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ByYami Cabrera (Cuban musicologist and Business Development Director of Havana Music Tours and Musical Getaways

Cuban women are the inspiring soul of the great culture that Cuba preserves. Each sector of Cuban society and each bit of history contains the names of sovereign and courageous women who became examples for the nation and the world. That’s why we want to share this Spotify Playlist Tribute to honor the role of Cuban women in music during this Women’s History Month. 

There is an extended list of female figures who have triumphed in the Cuban and international music scene when it comes to musicians. They have made history through songs.

Many of these courageous women have become an example for younger generations in Cuban society. Among these musical legends it is possible to mention: Maria Teresa Vera, Omara Portuondo, Celia Cruz, Isolina Carrillo, Mercedita Valdés, Elena Burke, Rita Montaner, Celeste Mendoza, Rosita Fornés, and others.

Vanesa-formell-cuban-women-in-music

Vanesa Formell

Nowadays, Cuban culture enjoys an immense arsenal of talented young women who defend their musical roots anywhere. Cuban women musicians have positioned themselves among the best in the industry. Some of them are Daymé Arocena, Eme Alfonso, Yissy García, Brenda Navarrete, Luna Manzanares, Gretell Barreiro, Diana Fuentes, Telmary, Vanesa Formell, Aymée Nuviola, La Reina y la Real, etc.

@havanamusictours

#WomenInMusic #CubanWomen in Music,@DayméArocena at #Havana #JazzPlazaFestival 2019 🇨🇺 #jazz #cubansinger #musicacubana #cubanmusic #womenhistorymonth #trending #sing

♬ original sound – Havana Music Tours

What is in our Spotify Playlist Tribute to Women Artists? 

A long list of women’s names has become part of Cuban cultural and daily life due to their crucial role in music. We know that we can count thousands of songs dedicated to Cuban women, but we can also acknowledge a lot written, performed, and popularized by various women. In this Part 1 of our Spotify Playlist Tribute to Women Artists, we would like to mention essential classic songs written or popularized by women musicians in Cuba.

The following list mentions a few of our favorite classic songs written or popularized by Cuban women.

  • Veinte Años (written by Maria Teresa Vera, in 1935)
  • Damisela Encantadora (popularized by Esther Borja in 1935)
  • Dos Gardenias (written by Isolina Carrillo, in 1945)
  • Quimbara (popularized by Celia Cruz in 1974)
  • El Manisero (popularized by Rita Montaner, in 1927)
  • Yo soy el Punto Cubano (written by Celina González, in 1956)
omara-portuondo-cuban-women-in-music

Omara Portuondo

Cuban women’s beauty and unique identity have also been a source of inspiration for multiple musicians. You can find lots of great songs dedicated to Cuban women. Many of them become representative compositions of Cuban music internationally. We decided to include a few of these songs on our Spotify Playlist Tribute to Women Artists Part 1. 

The following list mentions a few of our favorite classic songs dedicated to Cuban women.

  • Guantanamera (written by Joseíto Fernández, in 1929)
  • Longina (written by Manuel Corona, in 1918)
  • Marilú (title theme of the orchestra Los Van Van, between 1969 and 1970)
  • María Caracoles (written by Pello El Afrocán, in 1964)
  • Yolanda (written by Pablo Milanés, in 1970)
  • El cuatro de Tula (written by Sergio Gonzalez Siaba of the Buena Vista Social Club, in 1996)

You can find our Spotify Playlist Tribute to Women Artists Part 1 here. Enjoy, and let us know your opinion about our selection on the bottom part of this blog post. 

If you want to know more about women in Cuban music, check out our blog, THE 10 MOST INFLUENTIAL FEMALE MUSICIANS IN CUBAN MUSIC FOR 2020.

 

The Cuban Salsa festival in Havana, Cuba is one of those events where you won’t stop dancing for a second. The event brings together the most relevant famous music orchestras from all over the Island. It is an explosion of music and energy never experienced before.

The highlight of this Festival is the salsa music genre, better known in Cuba as “son” or “timba” -one of the most modern and popular variants of Cuban son. Hence, the possibility of enjoying the rhythmic-melodic combinations of contemporary Cuban popular music.

Since the first versions of the Havana Salsa Festival, the presence of Afro-Cuban rhythms, rumba, Salsa, and casino dance in different modalities has been shocking, such as concerts, showcases, conferences, visits to places with relevant musical history, etc.

