Prior to OVM I was playing and leading my local community samba band, and playing with samba and maracatu bands in London. I decided to do the Roots of Cuba course because I wanted to study percussion in depth, improve my musical ability and knowledge. The ROC has vastly improved my musical understanding and playing ability, whilst opening a new world of Afro-Cuban rhythm, song and culture which I was not aware of before.

It has also improved my teaching ability and confidence with the band I lead, as well as bringing in a new repertoire of Cuban carnival pieces (adapted to Brazilian instruments) which vastly improved the band’s musical ability. Learning to listen to, understand and play the complex, polyrhythmic, syncopated afro-cuban carnival rhythms really challenged us, the band as a whole enjoyed the learning experience and it really lifted us musically, not to mention getting us singing too! Our new Cuban carnival set is really exciting and has without exception gone down a storm with gig audiences.

In terms of the course itself I most enjoyed the bata repertoire (though this was most challenging to play), the carnival and son pieces. An unexpected joy was the singing – I have never sung before, had not been interested in fact – and was really moved and surprised to see how much I enjoyed it.

I think all the participants progressed well during the course – without noticing it our grasp of inter-locking syncopated rhythm improved week by week. To be able to play two gigs with this study group was a real challenge and joy to us all.

I have really appreciated Raz’s teaching style – calm, supportive yet relentlessly pushing us to the max! My confidence as a performer and teacher has grown, and the course has been one of the influences that has spurred to me to start a new career in the arts and expand my percussion teaching to schools; I am also planning strips to Brazil and Cuba to further my learning. All in all, the course has been a turning point, musically and career-wise. OVM is a really important musical institution – I have since made links with many other musicians and percussionists performing Afro-cuban music – many of whom have made similar journeys with OVM.
Bethan Emmett, Oxford

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