Most locals probably haven't had the opportunity to visit Cuba, thanks to years of restrictions on American travel to the Caribbean island nation. But on the evening of Sept. 25, attendees can experience a bit of Cuban culture at Woodside's Village Hub, in the form of a "Havana Night" dinner concert by renowned vocalist Argelia Fragoso. The event is a celebration of friendship — between longtime friends, as well as between two cultures.
"I love the idea of having the Woodside community experiencing a 'real taste of Cuba' in their own backyard. If Americans can't go to Cuba, we will bring Cuba to the Americans. Why not?" Fragoso told this news organization in an email interview, translated by Ana Alvarez.
Alvarez, a Woodside resident and lifelong friend of Fragoso, is the concert's organizer.
It was Alvarez's love for both her communities — Cuba, where she grew up, and the Midpeninsula, where she's lived for more than two decades — and the desire to bring them together that provided inspiration for the special event.
"Cuba is a mystery for most Americans," Alvarez said, adding that there is not a very large Cuban American presence locally. "It's a beautiful country; I know many Americans who would love to go," she said.
People the world over, though, do know and adore Cuba's music.
"I am so grateful for the response," Alvarez said of interest in the event so far. "I didn't know how much people love Cuban music."
Cuba's distinctive musical styles and sounds, Fragoso said, "are the result of the mixing of the two grand cultures: Africa's and Spain's. Both of them contribute equally to the rhythm and melody of every musical note."
Fragoso — known as "The Golden Voice of Cuba" — is a contralto singer with a deep background in music of various genres. She trained at the Franz Liszt Conservatory in Weimar, Germany, performs internationally, and has won numerous awards. She's released 21 albums so far over the course of her career, and at the Woodside concert will be backed by a full band: Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel. She said her set for the evening will include traditional and well-known Cuban favorites.
"Music like the Cuban traditional trova … as well as other genres from Hispanic America. There's also a few songs that people will recognize immediately, because they were very famous in this country, too," she noted.
Fragoso has been based in Mexico for the past several years, her normally busy international performance schedule hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"In my case, like every musician, during the last year, the possibilities of doing live concerts have been reduced almost to zero, so I have dedicated myself to write more music and to continue my work as a professor through my online academy, where I have been able to help so many students for so many years," she said.
She happily agreed to perform in Woodside at the request of Alvarez. The two grew up together back in Cuba and have stayed in touch over the decades.
"Our families are very good friends from long ago. Her parents to my parents, her grandparents to my grandparents. She became very famous, and we kept the friendship," Alvarez said.
She said some have been surprised to learn that a big name like Fragoso is performing at an intimate gig in Woodside.
"Putting this event together, when I went to see and talk to some musicians, many musicians in this area said, 'I can't believe that Argelia is coming here,'" she noted. "That is the value of friendship; she's coming."
The Sept. 25 event not only offers a musical "taste" of Cuba but a literal one as well. Before the concert, attendees will dine on authentic Cuban cuisine, courtesy of San Mateo restaurant Cuban Kitchen, and sip on beverages such as mojitos and coffee. To honor the multicultural friendship theme of the event, Woodside Bakery will provide dessert, including a cake boasting a special design featuring the American and Cuban flags in a heart shape.
Tickets are $99, and include both the 6 p.m. dinner and 7 p.m. concert. The event will be held outdoors, with social distancing in place.
Alvarez noted that a portion of the night's proceeds will go to The Village Hub, to help fund a new full-time program and events coordinator position. The Village Hub is located at 3154 Woodside Road, on the campus of Woodside Village Church. It serves as a community gathering place, hosting classes, workshops, arts events and a coffee shop.
"I feel honored to bring my music to Woodside," Fragoso said. "Particularly to this very special event and to support the reason behind it: friendship and gratitude."
More information is available at thevillagehub.org.