Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso, more widely known as Celia Cruz, was a famous Cuban singer and left a footprint in history as one of the most popular Latin artists of the 20th century. Often referred to as Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz‘s biography and history are very rich, intriguing and full of accomplishments. Therefore, let‘s explore and discover the history of the legendary Cuban singer in 4 steps that are made simple, to take you back through one of the most illustrious music careers in Latin America‘s history.

Step 1: Early Life Footprints

According to Catalina Alfonso Ramos, her mother, Celia Cruz began singing as early as 10 months of age!

Celia Cruz was born at 47 Serrano Street in the Santos Suárez neighborhood of HavanaCuba while her father, Simon Cruz, worked as a railway stoker and her mother was a housewife who took care of a big family of 14.

What started early continued every year for Celia Cruz. She sang practically everywhere: in school during the Fridays’ actos cívicos, in her neighborhood ensemble, Botón de oro and in cabarets as a teenager when her aunt took her there to perform.

Yet, still Celia Cruz originally intended to become a literature teacher, but it was that critical victory in a
talent show where she interpreted the tango piece „Nostalgia“ in a bolero tempo that became lifechanging, making her pause studies to pursue what became an elusive music career.


Step 2: The Rise Of Musical Career

Her musical breakthrough started here in Cuba with her first recordings made in 1948 and 1950 when she began singing with celebrated Cuban orchestra Sonora Matancera.

Celia Cruz sang regularly in Cuba with the ensemble on radio and television, made extensive tours, compiled full-length albums, headlined Havana’s Tropicana nightclub and even appeared in five films that were produced in Mexico.

Unfortunately, after the Cuban revolution of 1960, Havana’s nightlife came to a standstill which made her leave Cuba.

A journey that changed her life and career forever.

celia cruz and band

Step 3: Commerical Success In USA

When the revolution started sweeping over Cuba, Sonora Matancera with Celia Cruz was touring Mexico and decided to cross into the United States instead of coming back home to Cuba. This led Cruz becoming a U.S. citizen by 1961, settling in New York City while enraged Fidel Castro forbade her to return to Cuba‘s soil.

In the beginning, as expected, she was relatively unknown in a new country, with a presence only in the Cuban exile community. In mid 1960s she started gaining exposure and momentum after joining Tito Puente Orchestra which had a strong following across Latin America.

Not only she became the face of the group, but Cruz captivated audiences with her enthusiasm, sparkling attires, and crowd entertainment, skyrocketing her musical career into new heights that not many could have predicted, forming one of the greatest music legacies in Cuban history.

celia cruz

Step 4: Strong Legacy & Death

Celia Cruz passed away in New Jersey on July 16, 2003, at the age of 77.

Her legacy left behind still goes strong to this day, and it encompasses so many areas that she was able to touch with her fascinating 40-year musical career.

As Celia Cruz continued to perform throughout the years, she made over 75 records of which 23 went gold, winning multiple Grammy & Latin Grammy awards. But that‘s only the tip of a legacy iceberg that still floats around today, approaching 2020.

The singer made an appearance in several movies, stamped a star on the iconic Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and received an award of the American National Medal from President Bill Clinton. The highest recognition an artist can receive from the United States government. Cruz is remembered as one of the 20th century’s most beloved and popular Latin musicians with many tributes made for her over the years, including music schools being named after her, television series and many many more.

However, Celia Cruz did manage to return to Cuba in 1990 after she was invited to make a presentation at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. After that, she took a few grams of earth from Cuba with her.

An epilogue in her autobiography notes that, in accordance with her wishes, Cuban soil which she had saved from a visit to Guantánamo Bay was used in her entombment. Returning her home, forever.

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Let‘s admit it, we all love music. And with so many different genres, sub-genres, techniques, sounds, and historical aspects, sometimes it can seem like a vast ocean, almost endless. But when it comes to Cuba, and discovering its culture, one particular style stands out as a staple of Cuban rhythm of life, heritage, and history  the soul-moving Afro-Cuban Jazz. Acknowledging the intriguing and complicated development of such music genres like Afro-Cuban jazz might not be easy, but if you‘re a music fan and want to explore Afro-Cuban jazz without hassle, then let this article create you a composition of easy history notes that you will certainly love exploring!


It All Starts With Deep Roots of History


Until the mid-20th century, clave-base Afro Cuban Jazz didn‘t appear, but that doesn‘t neglect the fact that Cuban presence and influence was there, from the very moments of birth of jazz music. 

African-American music started to include Afro-Cuban musical motifs extensively in the 19th century when the habanera gained international popularity. 

The habanera itself was the firstever music to be written that was rhythm-based on the African motifs which are often described as the tresillo and the backbeat combination.


