Cuba and its capital Havana has been renowned for being one of the premier musical hotspots of the world. After all, you can see it, hear it and feel it everywhere. From narrow alleys and balconies to blasting speakers from cars to hottest venues and dance floors. But just because we can see it anywhere and everywhere, doesn‘t mean we should ignore a wonderful opportunity to explore particular festivals in Havana. Not only they are unique to each other and are rich in variety, but they offer the best of Cuban music with a spice of international twist as well. We invite to explore our list of top 5 most popular music festivals in Havana where everyone is bound to find something they prefer and admire!

 

1. Havana Jazz Plaza – Havana’s Annual Jazz Festival

We simply have to start with a jazz festival. After all, we are talking about Cuba! Havana International Jazz Plaza Festival is one of the most important music events in the country.

Festival dates back to 1980 to its first gig. And over the years it became nothing short of a premium jazz experience in Havana and all of Cuba. Performances from such artists as Telmary, Joe Lovano, Interactivo, Alain Perez and others only testifies it.

It is all about diversity in artistic expression, inter influence between different music scenes and a strong presence of international music. Attending the Havana Jazz Plaza Festival will allow you to truly feel that pulse of music that Cuba is known for!

 

2. Havana World Music Festival

The festival pulses right in the heart of Havana with a profound link to musical culture and heritage. A celebration and showcase of talent from both Cuba and around the world.

What sets the festival apart the most is the broad spectrum of musical genres available to soak up. From hip-hop, folk and jazz to acoustic, reggae, electronic music and more! Havana World Music Festival ensures that everyone will find their moment of groove! In addition to all of this, you‘ll also be able to witness dazzling street art, dance performances and other forms of creativity exploding.

To sum it up, the award-winning Cuban artist said it best about the festival: „The focus of HWM is to give the Cuban people the chance to become acquainted with the musical diversity of Cuba and the world, as well as to encourage exchanges among international and Cuban bands. This can be very beneficial to the musicians, producers and music promoters in our country“


3. Fiesta del Tambor – Havana’s Annual Percussion Festival

Let‘s shift our focus to the drums! Fiesta del Tambor offers a wonderful chance for percussion enthusiasts to attend the biggest drum party on the island.

Featuring some of the best percussionists, drummers and musicians, both international and local, the festival is now operating for more than 15 years and organized by the National Center for Popular Music.

Greatest percussionists and drummers are accompanied by Cuban dance music bands, various dance groups, folklore jazz compositions, and even Drum masterclasses and cultural events. A festival is rich in every aspect of heritage, art, and music.


4. International Salsa Festival

Just as we turned the tides towards drumming, we are now going to put some emphasis on dancing. A form of expression that has been around since 3300 BC!

The festival offers a 7-day adventure with over 100 hours of dance classes with different levels and styles to choose from. Whether its Cuban Casino, Cha Cha Cha, Reggaeton or Rumba with many more available. And once the sun sets, the party will set Cuban salsa clubs on fire!

Capture the very best of Cuban dance and share your love for music and dancing with thousands of enthusiasts, performers, instructors that are bonded by a passion for something rather simple – dancing!


5. Festival de la Timba

While every festival mentioned before had at least some kind of area they specialize in more, Festival de la Timba will be a beautiful mix of everything.

Dedicated to the legacy of the beloved director of the Van Van and happening in August of 2020, the festival‘s program is something intriguing to explore.

The musical side of the festival will allow dancers, musicians, international DJs, and even famous Cuban orchestras to perform. The activities also have theoretical meetings, photographic exhibitions, musicologists and screenings of documentaries such as Legacy by Nathanael Mergui.

If you‘re interested in something alternative and different format, then be sure to check out the potential of Festival de la Timba!

Rooted deep in history and composed of sounds that seem to not only move the body but the soul as well – music in Cuba is larger than life. It is culture, identity, lifestyle, tradition and a force that moves the whole country in one never-ending concert. And us visitors are always looking to capture the best out of our limited time. So, if you‘re looking to have that iconic music experience in Cuba and have unforgettable fun than make sure not to miss these top five music venues in the capital Havana!

1. Fabrica de Arte Cubano

Established inside of a former cooking oil factory, La Fabrica de Arte Cubano also known as La FAC has quickly become one of the most trendy and popular nightlife hotspots in Havana. And it‘s success lies in many distinctive details.

La FAC delivers incredible diversity both in amenities and activities. Within these refurbished historic walls, you‘ll find a snack restaurant, nightclub and a bar mixed in with spacious outdoor and indoor spaces. But tat‘s only the tip of an entertainment iceberg that La FAC is.

What truly draws in those crowds are intriguing art exhibitions, funky live music, movies and creativity that the venue explodes in every week. And there should be no surprise why the main reason for visiting the Vedado neighborhood is usually the vibrant La Fábrica de Arte Cubano.

2. La Zorra y El Cuervo

Next up we have another exciting place where music makes the air vibrate every night – La Zorra y El Cuervo. A New York Manhattan Village style jazz club and one of the best at it in Havana.

