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.

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