An Important Interaction With American Music


During the first decades of the Afro-Cuban jazz movement was much stronger in the United States compared to Cuba.

The interaction and connection between the US and Cuba isfascinating when it came to jazz music. The early jazz bands of New Orleans jazz incorporated habaneras as well, and eventually the habanera became a staple of jazz music in the 20th century.

Musicians from Havana and New Orleans traveled between both cities to perform, while Latin American melodies and dance rhythms spread through the United States, and the sound waves of American jazz made theirs towards the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Both trading, interacting, blending and cherishing music, making jazz evolve strongly.

Formation of Cuban Jazz Bands


Jazz bands in Cuba started forming as early as 1920. 

These bands often showcased versatility in their repertoires, by jamming both North American jazz and Cuban pop music. But even with this diversity in their lively music, the sounds that molded Afro-Cuban rhythms, pop music and jazz together, wasn‘t enough to make their presence strong in Cuba for decades to come.

Leonardo Acosta once said, “Afro-Cuban jazz developed simultaneously in New York and Havana, with the difference that in Cuba it was a silent and almost natural process, practically imperceptible.“

But that only was until Grammy Award-winning Cuban band Irakere was born and sparked a new era in Cuban jazz that is still present to this day.

Irakere made historic innovations not only in Afro-Cuban jazz but Cuban popular dance music as well, as the band made a very wide array of percussion instruments create magic. Those instruments included maracas, claves, cencerros, tumbadoras, abuaka, arara drums and many more!

Afro-Cuban Jazz Blends It All Up


Afro-Cuban jazz is sometimes known as Latin jazz, but that‘s mostly because Afro-Cuban jazz is the earliest form of Latin jazz genre. 

It is a style of music that blends and encompasses many components to craft that soulful jazz sound. From Cuban and Spanish Caribbean rhythms and percussion instruments to jazz harmonies, improvisations alongside European and African musical elements as well. 

After everything that was made and played, Afro-Cuban jazz truly emerged in the early 1940s when Cuban musicians Mario Bauzá and Frank Grillo more known by his iconic name“Machito” formed a band called Afro-Cubans in New York City. 

Machito’s music not only refined Afro-Cuban jazz but also had atremendous effect on the lives of many musicians who played in the Afro-Cubans over the years, and on those who fell in love with rhythms of Latin jazz becauseof his music.

An intersection in East Harlem is named “Machito Square” in his honor.

Support for the Cuban people is one of the most popular and a legal general license under the US Treasury Department for United States Citizens to travel to Cuba. There are 11 licenses for travel to Cuba, so let’s make this simple for you… Highlighted in bold are the OFAC licenses you could easily use to travel to Cuba.

  1. Family visits
  2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
  3. Journalistic activity
  4. Professional research and professional meetings
  5. Educational activities
  6. Religious activities
  7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
  8. Support for the Cuban people
  9. Humanitarian projects
  10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
  11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials; and certain authorized export transactions.

Let us start first with Professional research and professional meetings. Depending on what you do for a living or what you want to do for a living (professionally) you can travel to Cuba to meet with people and certain organizations to further research your work or your future work. For example… I am a professional drummer and a tour operator owner. I can travel to Cuba under this license and meet with musicians, musical institutes, travel agencies, etc. I can also do research by going out to music venues and researching music culture, rhythms, styles, etc. Check out this video I made on my VLOG talking about this license and if Americans can go to the beach in Cuba.

Another popular travel license is Educational activities. This used to be where the People to People category was listed, but now it is not a legal way to travel to Cuba. Here are some of the most important rules for traveling under an educational license directly from OFAC:

  • “OFAC amended the general license for educational activities in accordance with the NSPM process to authorize travel that was permitted by regulation on January 27, 2011. In addition, OFAC added requirements for certain categories of authorized educational travel that were not permitted by regulation on January 27, 2011 to require that all such travel be conducted under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction. In addition, travelers utilizing this authorization must be accompanied by a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction who is a representative of the sponsoring organization. In certain cases where the traveler is an employee, paid consultant, agent, or other representative traveling individually (not as part of a group), the individual may obtain a certification letter from the sponsoring organization. For a complete description of what such a letter must include and which categories of educational travelers may utilize this authorization, see 31 CFR § 515.565(a)(2). Among other things, this general license authorizes, subject to conditions, faculty, staff, and students at U.S. academic institutions and secondary schools to engage in certain educational activities, including study abroad programs, in Cuba, Cuban scholars to engage in certain educational activities in the United States, and certain activities to facilitate licensed educational programs. U.S. and Cuban universities may engage in academic exchanges and joint noncommercial academic research under the general license. This provision also authorizes persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to provide standardized testing services and certain internet-based courses to Cuban nationals. For a complete description of what this general license authorizes and the restrictions that apply, see 31 CFR § 515.565. In accordance with the NSPM, on November 9, 2017, OFAC amended this general license to exclude from the authorization direct financial transactions with entities and subentities identified on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List. For a description of the scope of the prohibition on direct financial transactions and the restrictions and exceptions that apply, see 31 CFR § 515.209. Effective June 5, 2019, OFAC removed the authorization for group people-to-people educational travel. (See FAQ 12 for more information.)”

Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions is a license that you will almost never hear a travel agency talking about. Mostly because it is almost impossible for them to facilitate these sort of activities. I think this is also what makes our tour company unique and how we deal with music, music festivals, and musicians. Most of our travel will now include this license and its activities along with the Support for the Cuban people license. This license is also more free than other licenses to travel to Cuba. As in, there is no requirement for a full time itinerary. Though we still maintain a full time itinerary for our tours, it isn’t particularly necessary. Here is the information directly from OFAC:

  • (a) General license for amateur and semi-professional international sports federation competitions. The travel-related transactions set forth in §515.560(c) and such other transactions as are directly incident to participation in athletic competitions in Cuba by amateur or semi-professional athletes or athletic teams, or organization of such competitions, are authorized, provided that:
  • (1) The athletic competition in Cuba is held under the auspices of the international sports federation for the relevant sport;
  • (2) The U.S. participants in the athletic competition are selected by the U.S. federation for the relevant sport; and
  • (3) The competition is open for attendance, and in relevant situations, participation, by the Cuban public.
  • (b) General license for public performances, clinics, workshops, other athletic or non-athletic competitions, and exhibitions. The travel-related transactions set forth in §515.560(c) and such other transactions as are directly incident to participation in or organization of a public performance, clinic, workshop, athletic competition not covered by paragraph (a) of this section, non-athletic competition, or exhibition in Cuba by participants in or organizers of such activities are authorized, provided that the event is open for attendance, and in relevant situations participation, by the Cuban public.
  • Example 1 to §515.567(a) and (b): An amateur baseball team wishes to travel to Cuba to compete against a Cuban team in a baseball game in Cuba. The game will not be held under the auspices of the international sports federation for baseball. The baseball team’s activities therefore would not qualify for the general license in paragraph (a). The game will, however, be open to the Cuban public. The baseball team’s activities would qualify for the general license in paragraph (b).
  • Example 2 to §515.567(a) and (b): A U.S. concert promoter wishes to organize a musical event in Cuba that would be open to the public and feature U.S. musical groups. The organizing of the musical event in Cuba by the U.S. concert promoter and the participation by U.S. musical groups in the event would qualify for the general license in paragraph (b).
  • Note 1 to §515.567(a) and (b): Each person relying on the general authorizations in these paragraphs must retain specific records related to the authorized travel transactions. See §§501.601 and 501.602 of this chapter for applicable recordkeeping and reporting requirements.
  • Note 2 to §515.567(a) and (b): Transactions incident to the organization of amateur and semi-professional international sports federation competitions and public performances, clinics, workshops, other athletic or non-athletic competitions, and exhibitions include marketing related to such events in Cuba.
  • (c) An entire group does not qualify for the general license in paragraph (a) or (b) of this section merely because some members of the group qualify individually.
  • (d) Nothing in paragraph (a) or (b) of this section authorizes a direct financial transaction prohibited by §515.209.
  • (e) Specific licenses. Specific licenses may be issued on a case-by-case basis authorizing the travel-related transactions set forth in §515.560(c) and such other transactions as are related to public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions that do not qualify for the general licenses under paragraphs (a) or (b) of this section.

Last, but not least is Support for the Cuban people. Don’t want to travel with Havana Music Tours? You don’t have to!! This is the license to use if you want to travel without a group to Cuba. Though, you can use the others as well, this one is most popular.


For this license, like almost all other licenses you will need a full time itinerary, keep your receipts for 5 years, avoid spending money at places on the Cuba Restricted List, and make sure you are ACTUALLY Supporting the Cuban people. How do you do that? Buy doing business at privately owned places, like Paladares (Private Restaurants), staying in Casa Particulares (Airbnb, Bed and Breakfast, etc), having and paying for breakfast in your casa, and generally making an itinerary that utilizes as many privately owned entities, people, businesses as possible in Cuba. Here is the OFAC license information from their website to understand more:

