By Ricardo Burke
Born in Cuba to a family living in the middle of Old Havana, Camila Cortina was prepared to receive a formal music education at a young age. It is no wonder she gained admission to a highly competitive arts program by the time she was six. Her mother and father, academics who were educated in the former Soviet Union, taught Italian and mathematics respectively, and for them, discipline and focus were paramount.
Havana’s Manuel Saumell Conservatory was immutably strict and rigidly structured but Cortina’s parents created a bubble for her at home, marked by strong family support and consistent exposure to art, literature, and performance. Camila quickly realized that she disliked the pressure associated with performing, gravitating instead to music theory and history. By the age of 14 or 15, she started listening to jazz.
Cortina began composing music as a child and was particularly adept at arranging for strings. For her, turning piano scores into arrangements for large groups came easily. Her love of Cuban repertoire and rhythms grew as she entered the Amedeo Roldan Conservatory in her mid-teens. It was around this time that Cortina started navigating the immense universe of improvising on the piano.
In 2007, at the age of nineteen, her compositional prowess enabled her to become the first female songwriter to win the acclaimed Jojazz Competition, a Cuban showcase for the island’s exceptional young musical talent.
After completing her Bachelor’s degree in Musicology at the Instituto Superior de Artes in 2010, Camila got a contract to go to Singapore to perform for a year. She played pop music there and learned the business side of the industry.
She briefly relocated to Indonesia, performing at both the Bali and Jakarta Jazz Festivals, but eventually made her way back to Singapore, where she taught during the day and was free to perform Cuban music at night.
Cortina worked in Asia for a total of eight years before moving to the U.S. in August, 2018, to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Jazz Composition and Performance. “I came to Berklee to prove myself as a piano player,” she says. “I have to pay my dues as a musician.”
Camila’s current round of studies continues to allow her to build confidence as a composer and arranger. She loves writing for large ensembles, and she is learning about music production as well. “It’s not about defining the product. On the way, we’ll figure it out.”
Camila Cortina’s presentation at the Sun Music Performance Series will find her reconfiguring some of her compositions as solo piano pieces. She will imbue her set with Santeria chants sung in the Yoruba language, which are so much a part of her rich Afro-Cuban musical tradition.
The concert will serve as an intimate and invaluable platform through which audiences will be able to experience a unique artist who is poised for preeminence. Yet for Camila Cortina, it’s all about the impact she has on her audience. “It’s not important to connect with six million people. Just connect with ten, but have something to say.”
Ricardo Burke is a Brooklyn based writer and lover of jazz, cinema and art.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @RicardoBurke14