Monday, June 3, 2013

Beyoncé and Jay-Z go Soaning in Cuba

Beyoncé and Jay-Z greets a group of school children.

If you were cabbing around town last week, you just might have heard Jeopardy's Alex Trebek ask a contestant to what country Beyoncé and Jay-Z recently traveled—and attracted unwanted media attention.

The answer is Cuba and the back-story, this: Mr. and Mrs. Shawn Carter were actually on an architecture and arts program trip under the auspices of none other than the New York City-based Sir John Soane's Museum Foundation. What's more, the couple made it a family affair by also bringing along their mothers. The foursome was accompanied by the Soane Foundation's Executive Director Chas Miller and seven friends, including several from London who are fans of the Soane.
Beyoncé and Jay-Z touring in Cuba with Sir John Soane's Museum Foundation. 
The April trip was Soane Foundation's third to Cuba and, while the profile of the travelers may have been a tad more high visibility, the group did almost exactly the same types of things as in previous trips.
For instance, both Beyoncé and Jay-Z enjoyed architect and urban planner Miguel Coyula's lecture on the history of architecture and urban development in Havana and the 'insider' walking tours to architectural landmarks. The conversation continued with Miguel over lunch at the paladar (a privately run restaurant in a home), La Moneda Cuba. The duo spent time visiting artists in their studios and discussing their works, as well as meeting students in the print-making studios of ISA - Instituto Superior de Arte, and meeting with music and dance performers, either before or after performances.
Of course, these research expeditions required some navigation because, by the end of the very first night, the Soane group understood what was in store for the next few days. All had seemed calm when the group arrived for dinner at La Guardia, a charming paladar decorated with old movie posters and timeworn candelabras, tucked away on the third floor of a once grand mansion in old Havana. But apparently it didn't take long for the social media world to light up and the airwaves to buzz, because before dinner was over, the diners began to hear a low rumbling sound coming from the street. By the time a member of the group peered over the balcony, they spied hundreds of Cubans crowding onto the street below.

This scenario was to be repeated again and again during the coming days.  The excitement was amazing, with people sometimes chanting for Beyoncé and other times for Jay-Z. Beyoncé, in fact, made time to meet with a 6-year-old who is suffering from leukemia, at the request of the child's mother whom she'd met the day before at a performance. By the last day, however, the entire group had been enriched by countless people-to-people exchanges and Beyoncé, for one, had become enough of a Soaniac to don a Soane Foundation lapel pin as the group headed home.

Here's a fun pictorial of the memorable trip ...
Artist Yoan Capote shows slides describing work.
Yoan Capote describes one of his works up close.
Capote's sculpture of cement speakers and chains.
Detail of a fish hook canvas by Capote.
Paladar La Guarida's grand staircase up to the third floor. One of the dining rooms in the home at La Guarida.
Crowds viewed from the balcony of La Guarida.
Massive crowds await our departure.
Exterior of ISA - Instituto Superior de Arte / National Art Schools
ISA – in the print studio.
Inks on a glass surface. Looking at a completed work.
Architect Miguel Coyula talking on the history of Havana's architecture.
Coyula with an attentive audience.
The crowds builds as the walking tour begins ...
Musicians on the terrace.
Entry to one of the historic nightclubs.
Performance by the band Charanga Habanera. Performance by Haila.
Teatro Nacional de Cuba. Meeting the director prior to the start of the dance rehearsal.
Rehearsal of the contemporary dance company.
Meeting with the dancers.
Everywhere you go in Havana, there is music
Entrance to The-Merger Studio61 gallery.
Work on display at The-Merger Studio61 gallery.
Beyoncé's Mother, Tina Knowles, with the artists.
No visit to Havana is complete without a ride in a classic car.
One of the thousands of old American cars.
Visit to a cigar factory.
Meeting with many of the workers and watching the process.
Performance at La Colmentia, a children's theater group.
La Colmentia at the end of the performance.
Beyoncé dancing with the La Colmentia kids. And everyone gets a photograph.
Chef at paladar, San Cristobal, with a traveler.
A group pose at paladar.
Crowds outside the Hotel Saratoga.
A visit to the Fort El Morro overlooking the entry to Havana's harbor. Another spot, another band.
At the airport with Soane Foundation's Chas Miller and Beyoncé (note Soane lapel pin).