Our Performers


The name figuratively translates into “brown sugar”, and it corresponds to one of the hottest bands in Cuba right now. Known as the “sweetest of all Cuban orchestras”, Azúcar Negra’s accomplished musicians put on a show that will leave you speechless. Led by director and composer Leonel Limonta, they represent the sound of contemporary Cuban music merged with the island’s entertainment concept: they can play, they can sing and they can dance!


Known as “el Poeta de la Timba”, Mr. Limonta has left his imprint on Cuban music ever since creating the lyrics of Timba anthem “Nube Pasajera”, which became a wild hit in the style of La Charanga Habanera. A vast array of beautiful songs comprises the legacy of this naturally gifted artist who turns everything he touches into musical bliss. Whether you understand Español or not, the genius of Limonta’s lyrical creativity transpires through his music; that’s why you cannot afford to miss Azucar Negra’s performance on October 19th, closing the 1st edition of the Vancouver Cuban Music Festival in exuberant fashion.


The Cuban music diva has been given an evening all to herself because she’s just immense. Come find out for yourself why one should never, ever, ever, have any other singer share the stage with la Pantoja de Cuba. Wholeheartedly beloved by the Cuban people, la diva del pueblo loves interacting with the audience in every presentation. With a sense of humour that transcends language barriers added to her unsurmountable singing talent, Tania will conquer your heart accompanied by a 13-piece band on October 17.


Respected and admired all over the island of Cuba, el Indio (as he likes to be called, in reference to his part-aboriginal Cuban descent) made a big name for himself during his years as lead singer of superband Manolito y su Trabuco. Considered a natural sonero, that is, a person gifted with the ability of lending songs a distinctive touch of cubanía, Mr. Llorente is now committing his talent only to the best and most representative of Cuban music excellence, which is why he happily agreed to come to the VCMF.


Simply put, Pedrito Calvo is by all measuring standards a living legend of Cuban music. We are immensely proud to present this iconic figure who through his 30 years as lead singer of Cuba’s most important band, Los Van Van, not only kept a whole nation dancing to the most revolutionary melodies ever conceived in the past five decades of Latin music, but also helped shape the identity of today’s Cubans. His concert will also be a tribute to the legacy he represents.


Waldo’s meteoric rise to fame after his departure from timba powerhouse Tumbao Habana has been due to the fact that in his home country, it’s only your talent what matters. His solo career has allowed him to unleash his vast sources of creativity and versatility, evident in the ease with which he can interpret different music genres, and his prolific succession of highly acclaimed albums. For his Vancouver appearance, Waldo brings a lively repertoire of contemporary Cuban music, and his magical voice.


After graduating from the ISA (Instituto Superior de Artes) in Havana with a singing degree, Gardi found himself sharing the stage with renown figures of Cuban music such as Omara Portuondo, Compay Segundo, Pío Leyva, Elíades Ochoa, Klímax, and Los Van Van, to name but a few. Whether it be traditional or contemporary style, he’s comfortable and extremely good at it. No wonder why Maraca and Cubanismo brought him along at some point in their projects, but Gardi went solo when the time was right and now he’s earned nation-wide recognition in Cuba as one of the leading voices of the younger generations.


Pablo Cárdenas’ Afro-Latin Groove is a band that focus mostly on Latin jazz and Cuban jazz, with heavy african roots but also with a lot of influences from European folklore and classical music. Although one of their purposes is to rescue the traditional Latin jazz sound, they do allow the influence of modern sounds and tendencies to make their show an interesting fusion where Cuban music, jazz, and classical music are the principal elements. Cuban-born Pablo Cárdenas has amassed an extensive experience in the world of jazz and has performed alongside prominent Cuban, American and Canadian musicians.


Israel (Toto) Berriel, is a traditional Afro-Cuban percussionist and vocalist from Matanzas, Cuba. He played with the world’s best-known Rumba group, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, for twelve years learning the entire AfroCuban repertoire. A naturally gifted vocalist with a distinctive sound, easy charm and Cuban warmth, Toto is an exceptional performer. Although Toto is deeply rooted in the Afro-Cuban traditions, he is also comfortable in different musical environments such as jazz, soul and funk amongst others. Toto has toured worldwide in countries such as Canada, the United States, Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Spain, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France and Korea to name a few.


Ezeadi is widely acknowledged as the founder of the African cultural movement in Vancouver. Since the late 70’s, he’s been promoting not only the culture of his native Nigeria, but also pretty much that of every country from the African continent through the organization of concerts, events, workshops, setting up radio shows in different stations and presenting international artists. A performer himself, he has showcased his skills as a multi-instrumentalist and has been invited to share the stage and open for artists like Salif Keita.


(A.K.A. Karlos Reyes): Born and raised in Cuba, DJ Kubanito is passionate about Cuban music and dance. His charisma and contagious smile always get the crowds moving. Since immigrating to Canada in 2003, he has instructed Cuban dance lessons and catered to diverse audiences while DJing at numerous daytime and nighttime events. As official DJ of the 2014 Vancouver Cuban Music Festival, Kubanito will spin an exquisite mix of traditional and contemporary Cuban tunes during the four days of celebration.


