Tania León is a Cuban-born composer and conductor with an international career. In New York, she founded Dance Theatre of Harlem’s music department and scored Geoffrey Holder’s Trinidadian classical ballet “Dougla” among others. León is on the board of directors at the New York Philharmonic.
Live on National Sawdust
Tania León gives a Master class with vocalist Helga Davis and National Sawdust co-founder Paola Prestini live on nationalsawdust.org on Friday, July 31, 2020 at 1pm. FREE
We are going to listen to her seminal composition “Horizons” (1999) which premiered at the Tanglewood Music Festival.
Quarantine and social distancing is tough, but one of the beautiful things to come out of this is quite intimate access to the most amazing artists.
The Full Latin
Born in Havana, Cuba in 1943, León has French, Spanish, Chinese, African, and Cuban heritage. Now that is Cuban, that is Caribbean and that is Latin. This is an artist who knows who she is.
León began her piano studies as a young child in the French methods taught at the Carlos Alfredo Peyrellade Conservatory. Cuba is famous for the quality and depth of its music education. León was a student of Zenaida Manfugás, who is considered to be one of the best Cuban pianists in history.
Resettling in New York in 1967, León started working with Arthur Mitchell and founded Dance Theatre of Harlem’s music department. She scored “Haiku” in 1973, “Dougla” in 1974 and another Holder ballet “Belé” in 1981.
In 1978, Léon started the Brooklyn Philharmonic’s Community Concert Series and went worldwide from there. She has worked with the New York Philharmonic and many more great orchestras.
Probably her most meaningful concert was when León’s work was performed in Cuba for the first time in 2010. Home is where the heart is, but there is no place like where you grew up.
French, Spanish, Chinese, African, Cuban, American
To be an American with a multicultural heritage is a beautiful thing. It makes us strong. We bring all that heritage to the fabric of America and that makes our country strong too.
Surely, León doesn’t make a big deal about this, but her heritage is instructive. Most Caribbean Latins acknowledge our Indigenous, European and African roots. We speak Spanish so European means Spanish to most of us.
But we don’t realize that we are French and Chinese too. French footprints are all over the Caribbean. Chinese workers came to the Caribbean after abolition, built the railroads and then blended in. Even Puerto Rican Jíbaro, the iconic mountain farmers have Chinese mixed in. South Asians also came to British colonies.
León’s heritage shows how we can make the Latin tent a little bigger. Without even watching her masterclass (yet), the lesson of the day is already that we should treat each other as brothers and sisters, not because it’s politically correct, but because in fact, we are.