  • (a) General license. The travel-related transactions set forth in §515.560(c) and other transactions that are intended to provide support for the Cuban people are authorized, provided that:
  • (1) The activities are of:
  • (i) Recognized human rights organizations;
  • (ii) Independent organizations designed to promote a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy; or
  • (iii) Individuals and non-governmental organizations that promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba; and
  • (2) Each traveler engages in a full-time schedule of activities that:
  • (i) Enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities; and
  • (ii) Result in meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba.
  • (3) The traveler’s schedule of activities does not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule.
  • Note 1 to paragraph (a): Each person relying on the general authorization in this paragraph must retain specific records related to the authorized travel transactions. See §§501.601 and 501.602 of this chapter for applicable recordkeeping and reporting requirements.
  • Note 2 to paragraph (a): Staying in a room at a rented accommodation in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eating at privately-owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shopping at privately-owned stores run by self-employed Cubans (cuentapropista) are examples of activities that qualify for this general license. However, in order to meet the requirement for a full-time schedule, a traveler must engage in additional authorized Support for the Cuban People activities.
  • (b) An entire group does not qualify for the general license in paragraph (a) of this section merely because some members of the group qualify individually.
  • (c) Certain direct financial transactions restricted. Nothing in paragraph (a)(1)(iii) of this section authorizes a direct financial transaction prohibited by §515.209, with the exception of transactions on behalf of a non-governmental organization.
  • (d) Specific licenses. Specific licenses may be issued on a case-by-case basis authorizing the travel-related transactions set forth in §515.560(c) and such other transactions as are related to support for the Cuban people that do not qualify for the general license under paragraph (a) of this section.
  • Example 1 to §515.574: An individual plans to travel to Cuba, stay in a room at a rented accommodation in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eat at privately-owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shop at privately-owned stores run by self-employed Cubans (cuentapropista) during his or her four-day trip. While at the casa particular, the individual will have breakfast each morning with the Cuban host and engage with the Cuban host to learn about Cuban culture. In addition, the traveler will complete his or her full-time schedule by supporting Cuban entrepreneurs launching their privately-owned businesses. The traveler’s activities promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba. Because the individual’s qualifying activities are not limited to staying in a room at a rented accommodation in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eating at privately-owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shopping at privately owned stores run by self-employed Cubans (cuentapropista) and the traveler maintains a full-time schedule that enhances contact with the Cuban people, supports civil society in Cuba, and promotes the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that results in meaningful interaction between the traveler and Cuban individuals, the individual’s travel qualifies for the general license.
  • Example 2 to §515.574: A group of friends plans to travel and maintain a full-time schedule throughout their trip by volunteering with a recognized non-governmental organization to build a school for underserved Cuban children with the local community. In their free time, the travelers plan to rent bicycles to explore the streets of Havana and visit an art museum. The travelers’ trip would qualify for the general license because the volunteer activities promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba and constitute a full-time schedule that enhances contact with the Cuban people and supports civil society in Cuba, and results in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba.
  • Example 3 to §515.574: An individual plans to travel to Cuba, rent a bicycle to explore the neighborhoods and beaches, and engage in brief exchanges with local beach vendors. The individual intends to stay at a hotel that does not appear on the Cuba Restricted List (see §515.209). The traveler’s trip does not qualify for this general license because none of these activities promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba.

I am not an attorney, so please make sure to understand all of the rules completely before traveling to Cuba. This blog is to help share correct information about traveling to Cuba. We recommend you read all of the information directly from OFAC, by clicking this link. Also, please refer to the Cuba Restricted List for a list of government entities that you are not allowed to spend money at.

Havana Jazz Plaza is one of the biggest music festivals in Cuba all year. It usually happens around December or January. For 2020 it will be happening January 14th-20th. Some of the most famous artists from Cuba and around the world come to perform for an international audience each year. Almost every theater and music venue in Havana will have an interactive schedule of music events, public performances, clinics, and workshops.

havana music tours jazz plaza festival picture at teatro nacional

In the past we have seen such artists as Chucho Valdes, Alain Pérez, Interactivo, Daymé, Los Van Van, Hector Quintana, Muñequitos de Matanzas, Pedrito Martinez, Cimafunk, Ruy López Nussa, Dave Weckl, Horacio Hernández (El Negro), Habana de Primera, Rumbatá, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and much more!

The Havana Jazz Plaza is not just Jazz, but the foundation and history is Jazz. Cuba and its musicians are very much influenced by jazz, latin jazz, and world music. This music festival is a great example of a modern day fusion. Usually you can find many artists that you want to see each day and sometimes it seems there are too many options!

live latin jazz in havana cuba

Live Jazz at La Zorra y El Cuervo

The Havana Jazz Festival is organized in multiple venues all over the city and has a schedule each day full of music. Some of the best venues in Havana are available to host each concert. Venues such as Fabrica de Arte Cubano, Teatro Mella, Teatro Karl Marx, Teatro Nacional, La Zorra y El Cuervo, Bar Elegante at Hotel Riviera, Jazz Café, Casa de la Cultura, Teatro America, Cafe Teatro Bertolt Brecht, and more!

