Cuban composer José María Vitier is awarded the 2021 National Music Prize

The Cuban pianist, composer and arranger José María Vitier (Havana, January 7, 1954) was awarded the 2021 Cuban National Music Prize in December.

The Cuban Institute of Music announced that the jury, consisting of distinguished musicians Digna Guerra, Joaquín Betancourt, Guido López-Gavilán and Edesio Alejandro, and the musicologist Laura Vilar, unanimously agreed to give the award to Vitier.

According to Vilar, one the reasons was the fact that Vitier shows excellence across the board, as a performer and as a composer.

“I am very grateful for the Award, I am touched by it and feel more and more committed to the music of my country,” Vitier said after hearing the news.

José María Vitier, son of the Cuban poets Cintio Vitier and Fina García Marruz, has recorded more than 30 albums as an author and performer, and has twice won the Grand Prize for the best album of the year in Cuba.

The 67-year-old artist is a composer of music for film, theatre and television, has worked in a wide range of genres and collaborated with internationally renowned figures. His style often combines the classical with different styles of Cuban music. Some of his most remarkable works are his compositions for the film ‘Strawberry and Chocolate’, and his ‘Cuban Mass’.

As a composer, his name is linked to the soundtracks of television series such as ‘En silencio ha tenido que ser’ and ‘Julito el pescador’, both in collaboration with his brother Sergio (who died in 2016) as well as numerous soundtracks for feature films and documentaries.

Vitier was the winner of the 2002 Cubadisco Award for his album ‘Songs of Good Love’, and was nominated for a Latin Grammy for ‘Salmo de las Américas’ in 2000.

In a recent interview (El Periodico) Vitier was asked about his sense of “popular Cubanness” that he incorporates in his music – where does that come from and what is it?

“It was not something that I created myself, but since I was a child I had a sense of the Cuban. Remember that my father’s most popular book is ‘Cuban poetry in poetry’….There is a Cuba with a decisive European influence, and another with an African influence. This is complex, because sometimes it is explained that the rhythm comes from Africa and the melody from Europe, but we also get a lot of melody from Africa and a lot of rhythm from Europe, which is itself a ‘transcultured’ continent, because what comes to us through Spain comes from centuries of North African occupation. But black Cubans do not call themselves Afro-Cubans, like African-Americans in the United States, because when they arrived in Cuba they became indigenous, to the point that there are rituals and religious and musical practices that were lost in Africa and today only manifest themselves in Cuba.”

[When asked whether he compared himself to composers like Gershwin, who made American music with ingredients from African-rooted jazz and blues] “Gershwin, yes, but more like Villa-Lobos (of Brazil). In America there was a very strong nationalist tendency, originally linked to romanticism, perhaps with a greater accent on sensuality than in Europe, with a link to dance. When I started composing, I was drawn to the possibility of making music that was a product of the present, contemporary, and that also had those roots. There is less and less understanding of what ‘classical music’ or ‘popular music’ means, and that ambiguity is very normal in Cuba, because our main composers of concert music were great nationalists, influenced by folklore, like a Falla in Spain.”

Link to report in Spanish by ACN news agency

Link to interview in Spanish by El

Watch a performance of Vitier’s 12 part Cuban Mass on Youtube here