The Cuban pianist and composer Maykel Blanco plays the primary host of the event, together with his Salsa Mayor orchestra and Cuban cultural institutions such as the Centro Provincial de Espectáculos y de Carnaval de La Habana (Provincial Center of Shows and Carnival of Havana), and other music businesses like Artex, Paradiso, Musicalia, Clave Cubana, Instituto Cubano of the music.

The festival headquarters is the Club 500 of the José Antonio Echeverría de Palmares Recreational Complex, besieged in the heart of one of the most central and popular neighborhoods in Havana, Vedado. The space includes a large stage with an extensive area conducive to enjoying good music and dancing with your friends.

Every year, the famous Cuban Salsa festival welcomes important Cuban groups such as Pupy y los que Son Son, Adalberto Alvarez y Su Son, Alexander Abreu y Havana D´Primera, and the legendary Los Van Van orchestra. In addition to national artists, the Salsa Festival has had the presence of international musicians such as the Puerto Rican salsero Victor Manuelle.

For 2022, Festival de la Salsa organizers presented another tight Line-Up, including the famous Cuban orchestras mentioned before. Let’s check it out!

2023 Tour Dates are February 21st-March 1st, 2023

 

Check our special Cuban Salsa Festival playlist if you want to get in tune with our Cuban Salsa Festival Tour.

The Buena Vista Social Club Today

 

By Rocío de Lucía (Cuban Musicologist)

When we talk about The History of Buena Vista Social Club Part 1 and The History of Buena Vista Social Club Part 2, we find that Buena Vista Social Club was the name of a Social Club where the best “soneros” of the 50s used to sing in Cuba. Then, it was a song that paid tribute to those sublime encounters and musical sessions of the homonymous Club. Later, the song would give the name to an album, a project, and finally to a musical artistic concept, with a particular style and format, founded on bringing together the glorious musicians and songs of previous decades. All that is Buena Vista Social Club.

The project traveled the world always changing the members of the orchestra. Although, it is true that some figures achieved greater popularity, becoming a kind of Buena Vista icon. Many of these original interpreters passed away a few years ago, others are now of advanced age. Let us remember that, by the creation date of the project in the 90s, the vast majority of artists were over 65 years of age.

What happened in Cuba? 

Currently, in Cuba, the legacy and principles of the Buena Vista Social Club continue to be exalted, in a project called Tradicionales de Los 50. Because the original name is the intellectual property of the record company that recorded the homonymous album, the longest-lived figures of the Cuban son, they meet every night at the Rosalía de Castro Club. Located in the heart of Old Havana, there those songs that for years have brightened the lives of all those who enjoy them are honored.

Former members of the Sonora Matancera -the orchestra with which Celia Cruz recorded her first two musical albums in Cuba and a legend of Latin American dance music of the last century-, along with other great stars of the Buena Vista Social Club and Afro-Cuban All-Stars have been part of this project since 2002.

Among the most prominent figures who have collaborated, we find Julio Alberto Fernández, Barbarito Torres, Amadito Valdés, “El Guajiro” Mirabal, Julienne Oviedo Sánchez, Carlos González Cárdenas, Lázaro Villa, Rosa Fornés, Rolo Martínez and Manolo del Valle. These names are joined by other great personalities of the Cuban music scene: Rolito, Armandito y Navarro, Feliz Baloy, Hector Téllez, Alfonsí Quintana, Caridad Hierrezuelo, Hilda de la Hoz, María Elena Pena, Xiomara Valdés, Teresa García Caturla, Ela Calvo, María Victoria Gil, Amparito Valencia and Luis Téllez.

The current stars, all stand out for an important musical trajectory, of excellence within Cuban music. There we will find Rolando Montero, Mundito González, José Valladares, Jorge Mulet, Migdalia Hechavarría, Jose Luis Arango, Sergio Farías, Raquel Hernández, Flora Max, Pablo Santamaría, Millán Zuaznabar, Leonor Zayas, Feliz Bernal, Yanko Pizako, Emilio Ramos, Adalberto Ávila “Candela”, Martha de Santelices, Andrés Sánchez, Maria Elena Lazo, Alfredo Rodríguez, Laura Rodríguez and María de Jesús López.

The wide versatility of the project and its classic sound make this show a jewel of Cuban cultural heritage. A repertoire that ranges from the great classics of Miguel Matamoros, Miguel Cuní, Benny Moré, Compay Segundo, Celia Cruz, and Sonora Matancera -among others-, continues to transport us to the golden age of Cuban music, with the particular timbres and styles of each interpreter.