No matter if you are a fan of latin jazz, rumba, son, or even jazz fusion, this is the festival for you. If you have never been to Cuba before and you want to see the music, then this is the best music event to catch many amazing artists within one week.

a picture of chucho valdez playing at havana jazz plaza

American travelers can visit Cuba with Havana Music Tours under a license for Support for the Cuban people and Public Performances, Workshops, and Clinics. Despite further regulations from the US Government it is still possible to travel legally to Cuba. Music travel to Cuba has never been easier. When you are ready, you can book your VIP Jazz Plaza pass and festival tour here.



There are many great restaurant options around Havana, Cuba… but these are a few of my favorite. They are all “Paladares,” which means a privately owned restaurant. The food in Cuba is usually pretty heavy with different meats like pork, beef, and chicken. All the food is typically accompanied with some rice and a savory sauce. Each of the below restaurants are very diverse from each other and I think if you try them all you will get a nice variety of food options during your Cuba trip.


5. El Cocinero

El Cocinero, (which means the “The Cook” in Spanish) is a very lovely and ambient restaurant located near and attached to the famous Fabrica de Arte Cubano. It is in the Vedado neighborhood of La Habana, Cuba. They have two levels of terraces with two different menus. The terrace on the 3rd floor is slightly cheaper while the 2nd floor is a little more expensive. El Cocinero has a nice mix of international cuisine including different meats such as pork, chicken, seafood and they also have some vegetarian options. A very cool place to eat and grab some drinks before visiting FAC (Fabrica de Arte Cubano)

Delicious duck at el cocinero in havana cubaPlate with pork loin at el cocinero in Havana, Cubagroup picture eating at el cocinero in havana cuba

4. Plan B

Plan B is a restaurant where mostly Cubans eat. It is relatively inexpensive at about 3-6 CUC per meal. I love this place because they are usually open 24 hours and they serve traditional Cuban food that is really good. If you want to try tamales, Ropa Vieja, Pan Con Lechon, Malanga, Boniato, Pork plates (Masas, Lomo, etc) this is a great place at the right price!

ropa vieja at plan B, a 24 hour restaurant in Havana, Cuba

3. La Guarida

This place was made famous by the movie Fresa y Chocolate. It is located in the exact same building as where the movie was filmed. It is a wonderful place with a very romantic environment. The food is excellent. They even have one of the top rated rooftops in Havana. I highly recommend having a cocktail on the rooftop at sunset!

Fresh beef at La Guarida the Paladar in Central Havana, Cuba Upclose picture of food at la guarida in central Havana the stairs going up to la Guarida in central havana, cuba

2. El Del Frente

El Del Frente is located in Old Havana on O’reilly street. They are definitely one of the most crafty restaurants in Havana. They serve fresh prepared vegetables from a unique organic farm right outside of Havana. You won’t find many of these vegetable selections around Cuba. They make a mixture of international cuisine and some interesting Cuban food styles. El Del Frente has some of the most unique and strongest craft cocktails in Havana. Try a mango daiquiri!

close up picture of grilled vegetables at el del frente in old havana, cuba Fresh fish plate at el del frente in old havana cuba craft made cocktails at el del frente in old havana, cuba

1. Atelier

Atelier is the place to go for one of the best Ropa Vieja plates in Havana. In my opinion, of course. I also think they have the best black beans and rice. I think it is best to order the beans and rice separately and then pour the black beans and their juices over the rice. IT IS AMAZING! Otherwise most Cuban restaurants serve what is called Morro y Cristianos which is black beans and rice cooked together. I don’t mind this from time to time, but it is more dry than the first recommendation. Atelier is also the perfect place if you want to eat some lobster or other great seafood options mixed with other meats, vegetarian, and gluten free options.

A close up shot of a steak entree at atelier in Vedado, havana, cuba

De Cuba y la historia de su música

by Yamilka Cabrera

La Isla de la Música ya cuenta con poco más de 500 años de historia, nutrida de  músicas de todas partes. Un pequeño archipiélago en dónde puedes encontrar sonoridades de casi todos los continentes, África, Europa, Asia, América Latina, etc.

Historia musical que nace desde el momento exacto en que los aborígenes antillanos arribaron a las costas de esta isla, con sus guamos –caracol grande utilizado como instrumento musical aerófono– y exóticos bailes y cantos integrados dentro de su especial “areíto” –ritual festivo-religioso–.

