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Dominican Film Showcase Ends on a High Note Celebrating Dominican Republic’s Rich Musical Heritage

May 23, 2014

GFDD’s Dominican Film Showcase, hosted in partnership with the Dominican Film Festival in New York and the Dominican Cultural Commission in the United States, ended on a high note on Friday, May 23, with its final film presentation of a popular music documentary “Sol Caribe” at the Symphony Space venue in Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  The former President of the Dominican Republic, and President of GFDD and FUNGLODE, Leonel Fernández, was also present.


GFDD’s Executive Director, Natasha Despotovic thanked the audience for their attendance and excellent support during what has been a productive and enjoyable DFS.  Ms. Despotovic told guests that there are many more of these exciting activities to expect from GFDD, and for closing night, the organizers had arranged a very special surprise.

After a brief presentation of GFDD’s institutional video,  the 90 minute documentary “Sol Caribe”  was screened. Ms. Despotovic introduced the film, saying  “it is a celebration of culture seen through the eyes of yesterday’s visionaries and today’s innovators.”

The film is about the roots, development and current state of Dominican music with its four main genres of popular salsa, merengue, bachata and son as expressed by the voices of 12 of its greatest musicians: Milly Quezada, Wilfrido Vargas, Joseíto Mateo, Fefita La Grande, Johnny Ventura, el Cieguito de Nagua and Francisco Ulloa, among others. The documentary is based on an unprecedented series of concert tours made by these pioneers of Dominican music, and serves as a mechanism to introduce people all around the world to these influential beats that developed in the cradle of America.

Directed by  acclaimed Dominican filmmaker, Félix Limardo using vibrant images and sound, the movie skillfully showcases the evolution of these various styles and rhythms that originated in the Dominican Republic region. The film was produced by Vìctor Dumé and Mairení Films.

Describing the documentary, the producers said; “Through a series of performances, especially of orchestras and improvised musical sessions that occurred in historic places, we are witnessing the musical heritage that has never before been documented to this extent and in all its aspects”.

Following the screening, which made every Dominican feel a sense of pride in their musical tradition, the audience expressed their appreciation with loud and sustained applause. This grew even louder when they heard of the surprise guest who went on to participate in a Q & A with the audience was to be Cuco Valoy, one of the important artists featured in the film.

Cuco, the star of the night, gave the general public an opportunity to ask him about his meteoric rise from humble origins to full recognition as one of the most prolific singers of his time and genre. The artist recalled how he was born into a thriving culture of soneros in Mano Guayabo, near the capital of Santo Domingo in 1937. Cuco’s father wanted his sons to be professional musicians, and though only a carpenter of slender means, he had Cuco study music at the National Music Conservatory (El Conservatorio Nacional de Música de la República).

In a career beginning in the 1950s and continuing into the present day, Cuco Valoy has known success singing son, salsa, merengue, bachata and bolero, in addition to playing and singing Afro-Dominican folk styles like palo. Not only has Valoy’s career run the gamut of Dominican musical forms, he has also seen the music from the vantage point of singer, percussionist, guitarist, producer, and even on-air disc jockey. Known chiefly as a vocalist, Valoy recorded both the rhythm guitar and the bongo for the son duo Los Ahijados which he fronted with his brother Martin, and often played piano or bass on his later merengue recordings.

Of additional significance was how the audience remembered during the discussion that Cuco had, at times, been persecuted because his songs were revolutionary and talked about the importance of democracy and freedom for the country and countering the militaries that attacked the constitutional government.

The memorable evening was rounded off with a heart-rending performance by Cuco, who sang “Paginas Gloriosas”. The DFS ended with a standing ovation in appreciation of Mr. Valoy’s important contributions to Dominican musical heritage, as well as  a recognition of the colorful, lively form of Latin music that has helped millions of people worldwide ‘move their feet to the beat’.

Global Foundation for Democracy and Development aims to showcase a sample of the best films produced recently in the DR, by Dominican filmmakers, about Dominican topics, with the intention of capturing a well-rounded and positive view of the country. The objective of these screenings and subsequent discussion with the film’s makers  affords an opportunity to correspond with the creative individuals behind the subjects and characters depicted in the films.

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