All of them preserve that old and delightful essence that allows us to enjoy, even in the XXI century, those glorious moments that made the Havana nights of past decades shine. An enjoyment turned into a privilege to get a live glimpse of the flavor and talent of the musicians who have made the whole world dance and distinguished the name of this beautiful island through passion and art.

You can find Parts 1 and 2 of this blog trilogy in the following links:

THE HISTORY OF BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB PART 1: THE VINDICATION OF CUBAN MUSIC

THE HISTORY OF BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB PART 2

A Reflection about Female Musicians For Women’s History Month

By Rosi del Valle (Cuban musician)

Last year was one of the most difficult for artists, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, music events were not possible. However, the artistic movement in Cuba did not stop. Social media was flooded with concerts from every genre. Female artists made a difference during this time of total isolation. That’s why we prepared this list of the 10 most influential Female Musicians in 2020 as a tribute to them in this Women’s History Month. All of them are great singers and talented musicians.

10. Luna Manzanares

luna-Manzanaers-female-Cuban-artist

Luna Manzanares is part of the young generation of Cuban Female singers. Last year she released a new album, “Luna Nueva,” made up of her songs, and ventured into musical theater. She also made her debut as host of the “Adolfo Guzman” Song Festival.

9. Aymeé Nuviola

aymee-nuviola-influential-Cuban-female-artist

Aymée Nuviola is a Cuban/American Female Musician and singer based in the United States. Winner of the 2020 Grammy Award in the Best Tropical Latin Album category for “A Journey Through Cuban Music.”

8. Gretell Barreiro

gretell-barreiro-influential-Cuban-female-artist

Gretell Barreiro is a peculiar Cuban Female singer and pianist. In her most recent musical production, “Marina,” she highlighted femininity through various genres of Cuban music.

7. La Reina y La Real

la reina y la real-influential-Cuban-female-artist

La Reina y la Real is a Cuban Female Musicians and Rap duo based in Havana, Cuba. These rappers released their most recent phonogram, “Mirame,” on April 3, 2020, under Bis Music record label. During the confinement, they participated in various international online programs and festivals.

6. Haila Maria Mompié

haila-maria-mompie-influential-Cuban-female-artist

Haila María Mompié is a Cuban Female Musician and singer and a trendy icon in the Cuban music scene. Last year Haila premiered her new children’s music album “A song to the smile,” licensed by the EGREM record label. She also frequently offered online concerts.

5. Daymé Arocena

dayme arocena-influential-Cuban-female-artist

Daymé Arocena is one of the youngest Cuban Female Musician and singers dedicated to mixing Afro-Cuban music with Jazz, having already achieved a prominent career. She’s also one of the singers who emphasizes women’s right to art, regardless of race.

4. Brenda Navarrete

brenda-navarrete-influential-Cuban-female-artist

Brenda Navarrete is a surprising Cuban Female percussionist and singer with a very active career in Havana, Cuba. She is also a composer and jazz musician invited to Miami’s Global Cuba Fest 21. She stands out for reflecting Afro-Cuban rhythms in her songs.

3. Diana Fuentes

diana-fuentes-influential-Cuban-female-artist

Diana Fuentes is a very versatile Cuban Female Musician and singer currently based in Miami. She and Divan (Cuban reggaeton artist) starred in the song “Otra Boca,” one of the most popular last year. Diana captured the attention of the Spanish singer Pablo Alboran, with whom she co-authored two songs.

2. Telmary

telmary-influential-Cuban-female-artist

Telmary is one of the most potent Cuban Female voices of Cuban Rap Music and a former member of Free Hole Negro and Interactivo bands. Together with her group, Habana Sana, she has substantially impacted social networks. Being considered an icon for style, she launched her accessory brand “Tumbao de Telma” last October.

1. Omara Portuondo

omara-portuondo-influential-Cuban-female-artist

Several magazines selected the Cuban Female singer Omara Portuondo as the most important Cuban woman of 2020. She is also a national glory. Omara received another Grammy nomination for her latest album, “Mariposas,” with the collaboration of several artists. She was one of the first to join the online concert strategy.

 

We hope you will follow along with us and learn more about Cuban culture and music. You can even take a tour with us!

Buena Vista Social Club: From Local Phenomenon to Global

It´s never too late if happiness is good.

