Jazz musician Jane Bunnett, a four-time Juno Award winner, two-time Grammy nominee, and Officer of the Order of Canada, will be rocking the Roots &Blues stage this year with her all-star Cuban ensemble, Maqueque (pronounced mah-keh-keh, meaning ‘the energy of a young girl’s spirit).
Bunnett fell in love with the unique folkloric Afro-Cuban rhythms when she and her husband, trumpeter Larry Cramer, went to Cuba three decades ago.
“There was music everywhere,” says Bunnett in a phone interview from her home in Toronto. “Within four hours I heard three styles of Cuban music, incredible music. There were 18 guys lined up playing beautiful mambos, and I had never heard anything so rockin.’ I ran back to the hotel to get Larry and grab our horns.”
The couple was invited to play with the group and from that day, Cuban music became an important part of her musical future. In 1991 she made a record with some of Cuba’s foremost musicians and the result, Spirits of Havana, garnered Bunnett her first Juno and made it on the Top 200 Jazz Discs of All Time.
“That was an honour and it launched us in many ways. That’s how it all started,” says Bunnett.
“There were no musicians in my family, but everyone loves music. Both my parents were interested in visual arts and they were always playing records.”
Just as appreciation of art in general was something her parents instilled in her at an early age, her love of eclectic music came from her brother Peter, who had an impressive record collection.
“He had everything from Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs to Gospel music, Aretha Franklin, and Japanese Kyoto music.”
She thought her brother “was the coolest thing in the world” and she would sneak his records and play them on her portable player.
“I started being influenced by my peers maybe grade seven or eight. The Monkeys came on the scene and I came home with a record. He threw it across the street saying, ‘You’re not listening to that crap,’” she says laughing.
Bunnett first heard jazz in San Francisco and decided that’s what she wanted to play.
She bought every jazz record she could find, along with a flute and a borrowed saxophone.
Fast-forward through the years, Bunnett worked part-time jobs like driving a horse and buggy to playing in various bands including a Greek band, until one day the music reporter from The Globe and Mail happened to hear her play at a birthday party.
He suggested she get a band together, which she did, and soon they were getting great reviews and invitations to jazz festivals. Her vacation to Cuba redirected her focus.
“It turned into an incredible adventure. Spirits of Havana launched the career of many Cuban musicians,” says Bunnett.
In the past few years she has been focusing on female musicians who are under-represented on the stage in Cuba.
“I decided the time was now. I wanted to see what would happen if I would give opportunities to young women. Some of them have gone on to amazing careers.”
The current group has been playing sold-out shows ranging in size from 300 to 15,000, from Washington to Chicago.
“They’re all really strong instrumentalists and performers. They have inspiring positive energy.”
Bunnett is looking forward to performing for her first time at the Roots &Blues Festival.
“I’ve heard great things about Salmon Arm. Lots of musicians have told me what a great time they’ve had when they got there. I hope people get up and dance, the music is really danceable.”