Clasicos a lo cubano – Clasicos a lo latino

Clasicos a lo cubano II – Live in Havana    Link to the record

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This is the story of Sverre Indris Joner from Oslo, Norway, bringing his musician colleagues from the band Hovedøen Social Club to play his intriguing salsa-arrangements of the classics with the Cuban opera orchestra at the National Theater in Havana. He’s about to “sell sand in the Sahara” – showing Cubans how to play salsa, to turn the great classics of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms into authentic Cuban music.

How? And, maybe more importantly, why?  … can this go well?


Joner started his «genre-detour» at age 15, with Reggae, West-African Highlife and Afrobeat, and the seductive complexity of African rhythms led him to explore the African roots in Latin America. In 1985, he went on a study-trip to Havana with some friends. This encounter left a deep impression. Back in Norway, he formed Norway’s first salsa band, La Descarga, insisting that all Norwegians should appreciate this rich music traditions from Cuba.

He got the idea of writing unlikely genre-transformed music. With his quartet Tango for 3, everything from ABBA to Grieg was turned into Argentine tango. The recipe was re-used when he formed the band Hovedøen Social Club, creating authentic sounding cuban salsa out of Norwegian pop-music. The famous Munchner Rundfunk Orchestra and The Norwegian Broadcasting Orchestra (KORK) recorded his «cubanized» arrangements of the great classics. When the recordings went viral on YouTube, Cuban national television bought the program and it’s regularly shown since then. The album hits #1 on Mexican World Music charts MixUp

Suddenly the opportunity arose for Sverre and his fellow musicians to travel to Cuba and play “Clasicos a lo cubano” with the opera-orchestra in Havana. Sounds like fun, but problems arise and line up in a queue – much like what the Cubans themselves have to deal with. So they experiences some genuine Cuban frustration.

Challenges were everything from instruments breaking down or not existing, aircondition failing and rain pooring into the theatre, Even the legendary concert hall El Gran Teatro Alicia Alonso broke down! And of course, plenty of «latin timing» – aka the absence of punctuality.
But everything didn´t go wrong – thankfully! The joy of playing seen among the musicians was priceless. When members of the orchestra spontaneously stood up and danced during rehearsals the good vibes started. The swaying, the smiles and the joy were the payoff. Finally it was on the right track!

In all his enthusiasm, Joner took on the role of host during the concert – in Spanish – with a bit of humor to break the ice. What could go wrong? Quite a lot actually…It was a make it or break it.
Luckily they made it quite well, telling from the audience’s cheers and applause throughout the concert, and even the laughter, fortunately coming at the right places after the quirky comments between the music!

Joner´s hope for recognition in Cuba, the birthplace of the genres he had spent so much time and effort acquiring, was a significant driving-force behind the whole project. The musicians expressing heartfelt gratitude for being part of the project was the confirmation he had hoped for; that he, the «gringo», not only had cracked the Afro-cuban “claves-code” but also given a musical contribution that was highly appreciated.

“On cuba News” – Cuban news site

“…una excelente fusion entre la música clásica y el son cubano…”

From Mexican Press from the first release of CD/DVD by Sony Mexico.

Sverre Indris Joner´s ingenious salsa-arrangements have achieved the most authentic-sounding classic-latin-fusion ever and has refuted the prejudices and taken classic-music-lovers and the latin community by surprise. It went viral on YouTube as performed by KORK (Norwegian Radio Orchestra) and Hovedøen Social Club,

Clasicos a lo latino is both danceable partymusic and music for conoceurs of the classic repertoire. And for anybody without a necessity for rigid rules and walls between musical genres and quite unlike other symphonic crossover concerts.

This project was first recorded with the renowned Munchner Rundfunk Orchestra and Klazz Brothers & Cuba Percussion (who commisioned several of the arrangements). It has later been played in Cuba, Italy, Germany, Turkey and in Asia.  The performance by KORK in Norway has achieved huge popularity on the YouTube and is regularly on air in cuban television, where the lineup includes the legendary bass player Carlos del Puerto (Irakere).

The “counterfactive music-history-simulation”-idea of transforming music from its original into a different stylistic language has been one of Joners specialties for decades. First with his tango-quartet Tango for 3 doing classics as well as popular tunes as if it came from Buenos Aires´ golden tango-era.  Later doing Norwegian popular tunes with the band Hovedøen Social Club, turning them into Cuban dance music of the sixties.

Clasicos a lo cubano  is Joners most ambitious stylistic reinterpretaton – with symphony orchestra.  Classics from the great masters are filtered through this strange imagination, filling them with the Caribbean flavor, transforming these musical gems into tropical pearls – with the unconfoundable taste and swing of Cuba and the Caribbean…

Starting with Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, via stage music of Bizet and Tchaikovsky to Strauss jr. Grieg and even Wagner, the baroque, classical and romantic eras are treated with a kind of loving disrespect.

The beauty of the idea is that the arrangements has equal respect for both the old classic pieces – with all their harmonic and melodic richness – as well as for the Caribbean rhythmic traditions and structures that is far more sophisticated that any other popular genre. And this new fusion is communicating on a different level than both the classic originals and the salsa genre.  And we way ad; luckily it’s not just another cheesy adaptation as seen many times before…

more videos of the original Clasicos a lo cubano at the record page

1# on the mexican world music charts at