 

By Rocío de Lucía (Cuban Musicologist)

Throughout its history, the Son -as the Cuban Rumba- took longer to achieve institutional recognition, even though they were always venerated by the people and respected by the musicians of the continental circuit. The Cuban musical product -in all its manifestations- was a great reference for Latin American and Caribbean culture. However, after a glorious time for Cuban artists during the first half of the 20th century, in the young years of socialist Cuba, Cuban music lost its prominence in the region.

At the end of the 70s, a project called Estrellas de Areito was carried out, whose purpose was to summon the great figures of the golden age of Cuban Son (the 40s and 50s) in an attempt to exalt these colossi of the Cuban music that were falling into oblivion. The American musician and producer Ry Cooder and the record producer Nick Gold were involved. Although that musical work did not have the expected resonance, it laid the groundwork for subsequent projects that would give rise to the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon.

Years later, the Sierra Maestra group, a format that paid tribute to the Sonera tradition and Cuban Trova, developed a series of international tours and presentations. Juan de Marcos González (Cuban musician and producer) was a member of that band. Participation in these events around the world allowed him to interact with essential personalities and music entrepreneurs. From these exchanges emerged the connection and friendship with Nick Gold and World Music. This record label would launch the Buena Vista Social Club album to the world and with it distinguish Cuban music within the heritage of universal culture.

The World Music label had been promoting a line of recordings that explored the richness of African culture and in 1994, they had won the Grammy award for Best World Music with the album Talking Timbuktu, produced by Ry Cooder. Finally in 1995, Juan de Marcos and Nick Gold agreed to organize a project, in a Jam Session style, where Cuban and African musicians would merge. With Ry and Nick’s experience and interest in African and Cuban music, which had fascinated them during the edition of Estrellas de Areito, they traveled to Havana in 1996 to undertake this new project.

Along with the troubadour from Santiago de Cuba, Eliades Ochoa, and other Cuban musicians who would be part of the recordings, the arrival of the two African musicians was expected: Toumani Diabate, Cora player, and the guitarist Chadi Madi. The African instrumentalists could never arrive due to difficulties with their visas, and this new circumstance caused a change in the project’s original conception. It is then when Juan de Marcos summons consecrated figures of Cuban music, among which were: Compay Segundo, Rubén González, Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo.

Ángel Terry Domech, tumbador and member of the project, relates:

We were lucky that Rubén González kept, in a folder, danzones of all times: Buena Vista Social Club, La Negra Tomasa, etc., arrangements were not even made; it was all from memory (…). There was a true professional of teachers who, for many years, dedicated themselves to music.

The instrumental danzón “Buena Vista Social Club”, authored by Israel López, Cachao, evoked those glorious dances of the homonymous Social Club, gave the title to one of the records that were produced at that time. Another of the albums was A Toda Cuba le Gusta, with a big band format. Both musical works were nominated for the 1997 Grammy Awards, but the Buena Vista Social Club studio album won in the Traditional Music category. However, before obtaining the award, the album had already sold more than half a million copies in Europe, as a result of several concerts performed with the Afro-Cuban All Stars format, under the direction of Juan de Marcos, where they only included a few of the musicians who participated in the recordings.

In 1998, Ry Cooder returned to Havana with the German film director Wim Wanders with the intention of filming a documentary about those troubadours and soneros, who were living testimony of a millenary culture, and who had achieved world fame in their old age, to become legends. The cinematographic work recognized the talent and virtuosity of Cuban interpreters and composers, and a whole heritage that had survived wars, revolutions, emigration, and discrimination, yet sounded full of life and joy and managed to move the most diverse audiences.

Artists with capital letters, with no other pretensions than to sing their melodies and serve Cuban music itself, who never renounced their identity, their purest roots, being the most worthy way to honor the nation that fathered them. The documentary was titled Buena Vista Social Club, and beyond its technical values, Wim Wanders delivered a sensitive and honest work, that transmitted the charisma and grace of these Cuban musicians. The film won more than fourteen international awards and an Oscar nomination, in a kind of double distinction: for Wanders’ work and, at the same time, for the work that gave the documentary a reason for being.

