less important than how great they feel doing it.

“You don’t have to be specialist to have a good time,” said Omar.

“Some people feel a bit too shy to dance, but you know the main thing is for them to have a good time, and for me to have a good time as well.

“That’s the beauty of live music, you have the opportunity to interact with the crowd – you see them and they see you.

“I’m really looking forward to it to be honest, it’s going to be beautiful.”

The 53-year-old began playing violin at the age of five and could not be more passionate about music, something he says was ‘always part of the scenery’ growing up.

“You have to go to Cuba and see that music isn’t just music, it’s part of Cuban culture,” he said, enthusiastically enough to make anyone want to visit.

Learning the violin has become somewhat of a tradition in Omar’s family, one that has ‘put food on the table for three generations’.

It started when his grandfather, Manuel, a carpenter and joiner, was given the instrument by a rich family he worked for whose son had rejected it.

Playing that violin helped Omar’s father, a doctor, fund his medical training.

Next, it passed to Omar’s brother, then to Omar and, most recently, to one of Omar’s nephews, who is also a talented violinist.

“That violin is part of the family and is still putting food on tables,” said Omar who owns lots of violins, four, five and six strings, electric and acoustic.

A versatile violinist, he credits England’s multiculturalism with developing his sound and creating countless opportunities for him, from playing with a gospel choir and writing music for a ballet, to collaborating with African musicians.

He teaches in England, his home of nearly 20 years, as well as in Cuba, and sees it as a way of thanking his teachers.

His move to the UK, Bradford to be more precise, was pre-empted by meeting his late wife, Debbie Purdy, a music journalist who interviewed his band in 1995.

“Her Spanish was really poor and my English was really poor but we had passion for music and passion for jazz,” said Omar, still very much in love and still mourning her loss.

Many will remember Debbie, a multiple sclerosis sufferer, as the right-to-die campaigner who won a landmark ruling to clarify the law on assisted suicide before passing away last year.

Omar, who says she is the ‘most clever woman’ he has ever met, is currently working on her idea for an album, called Best Foot Forward.

“I’m entering a new chapter of my life, just taking it step-by-step – I have music in my brain to put onto paper,” he said.

Book tickets for all festival events at www.buryfestival.co.uk or by calling 01284 758000.