Jane Bunnett brings all-female band Maqueque to Winnipeg

Jane Bunnett's latest album with her new all-female band Maqueque launches, right on cue for her pair of Winnipeg Jazz Festival concerts.

Jane Bunnett and Maqueque perform in the Winnipeg Jazz Festival on June 17 at the Rachel Brown Theatre

The Cuban band Maqueque is in Canada for the first time.

Soprano saxophonist-flutist Jane Bunnett has been a passionate advocate for the music and musicians of Cuba since the early 80s. Her Spirits of Havanna project with her trumpeter-husband Larry Cramer has helped bring numerous Cuban musicians to Canadian audiences.

On June 17 Bunnett's latest album with her new all-female band Maqueque launches, right on cue for her pair of Winnipeg Jazz Festival concerts.

Through her frequent visits to Cuba, Bunnett had become aware that while girls made up the majority of the students in music conservatories, very few of them ended up as prominent musicians in bands. She recalls one night in Cuba, having organized a jam session, inviting a young singer, Daymé Arceno, to jump in. Bunnett was impressed with her fearlessness, and decided to make it a priority to pull together an all-female band.

"I think this is a very important message to send out, not only to Cuba but all over Latin America, where things are so macho," she said.

Joining Daymé Arceno in Maqueque, which means "energy of a young girl's spirit," is virtuoso drummer Yissy García, Yusa on tres guitar and fretless bass, Dane on piano, and Magdeyls on batás and congas.
Jane Bunnet plays soprano saxophone and flute.

Bunnett remembers very clearly how she first fell in love with Cuban music. She had been playing jazz at the time and was aware that the salsa scene in Toronto was still fledgling. Immediately upon arriving in Cuba with her husband, she heard some fantastic music wafting down the hill and went to check it out.

"There was this apparition of 18 men dressed in white, all gorgeous-looking guys - three trombones, two trumpets, four sax... I ran back to my room, grabbed my horn and I sat in on the first night."

The next day the band invited the couple to Santiago, where they became immersed in the music and started collecting records.

"It was really like a snap, just like that. The music was so powerful and so funky and just so intoxicating. You're out under the stars and the palm trees and there are these gorgeous guys playing this beautiful music," she said.

Bunnett and Cramer are not only known for bringing Cuban musicians to Canada, they have also been bringing musical instruments to Cuba for more than 15 years. They hold annual fundraising events and then bring new and donated instruments -- and sometimes even technicians to repair instruments -- to Cuba.

"It's like a volunteer thing but it's fun and it's also kept me on the cusp of what's happening. It's inspiring for me to do that," she said.

Hear Jane Bunnett and Maqueque at the Winnipeg Jazz Festival at the Rachel Brown Theatre on June 17 in two concerts, at 8:00 and 10:30 p.m.