Wil Campa measures a successful show by looking into the audience and seeing it pulsing with movement. And if there’s anything that makes a person move — or moved — it’s listening to energetic Cuban tunes and witnessing a 13-man orchestra dancing and spinning from side to side in unison, blowing into their horns and never losing the beat.
This is what comes with Wil Campa Y Su Gran Union — the award-winning 13-piece ensemble that returns to Vail Thursday night to perform for Jazz at Vail Square as part of the 19th Annual Vail Jazz Festival.
“We would like to perform the music from the Caribbean, the music that surrounds us each day at home,” Campa said via a translator. “[We hope] that the music leaves the Vail audience feeling wonderful and that the audience participates and senses the great energy of the Wil Campa Orchestra. When the audience is moved by music, they dance and sing with me.”
In Cuba, one can’t simply learn to sing or play an instrument and then set out to make a living performing music.
“The Wil Campa Orchestra is a versatile show. All the musicians dance and sing extremely well. It is part of the culture in Cuba — all the musicians have a degree in music, this is a mandatory requirement from the Instituto de La Musica and Minister of Culture to tour outside of Cuba,” Campa explained.
‘Love to dance ... love to listen’
The talent was very much appreciated last year when Wil Campa Y Su Gran Union played its inaugural performance in Vail at Jazz @ Vail Square. The crowd was on its feet swaying as Campa simultaneously danced and sang and the band stepped into effortless rounds of choreography and synchronized drumming.
“The audience of Vail was wonderful — they love to dance, they also love to listen. They are very well-versed in world music and appreciate talented musicians. From my experience the public has always been extremely impressed and moved by the Orchestra presentation,” Campa said. “Although I do not speak English, the music always seems to translate well. The Vail audience has exceptional musical taste, knowledge and love of Latin music.”
In Cuba, Wil Campa Y Su Gran Union are widely recognized, considering their songs are played daily on the radio and at baseball games and they were recently nominated for a CUBASISCO — Cuba’s version of a Grammy.
Campa himself describes Su Gran Union as “A big band of young artists presenting music from the ‘50s, ‘60s and beyond from Cuba, with confidence and well-dressed.”
When asked what separates Cuban jazz from other branches of the genre, he said, “Cuban Jazz has so much influence from America, with more percussion, African and Latin rhythms — a lot of deep rhythm. We have so many versions of Jazz in Cuba.”
Campa’s version arguably conveys more good energy than just about any other. Rarely is he seen on stage without a smile. Asked to name his No. 1 most memorable performance, he becomes sentimental.
“The one concert that stands out [was] the very last performance of Ibrahim Ferrer [of Buena Vista Social Club] in the North of France’s Marciac Jazz Festival,” he said. “We performed together that evening and he departed for Cuba the same night and passed away at his home and [in his] country. He is a very important figure for Cuba and our music.”
Singling out the greatest concert, however, isn’t easy for Campa.
“I love them all. My life is making people happy through music,” he said.
Catch Wil Campa Y Su Gran Union as they heat up the Jazz Tent in Lionshead Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Jazz at Vail Square series, part of the 19th Annual Vail Jazz Festival, which offers 40 unique live performances throughout the summer, culminating in the Labor Day Weekend Jazz Party.