 

You can find Part 1 and Part 3 of this blog trilogy in the following links:

THE HISTORY OF BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB PART 1: THE VINDICATION OF CUBAN MUSIC

THE MODERN BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB (PART 3)

Buena Vista Social Club: The vindication of Cuban music

By Rocío de Lucía (Cuban Musicologist)

In a marginal neighborhood of Havana in the 1930s, an “alluring mestiza” danced in a black social club, eventually packing the most important and distinguished stages in the world. This is the true story of the “Buena Vista Social Club”. More than a name, more than a gathering of dance-loving folks, more than a nostalgic song, more than a Grammy-winning record, and a multi-awarded documentary, this phenomenon enticed the whole world to dance and became the antonomastic insignia of Cuban Son. Buena Vista Social Club is all that and it is also the vindication of that “alluring mestiza” that Cuban popular music has always been.

The place. The Social Club in the humble Buena Vista neighborhood.

From the depths of the Cuban East, the Son and the Trova were dragging musicians, poets, dancers, love stories, tragedies, parties, and passions in a kind of conga, until they reached Havana in the early twentieth century. In the capital, the Son seduced with such force that he came to merge with ballroom and solar dances, he entered the bowels of the culture to baptize everything he touched as “Cuban”, from danzón to salsa -which would later be consolidated as a genre in New York, at the end of the 60s-.

Thus the Son arrived at the Buena Vista Social Club, which, according to Rafael Lam (2016: 58), was a black society, of the many that existed in Havana before 1959. The Social Clubs were popular cultural societies in Havana, divided according to the different social strata, and where its members paid a monthly fee to participate in the activities that were organized there. Buena Vista, on the other hand, is a neighborhood located to the west of the city, and it was built to be inhabited by the servants who worked for the rich of Miramar, a neighborhood that was right next door, much more luxurious and residential.

The Buena Vista cultural society owner, Julio Dueñas, had moved the entity from a small and humble house to a slightly larger one in 1948. The new location had a patio and living room 15 meters long by 20 meters wide, where dances were developed and some of the most popular musicians of the time played. Although it was a humble neighborhood and the society was frequented by black proletarians, it was mandatory to dress elegantly in correspondence with the standards of the time.

Many of the events exceeded the cost of the average salary of the club’s worker members. The musician and composer Antonio Arcaño, one of the great monarchs of the dances, would later confess that he offered many free dances in that society. He did it not only for the satisfaction of that humble sector, but because those entities were dance music authorities, practically judges of the charangas, and if an orchestra succeeded in that environment, it could be considered a good orchestra.

The Buena Vista Social Club became the mecca of Cuban Son, where the most authentic musicians, composers, and orchestras of the time passed, paradoxically the most humble. Antonio Arcaño, Arsenio Rodríguez and Regino Frontela Fraga –director of the Melodías del 40 orchestra- became the sovereigns of dance after passing the litmus test of the Buena Vista public. Legend has it that while absurd waltzes or fox-trots were performed in the highest status clubs, at the Buena Vista Social Club dancers packed the sidewalk when a concert by the danzoneras brass bands was announced, for example, La Ideal by Joseíto Valdés, La Típica by Pedrito Calvo, Cheo Belén Puig or La Típica by Aniceto Díaz.

In the new regime established after the triumph of the revolution in 1959, all societies and Social Clubs in Cuba were eliminated. Considered a “vice” that promulgated racism and the division of society, the concept of the Social Club was not compatible with the new socialist ideology. The Buena Vista Social Club was closed and the building became merely a home, with no more glories, and whose joys would not be evoked until decades later.

Footnotes (Spanish):

  1. El término “son”, en español se refiere al género musical bailable de origen cubano.
  2. Conga: Dígase del género musical bailable de origen afrocubano donde los bailadores siguen a los músicos en marcha, marcando el ritmo con sus pasos.

  3. Edificios donde los habitantes viven en cuartos muy pequeños y aglutinados y comparten baños públicos y otras zonas comunes.

 

You can find Parts 2 and 3 of this blog trilogy in the following links:

THE HISTORY OF BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB PART 2

THE MODERN BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB (PART 3)

Cuban Music Festivals

(Updated February 2022)
By Chaz Chambers(Musician, Tour Guide Leader, and Director of Havana Music Tours and Musical Getaways)

Cuba and its capital Havana have been renowned for being one of the premier musical hotspots in 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 Music Festivals in Havana.

Music Festivals in Havana are not only they are unique to each other and are rich in variety, but they offer the best Cuban music with a spice of international twist as well. We invite you to explore our list of the 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.

The 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 testify to 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.

