Cuban group visits Seoul for first time

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Cuban group visits Seoul for first time

The Grammy Award winning group Los Van Van is coming to Seoul for the first time. If the Buena Vista Social Club contributed to bringing traditional Cuban music to the world, Los Van Van contributed to developing the country’s modern music.
Los Van Van, literally meaning “Go Go,” was established by Juan Formell, a bassist, in 1969. The band now consists of 18 members, including Formell’s son Samuel who plays contrabass.
Los Van Van was the first band that used electric instruments to play Cuban music. At first the band drew anger from Cuban audiences who considered it was corrupting their traditional music.
“I thought any element which can make people dance, including electric instruments, is needed for our music,” wrote Formell in an e-mail interview with the JoongAng Daily. “Our music added dynamic rhythms and various timbres to Cuban traditional dance music. I have a talent in making people dance,” he added.
Los Van Van plays music in various genres: son, songo, timba, afro-Cuban jazz, pop and rap. Songo, which the band developed, is a modern version of son, the traditional African-style music played in Cuba.
“From Cuban radio, I listened to all kinds of music, and every aspect of them affected me. I like Brazilian music, instrumental music, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, The Beatles and more. Rock & roll and pop music inspired Los Van Van’s modern side,” wrote Formell.
But generally, it is Cuba that inspires the group’s music. “Cuban society, people, their lives, their pain and their joy” make Los Van Van’s music, Formell explained. Through the music, he said the group wants to express the Cuban people and their lives. However, “You don’t have to understand Spanish to enjoy our music,” he emphasized. “We perform internationally and we communicate with people with our music, not just with our lyrics. Bring an open mind and your soul to the concert. Don’t try to follow our lyrics with your head. Let your soul dance with our music,” he added.
Because of political reasons, it’s difficult to access Los Van Van’s CDs outside of Cuba, particularly in Korea, which doesn’t have diplomatic relations with the nation. A couple of its albums, imported through a European license, were sold in Korea a few years ago, but it’s hard to find any for sale currently. That’s why communicating with the audience is one of the most important things for the group, Formell said. “This live concert will probably be the only way for us to meet Koreans with our music,” he added.
Los Van Van plans to perform about 10 songs including “Yo No Me Explico Lo Que Tiene” and “Aqui El Que Baila Gana.”

by Park Sung-ha

The concert starts at 8 p.m. on Wednesday in the Concert Hall of the Seoul Arts Center, southern Seoul. Tickets cost 30,000 won ($31), 50,000 won and 70,000 won. For more information, call (02) 2187-6221, or visit or
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