Posteriormente, la llegada de los colonos españoles trajo consigo la introducción de nuevas experiencias sonoras, que absorbieron la cultura nativa y se establecieron de manera abrupta como el punto de partida de la cultura musical cubana. Por supuesto, un país milenario como España tuvo mucho para legar a la pequeña Cuba.

Especialmente de música entregó desde la profana romanza, el fandango y su guitarra hasta la música aristócrata-religiosa proveniente de la hegemónica Iglesia Católica. No obstante, también legaron sus melodías y armonías mediterráneas adquiridas a partir de la migración árabe, y su negritud africana resultante del sistema esclavista, colmado de sonidos emanados de la tierra, de tambores y de espiritualidad.

Este engranaje de músicas se fue mezclando durante siglos con otras culturas musicales que, de una manera u otra, se relacionaron con este “caimán” –símbolo  utilizado para nombrar a la Cuba por su forma similar a la de este animal-, debido fundamentalmente a la posición geográfica de Cuba en la época colonial,  convirtiéndose en el enlace principal entre Europa y sus colonias americanas. De ahí, que desde ese momento hasta la actualidad la isla sea conocida como “La llave del Golfo”.

Todo ese gran “ajiaco” –simbología utilizada para denominar la mezcla cultural-, dio paso a la conformación de una identidad nacional que se hizo acompañar por la creación de disímiles formas musicales que han distinguido a Cuba hasta el día de hoy. Especialmente el siglo XIX fue crucial para todo este proceso, en el cual surgieron géneros como la rumba, el son y la criollizada contradanza cubana. Músicas que nacieron en escenarios diversos del contexto cultural cubano, que transitan desde un cabildo de esclavos hasta el más estilizado de los salones aristocráticos.

Finalizado el período colonial en Cuba, aparece una reapertura de la cultura musical cubana hacia el mundo y viceversa. Establecida una identidad musical propia, la etapa republicana de la primera mitad del siglo XX permite exhibir claramente las distintas aristas de la música cubana. Entre ellas podemos encontrar formas musicales desarrolladas por elementos folklóricos y formas de expresión populares y otras, más abstracta y compleja, encaminadas hacia el trabajo con la música culta y académica occidentalista.

En el ámbito de lo folclórico y lo popular se puede ver como en esta etapa se esclarecen los géneros más distintivos de la música cubana para el escenario internacional, que se exponen como una fuerte influencia para el desarrollo musical del resto de Latinoamérica y, a su vez,  son influenciados prudentemente por la música norteamericana, sobre todo por el incipiente jazz.

Entre ellos podemos encontrar géneros como la rumba urbana, típica de los “solares”, bateyes, puertos y fiestas populares, y el son, de formidable sabor oriental, que sintetiza la herencia africana con la hispana, lo negro bantú con las cuerdas pulsadas del tres. Ambos son de los exponentes más representativos de la música cubana para el resto del mundo, especialmente para el turismo moderno.

También está el danzón, con un metro ritmo mucho más cadencioso, que llenó los salones cubanos y de muchos países latinoamericanos, siendo sin dudas uno de los ritmos de fundación de la música caribeña. Al igual que el mambo, que impulso con su sincopa a Dámaso Pérez Prado para alcanzar la primera gran explosión mundial de la música de la mitad del siglo XX. Y además el Cha cha chá que con su baile sin igual, sencillez sonora y la interpretación de la Orquesta América de Enrique Jorrín, llevó a la música cubana hasta los salones más aristocráticos de europa. Por otro lado aparecen otros, quizás menos conocidos pero con el mismo nivel de importancia como la habanera, la conga, la guaracha, etc.

Asimismo como fue evolucionando la música popular, se desarrolló en Cuba un relevante movimiento de música de concierto en la cual se fueron fundiendo los elementos musicales de los géneros cubanos con los europeos, a través de la obra de compositores como Amadeo Roldán y Alejandro García Caturla.

Posteriormente, en el período revolucionario que llega hasta nuestros días, los cubanos trabajan en función de preservar su cultura musical, permitiendo que se mantenga como una de las potencias musicales más influyentes en el mundo. Gracias a ello, todo el que visita Cuba puede disfrutar de diversas y atractivas propuestas musicales que transitan desde la auténtica rumba cubana en el famoso Callejón de Hamel hasta una Jam Session en el interactivo espacio de la Fábrica de Arte Cubano, o quizás, un concierto de música contemporánea en el Museo de Bellas Artes.