Former So You Think You Can Dance Canada finalist Arassay Reyes makes a very special appearance at the Kids Talent Show on Sunday. It’s hard not to feel inspired when you see Arassay perform. During her years at the Escuela Nacional de Arte in Cuba, she trained rigorously with the best teachers in modern, contemporary, Latin, and folk dance, as well as gymnastics, artistic movement, and choreography. She choreographs her own shows, highlighting her emotionally expressive fusion style. Arassay is an intuitive and dedicated dance coach and teacher; she is a creative and unique choreographer; and as a performer, there is simply no one else like her. For Arassay, dance is her life: the physical, emotional, and spiritual expression of her body and soul.


Kids Talent Show: this is an all-ages event. Yes! Bring your kids, nieces, nephews, little cousins and your whole family if you like! We want our younger generations to understand and enjoy Cuban music. Come check out the Kids Talent Show on Sunday at Performance Works!


Upcoming piano sensation Ilhan Saferali is an 11 year old Vancouver-born young musician inspired by the late Rubén González. At the age of four, he started Cuban music lessons with Cynthia Rodriguez. Ilhan has performed with many world-renowned musicians such as jazz legend Chucho Valdéz, Pablo Cárdenas, Miguelito Valdéz, Israel “Toto” Berriel, John Benítez, the Lion’s Gate Symphonic Orchestra led by Clyde Mitchell and many more. He has performed at the Victoria Jazz Festival, Cory Weed’s Cellar Jazz, Harmony Arts Festival and the Shadbolt Center. He has won several piano competitions and received a gold medal for highest mark in British Colombia for the Royal Conservatory Of Music. He is also studying classical music at the Banno music studio and is enrolled in the Jazz summer program at VSO. He regularly performs with Israel “Toto” Berriel.


This group of vivacious young dancers stem from New Westminster Secondary School including one honourary member from Templeton Secondary in Vancouver. The New Westminster students are all members of the Salsa Caliente Dance Club where they discovered their love of Rueda de Casino (a traditional Cuban dance) and other forms of salsa. All members are talented, energetic and ready to show Vancouver what the next generation of dancers in this city are capable of!


You heard it: Ireland in Cuba via West Africa! Why not? In Ireland, the Celts dance the rhythms of their Irish homeland and yet still echo their African roots. Reverberating around the globe, the Orishas in Cuba feel this beat and identify with the hybrid rhythms of their own geographical migration and cultural evolution. The result….they are drawn together in a celebration of our diversity and our commonality through the language of world rhythm.


Tambai means “dance” in the Shona language and that is what audiences want to do when they hear this band of 7 talented young artists aged 12 to 17. Tambai have been performing their lively and joyful marimba music, which is rooted in the Zimbabwean marimba tradition, for the last two years. Under the guidance of Robin Layne, the group has developed an exciting and highly entertaining repertoire, which include their own original compositions. Tambai’s rhythmic and tuneful music, performed with youthful enthusiasm, is a joy to hear and to see. For their appearance at the VCMF, Tambai promises a contagious performance as they’ll infuse their repertoire with Cuban melodies!

Dance Instructors


Karlos Reyes was born in Cuba where music and dancing is as important to life as food and water! From the early age of 12 it was already evident that Karlos not only loved to dance but that he was exceptionally good at it. “Like family and friends, dancing is food for the soul! No one can be unhappy and dance at the same time!” says Karlos. His students and friends find it almost impossible not to be caught up in his infectious energy for dancing. Karlos regularly returns to Cuba to visit family and friends. While there he always sets aside time to connect with key figures in the music and dance industry to update his repertoire of moves and for inspiration.


Mike, as he’s known in the community, fell in love with Cuban dancing in 2002 in Santiago de Cuba. In 2004, he was then trained as an instructor by Dos con Dos dance school in Quebec City. Michael´s extensive training in facilitation contributes to the positive and inclusive learning environment in his classes. He is particularly skilled at giving precise feedback and balancing group and individual needs. Michael, who came to salsa as a foreigner (or yuma), is grateful to be working with this powerful form of cultural expression. He sees Cuban Salsa as a way to experience joy and connection as well as an avenue for social change and personal development.


Julio was born into a family that is completely obsessed with music and dance. He grew up in the city of Santiago de Cuba and lived in neighborhoods renowned for their strong traditions of Conga, Son, Afro-Haitian rhythms and other ancestral manifestations. In his methodology, he incorporates the skills acquired in Teachers’ College back in Cuba. Julio’s main goal is to pass on the rhythmic legacy he has inherited, as well as the positive values associated with Afro-Latin-Caribbean culture. “We need to appreciate our bodies and rid our minds off culturally-induced constraints that limit our sense of happiness”, he says. He has taught in Japan, France, Norway, Greece, Turkey, Croatia and Cyprus.