Low ceilings, cramped space, dark and a dim basement with a red English telephone box at the entrance. La Zorra y El Cuvero translates for “the Fox & The Crow“ and offers a vintage and soulful jazz club experience.

Leaning towards freestyle Jazz mostly, the club has brightest performers of the Cuban jazz scene to perform here while also casting a spotlight on young and upcoming artists. Spectacular, special and memorable performances are a guarantee for any kind of jazz or music fan.

Cuba is breathing jazz, and if you want to experience to be top-notch, the La Zorra y El Cuervo is where it is at in Havana!

3. Cafe Teatro Bertolt Brecht

Looking for more of that wild nightlife escape in Havana? Then leave a Cafe Teatro Bertolt Brecht name in your notes and prepare to move those hips!

It is without a doubt one of the coolest nightspots in Havana, Cuba. Live music is played every night here, with Wednesdays leading the way. This is when the iconic Jazz fusion group “Interactivo” headlines the show almost every week.

Cafe Teatro Bertolt Brech is the past, present, and future all in one and a beautiful mix of artists perform here simply for good vibes.

While you will also find the theatre here as well, the club is known as “No Se Lo Digas a Nadie“ (Don‘t Tell Anyone“ and is a basement of the building. Tables here are few, and ques can belong. It is best to get here early at around 11:00 PM to get a good feel for the place before the crowds surge in.

4. Casa de la Musica Miramar

It seems that every venue so far has to offer something intriguing and different. And Casa de la Musica Miramar is no exception!

This is a venue known for hosting at least one famous Cuban artist every week. Bands and musicians such as Los Van Van, Alain Perez, Habana D‘Primera and others don‘t shy away from an opportunity to perform here.

The beautiful and elegant old Havana mansion delivers a sophisticated ambiance. However, it is not the most spacious venue. Therefore be prepared to be crowded, even without large numbers of people coming in. But once you surrender yourself to the rhythms and dance, everything will simply fade away!

5. Habana 309

Formerly known as Kpricho Bar-Restaurant, the new venue has been born just recently under the new name of Habana 309.

A new place is yet to be discovered by many people, but good reviews are already making their way. One thing assured – live music here is stellar and is accompanied by the finest cocktails, good service, and a cozy setting.

It seems that Habana 309 is becoming a hub for new underground music and performing it at this cool new venue is no stopping any time soon!

Hi Traveler friends,

Good news and bad news. The good news is that Cuba seems to have a good handle on the COV-19 outbreak thus far. Like most of the world, there has been a very strict shelter in place order for over 2 months and it has so far exceeded the expectations of doctors’ and scientists’ projections for Cuba. As of May 30th, 2020, as reported by MINSAP (Ministry of Health in Cuba), there have been 2,025 total COV-19 confirmed cases, 1,795 recoveries, 448 suspected cases, and only 83 COV-19 deaths. We are constantly monitoring the situation and we plan to make more updates as soon as new information becomes available.

The “bad news,” mostly for tourism, (rather good for safety) is that Cuba’s borders will remain closed until further notice per the Ministry of Tourism. Some airlines are making reservations starting in July, but there are no guarantees that the Cuban government will open the borders within that timeframe, especially for tourists.

Some tour operators are planning to restart tours in August 2020. We believe that is too soon and have decided to postpone all of our group tours until 2021. We will resume private and personalized tours in November 2020 and on a case by case basis.

We feel this is the best and safest way to ensure the safety of our travelers. We prefer to allow time for airlines and airports to organize and create efficient processes in a post-COVID-19 travel environment.

We will begin our group tours again with our New Years VIP Music tour on December 27th-January 3rd, 2021. https://havanamusictours.com/vip-music-tour-havana/

Followed by our annual “Havana Jazz Plaza Tour” and our new “Havana Jazz and Rumba Tour.” We also added new dates for our VIP Music Tour already and plan to add more for other tour themes in the next couple of months. View all the dates @ HavanaMusicTours.com

We will be indefinitely reducing the size of our group tours from 10 people to only 8 people maximum. The only exception is for private and personalized tours. (School groups, large families, etc)

We will also be creating a new cancellation addendum that allows for more flexible date exchanges and a credit voucher policy for our future tours. To be announced soon.

Stay tuned for an email newsletter by the end of the month with more details. You can subscribe here: http://eepurl.com/dtdYQn

 

Sincerely,

Chaz Chambers (Founder/Director)
Email: [email protected]
WhatsApp: 1-850-396-2855
24/7 Reservations: 1-844-389-9271

 

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Fiesta del Tambor 2019 in Cuba

By Yamilka Cabrera

(English Translation)

 

Fiesta del Tambor is an event that finds space in every corner of Havana to begin the “rumba” and celebrate. In addition, it allows the exchange of musical cultures from around the world. The festival that we will be dedicated to this blogpost.

