Knox Welcomes Cuban Musician Jesús Fernández as Artist in Residence
Fernández joins Knox community to participate in intercultural exchange.
November 01, 2017
By Bailey Musselman '18
Making his first visit to the United States, Cuban musician Jesús Fernández recently visited Knox College as an artist in residence.
While at Knox, Fernández worked with students in classes such as Culture and Identity in the Caribbean, taught by William Hope, assistant professor of anthropology-sociology, and Afridentity and Hispanity, taught by Jessie Dixon-Montgomery, associate professor and Burkhardt Distinguished Chair of Modern Languages. Fernández talked with students about his experiences and even helped students make the Cuban stew ajiaco.
"Now, there are a number of students who have tasted ajiaco," Hope said. "They have had conversations in Spanish with Jesús directly. They have had the opportunity to make music together, and to really work closely with a master artist."
A master of two Cuban stringed instruments, the Tres and the Laúd, Fernández has been part of Hope's studies in Cuban popular music since 1998. Hope invited Fernández to Knox so he could bring additional depth to Cuban cultural studies on campus.
Hope and Fernández traveled across the Midwest, performing various concerts for diverse crowds. From performing with the Cuatro Orchestra in Chicago to a pop up concert in Galesburg's Q's Cafe, Fernández enjoyed sharing music and Cuban culture.
Fernández also played at Galesburg farmer's markets, performed a concert in Kresge with the Chicago Cuatro Orchestra, and worked with students at a music ensemble each week. In addition, Fernández rehearsed with students for a performance at Jazz Night on October 5 in Galesburg's Fat Fish Pub.
Vocalist Francesca Downs '19 worked with Fernández and performed with him at Jazz Night.
"William Hope emailed me and many students, asking if we were interested in being in a Cuban music ensemble with Jesús. I grew up loving Cuban music so it was an easy yes," said Downs, who is majoring in creative writing and minoring in anthropology-sociology.
Downs said the students struggled at first to become accustomed to the music, but overcoming that difficulty made their experience more valuable.
"We immensely improved by the time of the performance at Fat Fish," said Downs. "This experience made me realize to fully appreciate and immerse myself in the process."
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By bringing Fernández to Knox, Hope intended to immerse students in intercultural exchange. Fernández shared his knowledge of Cuban history and music with around 20 students who now are enrolled in Afro-Cuban Music & Dance, an immersion program focused on the history, music, and culture of Cuba.
Knox faculty members and students in the course will travel to Cuba from December 7-17, working principally through world-renowned Conjunto Folklorico Nacional (National Folkloric Ensemble of Cuba) and receiving instruction from professionals in traditional Afro-Cuban drumming, dancing, and singing.
"I think opportunities for intercultural exchange are really wonderful," said Hope. "It opens up a horizon of possibilities for students. It's the opportunity of a lifetime."