The broad spectrum of musical genres available to soak upsets the festival apart the most. 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 and encourage exchanges among international and Cuban bands. This can be very beneficial to the musicians, producers, and music promoters in our country“

havana-world-music-festival-cuba-2019


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 is 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 it is Casino dance (style of Cuban salsa), ChaChaChá, Reggaeton, or Rumba with much 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!

havana salsa festival flyer 2022

5. Josone Music Festival in Varadero

While every festival mentioned before had at least some kind of area they specialize in more, Josone Music Festival will be a beautiful mix of everything. The musical side of the festival will allow famous Cuban orchestras, dancers, musicians, and even international DJs to perform. 

The Festival specialized in Cuban Jazz and Rumba, it includes two music stages inside Josone Park, one of the biggest in the beach city of Varadero (Matanzas province). If you‘re interested in something alternative and different format, then be sure to check out the potential of the Josone Music Festival!

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Music Venues in Havana

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

Rooted deep in history and composed of sounds that seem to move the body and the soul, 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 we 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 then make sure not to miss these top five music venues in Havana, the capital of Cuban music!

1. Fabrica de Arte Cubano

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

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

What truly draws in those crowds are intriguing art exhibitions, funky live music, movies, and creativity that the venue explodes with 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 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 the 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 being 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, 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 the 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 music venues in Havana so far have 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 not stopping any time soon!

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 the 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 the 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 a tremendous effect on the lives of many musicians who played in the Afro-Cubans over the years, and on those who fell in love with the rhythms of Latin jazz because of his music.

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

 

If you would like to see the best Latin and Afro-Cuban Jazz, join us on our Cuban Jazz and Rumba Tour featuring Havana Jazz Plaza (Cuba’s annual Jazz Festival)

The best musicians in the world. The secret of Cuban music

 

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

Every time I go to a show in Havana or anywhere in Cuba, I am stunned by the musicianship. The impressive music scene that I always found there makes me love Cuban Music more and more each time.

Havana makes me think of 1950s New York City, not only because of the vintage cars but because of the superior musicianship. It reminds me of the greats like Miles Davis and John Coltrane on the come-up. It’s like traveling into a Time Machine. But with unique modern aspects that make it much better.

What does a music venue look like in Cuba?

The music venues in Cuba sometimes remind me of New York in many ways. Famous Cuban jazz venues like La Zorra y El Cuervo or Jazz Café Havana could make you feel that you are in an underground jazz club in the heart of Greenwich Village. It has the same feel and ambiance; the only difference is the authentic Latin Jazz. If you are a Jazz lover you should join us on Cuban Jazz, Music, and Cultural Tour Featuring Havana Jazz Plaza Festival 2023.

If it is about vintage vibes, in Cuba, especially in Havana, you will be able to find some Cabaret-style venues that take you on an exciting trip to the 50s. Some of them are Tropicana, Habana Café, Parisien, among others.

In Cuba, you can also enjoy concerts in elegant colonial-style theaters such as the Gran Teatro Alicia Alonso (Havana), Teatro Martí (Havana), Teatro Terry (Cienfuegos), Teatro Heredia (Santiago de Cuba). However, there are other more modern and relevant ones, such as Teatro Karl Marx and Teatro Nacional de Cuba, both in Havana.

But, not everything is vintage and nostalgic in the Cuban music scene. You can also find bars and nighttime clubs very similar to the rest of the world. Places where you can find both live and recorded music; are usually full of people dancing and drinking until very late in the night. One of our favorites is the Café Bertolt Brecht, especially if Interactive is playing there.

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♬ original sound – Havana Music Tours

How to describe a Cuban musician?

Over the years, I’ve understood why this may be (in my opinion). First of all, there are  FREE music schools in Cuba where children start studying music as young as eight years old. Around half of the day is spent learning music and the other half with traditional 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 level, they are already impressive.

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

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 the 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 can begin touring out of the country, it can provide a much greater lifestyle than the typical Cuban.

I believe that Cuba has the best musicians globally, and all of my experiences traveling tell me the world needs to know this. You can see at least a few world-class performances in only one week, artists like Alain Perez, Alexander Abreu, Interactivo, Isaac Delgado, the modern-day Buena Vista Social Club, Afro Cuban All-Stars, and so many more. I hope that everyone has a chance to travel to Cuba at least once and experience the music of Havana.

Join us for an unforgettable tour of Cuba. Book your CubaTour Now!