We are happy to announce that Havana Music Tours is a proud sponsor of the Havana Film Festival in New York. The nonprofit film festival has been around for 20 years and they are doing great with helping to promote Latin American cinema. Showcasing talents from countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Spain and the United States. The festival promotes award winning full length films, animation, shorts, documentaries, and classics. All of which help to expand the fascinating latin culture to the world. We highly recommend going to see the festival in New York April 5th-16th, 2019. If you are able to go April 13th, you may be lucky to catch a Havana Music Tours video shortly before cuban music documentary, Eliades Ochoa. 🙂


About HFFNY:

“HFFNY has paid tribute to some of the most important directors and actors including: Fernando Birri (Argentina), Walter Salles (Brazil), Silvio Caiozzi (Chile), Victor Gaviria (Colombia), Humberto Solas (Cuba), Juan Carlos Tabio (Cuba), Luis Alberto Garcia (Cuba), Jorge Perugorría (Cuba), Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (Cuba), Arturo Ripstein (Mexico), Jacobo Morales (Puerto Rico), and Estela Bravo (U.S.).

We continue forging a close relationship with our community, providing a multi-cultural experience to different age groups. Our special events, including retrospectives and panel discussions with notable local and international directors, actors, and producers, provide our audience with educational opportunities as well as a behind-the-scenes look at an industry that continues to gain recognition on a global level. By collaborating with other institutions and festivals, HFFNY is able to bring to NY the work of the most dynamic international Latino filmmakers.”

Film Fest schedules below. For more info please visit https://hffny.com/2019

havana film festival new york schedule



Every time I go to a show in Havana or anywhere in Cuba for that matter I am stunned by the musicianship. Havana makes me think of 1950s New York City, not only because of the vintage cars, but because of the superior musicianship. It reminds of the greats like Miles Davis and John Coltrane on the come up.

Over the years I’ve gained an understanding for why this may be (in my opinion). First of all, in Cuba, there are music schools where children start studying music as young as 8 years old. Around half of the day is spent learning music and the other half with normal academics. They will continue this through “secondary school” also known as High school in America. By the time these kids get to a music university they are already amazing… (not to mention, it’s all FREE)

I also believe that the sociocultural and love of music inspires the musicians to practice a lot. Most of the time for Cubans there isn’t any extra money to be spent on excess things. So maybe they will spend more time at home with their instruments instead of going out to bars, to eat, movie theaters etc. I really think this all contributes to the practice culture of Cuban musicians.

The music venues in Cuba even remind me of New York in a lot of ways. The famous La Zorra y El Cuervo could definitely be another underground jazz club in the village. It has the same feel and ambience, the only difference is that you are in Cuba and hearing authentic Latin Jazz.

The other aspect of becoming a musician and maybe why there are so many musicians in Cuba is that it could serve as an opportunity to travel to world. Most of the great musicians around Cuba will flock to Havana to seek opportunities to play with groups that can gain international attention. Once they are able to begin touring out of the country, it can provide a much greater lifestyle than the typical Cuban.

I really believe that Cuba has the best musicians in the world, and all of my experiences traveling tell me the world needs to know this. I hope that everyone has a chance to travel to Cuba at least once and experience the music of Havana. In only one week you are able to see at least a couple of world class performances. Artists like Alain Perez, Carlos Miyares, Interactivo, Isaac Delgado, the modern day Buena Vista Social Club and Afro Cuban All Stars, and so many more.

-Chaz Chambers

Musician and tour guide for Havana Music Tours

How to make an authentic Café Cubano. VLOG by Chaz Chambers

Cuban coffee is a cultural icon for the island filled with a lot of history. Coffee was first introduced to the island throughout the 1700s by early Spanish colonialist and immigrating slaves of French colonies. The way Cubans make coffee has evolved into a unique style of brewing, mixing sugar by default, and enjoying each cup as small espresso coffee.

The current way to make a coffee by the hands of a Cuban still resembles a sort of European nature. Cubans, historically limited in their luxurious purchasing abilities have also lacked many of the cool coffee machines we have all around the world. But, possibly against their own knowing, this could be a good thing for their final product.

Cubans traditionally use what they call a “cafetera” in Spanish, but otherwise known as a percolator in English. This is a unique contraption that holds water, coffee, and the finished product all in one tea kettle looking device. Enjoy this video from Havana Music Tours owner demonstrating how to make an authentic Café Cubano (Cuban Coffee)


Instructions for making a Cuban coffee with a Cafetera.