In the last 18 Edition of Festival and competition, Fiesta del Tambor “Guillermo Barreto in Memoriam”, a tribute was made to Spain, a country that gave birth to many styles of Cuban music and that still keeps latent such inescapable connection that unites both countries. A week where both cultures came together in rumbas, bulerías, couplets, rhythmic and even Jazz, to be enjoyed by all audiences. The doors were opened for a long-awaited meeting with well-known Spanish artists and groups in Cuba, such as Ketama, Patax and Falete and other excellent musicians, such as the pianist Laura de Los Angeles and Israel Suárez “El Piraña”.

Drums, pailas and congas were a crucial part of these shows. Without exaggeration, the duets were stunning in the drums starring the young pillars of Cuban percussion, such as Rodney Barreto, Oliver Valdés, Ruly Herrera and Ruy Adrián López Nussa, who were joined by improvisations by Giraldo Piloto and Samuel Formell, with their respective orchestras Klímax and Van Van.

The rumba had a special space, the “Salon de la Rumba” dressed up to receive thousands of followers of the genre inside and outside of Cuba. Stage that warmly welcomed groups, such as Yoruba Andabo, Ronald and Explosión Rumbera, Obbini Batá and the Mutanquitos de Matanzas.

On the other hand, there were a lot of people attending Casa de la Música de Plaza 31 and 2 to learn and apprehend updated ways of interpreting percussion instruments, through the master classes of Cubans Rodney Barreto (drums), Tomás Ramos “el Panga” (congas) and the Spanish drawer Israel Suárez “el Piraña”. A musical space that also gives birth to many young Cuban percussionists, those who were amongst the participants of the International Percussion Competition.

There is no doubt that this is a necessary event for the development of Cuban music, inside and outside this island, both for its educational value and its ability to unveil the valuable history of its instruments and roots through the symbolic and leading role in performing the drums. This party has the courage to go beyond the stereotypes that stalk Cuban music, bringing all kinds of audiences closer to the consumption of good live, latent, and unbreakable Cuban music.

 

 

La Fiesta del Tambor 2019 en Cuba

Por Yamilka Cabrera

(Original Spanish Version – Versión original en español)

 

La Fiesta del Tambor es un evento que encuentra espacio en cada rincón de La Habana para comenzar la rumba y celebrar. Además, permite el intercambio con culturas musicales de todo el mundo. Por supuesto que les estoy hablando de la Fiesta del tambor, festival al cual le estaremos dedicando esta tarde.

En la pasada Edición 18  del Concurso y Festival Internacional Fiesta del Tambor “Guillermo Barreto in Memoriam”, se hizo tributo a España, país que dio origen a muchos estilos de la música cubana y que aún mantiene latente esa conexión ineludible que hermana a ambos países. Una semana donde se juntaron ambas culturas en rumbas, bulerías, coplas, sones e incluso jazz, para ser disfrutados por todos los públicos. Se abrieron las puertas para un anhelado encuentro con artistas y agrupaciones españolas muy conocidas en Cuba como Ketama, Patax y Falete y otros excelentes instrumentistas como la pianista Laura de los Ángeles y el cajonero Israel Suárez “El Piraña”.

Baterías, pailas y congas fueron parte crucial de estos espectáculos. Sin ánimos de exagerar, fueron despampanantes los duetos en el drums protagonizados por los jóvenes pilares de la percusión cubana como Rodney Barreto, Oliver Valdés, Ruly Herrera y Ruy Adrián López Nussa, a los que se sumaron las improvisaciones de Giraldo Piloto y Samuel Formell, junto a sus respectivas orquestas Klímax y Van Van.

La rumba tuvo un espacio especial, el “Salón de la Rumba” se vistió de gala para recibir a miles de seguidores del género dentro y fuera de Cuba. Escenario que acogió calurosamente agrupaciones como Yoruba Andabo, Ronald y Explosión Rumbera, Obbini Batá y los Muñequitos de Matanzas.

Por otro lado, no fuimos pocos los que nos acercamos a la Casa de la Música de Plaza 31 y 2 para aprender y aprehender actualizadas maneras de interpretar los instrumentos de percusión, a través de las clases magistrales de los cubanos Rodney Barreto (drums), Tomás Ramos “el Panga” (congas) y del cajonero español Israel Suárez “el Piraña”. Espacio que además permitió dar a conocer, como cada año, las jóvenes promesas de la percusión cubana entre los participantes de la Competencia Internacional de Percusión.

No hay dudas de que este es un evento necesario para el desarrollo de la música cubana, dentro y fuera de esta isla, tanto por su valor educativo como su capacidad de develar la valiosa historia de sus instrumentos y raíces a través de la simbólica y protagónica utilización del tambor. Esta fiesta tiene el valor de ir más allá de los estereotipos que acechan la música cubana, acercando a todo tipo de público al consumo de la buena música cubana en vivo, latente e inquebrantable.

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.

celia-cruz-promo

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.

Image links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celia_Cruz#/media/File:Celia_Cruz,_1957.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celia_Cruz#/media/File:Celia_Cruz_y_La_Sonora_Matancera.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celia_Cruz#/media/File:Cruz_and_Ros-Lehtinen1992a.jpg

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