You will need:

  1. Cafetera or percolator for making coffee
  2. Water
  3. Cuban or other espresso coffee
  4. Sugar, preferably dark and raw organic sugar
  5. Stovetop or hotplate
  6. 15 minutes time
  7. A small cafecito cup or more for your friends

Steps to the perfect Café Cubano

  1. Make sure the cafetera is clean.
  2. Fill the bottom portion of the cafetera with water.
  3. Fill the middle filter all the way with Cuban or espresso style coffee.
  4. Place cafetera on hot stove to begin boiling
  5. After you hear the bubbling and boiling sound, remove the cafetera and place to cool slightly
  6. Immediately stir sugar into the top portion of the cafetera while it is still hot. This is important!
  7. Let cool if you prefer, or begin to pour cafecitos for you and your friends to enjoy.

There are many different ways to travel to Cuba. The “best way” is different for each person. In this blog post I will try to give you some insight to what I know about travel to Cuba. Including how traveling to Cuba differentiates from other international travel destinations. The first thing that you should know is that travel to Cuba is legal for Americans and you don’t have to travel with cruise ships or a tour group. I know I am writing from a tour agency’s blog, but ultimately I think that you should travel to Cuba any way that fits you best. For example, maybe you don’t like cruise ships…? Or maybe you prefer the freedom to explore on your own versus being on tour. This blog is going to break down the differences between the few and give some information to help you decide which travel option is the best for you. Traveling on your own time and exploring freely definitely has it’s benefits. You could stop at a certain store you want, or spend more time inside of a cafe or restaurant. Honestly, I like to do that too. This sort of freedom can give you a bit of freedom to discover something new when you arrive versus when you were initially making all of your reservations.

Despite any misinformation you may have heard, you can definitely travel to Cuba on your own without a tour or cruise ship. However, there may be some major benefits to traveling with a tour to Cuba (at least on your first visit). I will expand on that later in this article. The most important thing to know when traveling to Cuba on your own, especially as an American, someone living in or traveling from the United States. You must, at the very least, follow the general guidelines of OFAC’s Cuba regulations. The only license that allows individual travel is “Support for the Cuban People.” A basic overview of the rules listed in this license: You must stay in a Casa Particular (AirBnB) or any privately owned home. No hotels as they are all partially owned by the government. It is hard to justify a license to Support the Cuban people if you aren’t actually supporting the Cuban People. In addition, You must shop and eat at privately owned businesses and restaurants. You must have a full time itinerary, obey the Cuba restricted list, and keep your receipts for at least 5 years. In any case, you can take a tour and then wander on your own. Many of our guest do this along with a tour. As in, start with a tour, get the hang of Cuba and then adventure on your own. It is really the perfect way!

Cruise ships can be a great vacation with relaxing and exotic environments. Many different cruise ships are traveling to Cuba each day, so you have a quite a few options. Actually, I used to work on cruise ships for about two years as a showband drummer for Carnival Cruise Lines. It was a really fun experience and I was lucky to travel to most of the islands in the Caribbean. I still can’t tell you which ship is best for going to Cuba. My only recommendation is to find one that has an overnight in Havana. Of course, thebest cultural experience you can have in Cuba is the music. All of the great music starts really late at night. Having an overnight schedule allows you to do a day tour and night tour. You can actually do a day or night tour and have the other free. As long as you follow a full time schedule (Estimated at 8 hours per day.) Cruise ships coming from America also have to obey the OFAC regulations. Booking a tour is the easiest way because you aren’t able to stay in a Casa Particular to fulfill your Support for the Cuban people license, Again, the license you must use to travel as an individual to Cuba.

So, should you take a cruise? It depends on your style of travel… If you are wanting to experience a lot culture immersion and be more adventurous I would say no, if you are looking for a relaxing and exotic environment to “kick it” after a lot of work then, yes! Being on a cruise to Cuba is going to give you a small taste of what the country is like. I have been traveling here for over 2 years and I am still learning things everyday. Otherwise, I recommend at least a full week in Havana to begin to grasp all of the different cultural experiences available. If you cruise, you will leave wanting more.

The honest case for a Cuba tour… Any tour, especially our tours are not necessarily relaxing, they are very much interactive, busy, and full of different experiences. We at Havana Music Tours do allow for free time to explore within your itinerary. 

The ultimate way to experience Cuba is with a cultural tour like ours. Yes, we are biased, but it is true. You can read from the many testimonials on TripAdvisor that our guests have a blast. Our tours give you the opportunity to “skip the line” and experience the best of Cuba in a short amount of time. I would like to quote one our guests, Fred, “Even if you speak Spanish fluently (unlike me) or are really good at ferreting out obscure events in strange places (which I generally can), there is still no way you will find half of what Mr. Chaz Chambers can introduce you to.” Especially if you are a. Cuban music lover, you cant afford to miss what we can introduce you to. Join us for an unforgettable tour of Cuba. 


By Chaz Chambers (Musician Tour Guide, and Director of Havana Music Tours)