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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.

 

Cuban Dance 101

By Rocío de Lucía (Cuban Musicologist)

We want to start by saying that perhaps contrary to what many expected, all Cubans do not dance like salsa professionals; not even all of them like to dance. For some, it could be an evident axiom; for others, not so much, so it is worth the clarification. Although, Cubans have alternatives for any dancer. If you prefer slower and more relaxed types, you can practice danzón or son. But, if you desire faster and more energetic movements, you can try the casino, conga, rumba, and even reggaeton with its extreme sensuality add-on. In general, Cuba is full of options when you ask about dance styles. That’s what we want you to learn from our article today. Let’s find out what are Cuban dances like?

Local dances that Cubans like

The last three decades of history have changed the music-dance scene in Cuba quite a bit. Although many people tend to think that people from Cuba only dance casino (salsa style), rumba, and danzón, the truth is that Cubans nowadays practice a diverse and modern variety of dances. The cultural opening of the Island revived its link with international trends, a connection quite similar to other regions of the Caribbean and Central America such as Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Mexico, among others.

Like in other Caribbean contexts, reggaeton has become the favorite musical genre among the youngest and most of the Cuban population. However, even when Puerto Rican reggaeton is widely consumed by the Latinxs community everywhere, Cubans have their own style, different and particular. Without the intention of doing a far-fetched musicological dissertation in this regard, we will comment that this Cuban reggaeton is distinguished by a specific rhythmic cell based on the Cuban clave.

Cuban reggaeton also uses and generates a lot of local slang. Some of the most popular reggaeton names are Chocolate MC, Yomil y el Dany, El Chacal, Divan, El Taiger, Harrison, El Kamel, etc. Then, the dance has particular characteristics and patterns, totally different from the rest of the geographical area.

Besides reggaeton, the other most danced genre is timba, with its casino dance. Timba is a mix derived from Afro-Cuban jazz, similar to son (original type of salsa), but faster and more aggressive. Cubans started calling it casino dance since its widespread use in casino clubs during the ’50s. The style sets the basic rhythm of the salsa, but it does not do it linearly but freely.

This style allows greater freedom of improvisation and more spontaneous and rhythmic movements. You can dance in pairs and around, hence the famous “Ruedas de Casino” (Casino Wheels, a type of casino danced in a group). Among the most popular orchestras of this timba genre are: Alexander Abreu y Habana de Primera, Bamboleo, El Noro y Primera Clase, Alain Pérez, Pupi y los que Son Son, Adalberto Álvarez y su Son, and Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco.

In addition to these dances, we found Rumba dance, a folkloric style that remains strong among Cuban peopleThe Rumba style is divided into YambuColumbia, and Guaguancó. The dancers’ energy and flavor explosion is their central characteristic. Despite its more than a hundred years of history, this “mestizo” style continues to captivate generations and generations of Cubans. 

The dance varies according to the style of each dancer and the type of variant. You can dance in pairs, separate people, or in a group. You can find rumba dance at both public and private parties, as well as in cultural or recreational centers. One of our favorite places to dance rumba is the Callejon de Hamel.

Another folkloric Cuban dance very vivid on the Island is conga. This genre has a marked African influence, where percussion plays the leading role. This style is a single type of dance, but in a group: the musicians play the congas (drums) and horns, and the dancers follow them through the streets, setting a basic rhythm with their feet. It’s also common for Cuban people to dance at least one conga at private parties and Carnivals.

Other styles danced in Cuba.

Cuba has been working hard to preserve a few other famous but “old school” styles among the popularity of many modern dances. “Classical” orchestras are a big part of this effort, groups that have essentially made Cubans dance for decades. Los Van Van and La Orquesta Aragón are two of these bands highly prestigious in the national and international music scene.

Los Van Van developed a music/dance style called Songo, where the Cuban son’s essence is interpreted with a particular rhythmic base and a charanga style of music format. The most faithful follower of this genre has been Maikel Blanco y Su Salsa Mayor. Another of the most beloved by the Cuban people, La Orquesta Aragón, also uses a traditional charanga music format. They mostly performs danzones, chachachás, boleros, and sones.

However, we must point out that these music and dance genres are reserved for most adult populations. In the same sense, you must know that even when it seems paradoxical, the Buena Vista Social Club and its exquisite repertoire are icons currently reserved mainly for tourism and not the Cuban people. But, that doesn’t mean that they won’t enjoy it every time someone plays it. 

On the other hand, it is essential to talk about foreign dance styles currently popular in Cuba, like merengue and bachata. For the youngest, electronic and pop music also appear in their tastes. These styles have become very famous after the abundance of more modern music festivals on the Island. In this realm, we need to add a special mention of a phenomenon called Cimafunk. This band has made the funk style fashionable and danceable among Cuban youth, mixed with Afro-Cuban rhythms and other indigenous stylistic features.

Where do Cubans like to dance? 

As a general rule, family celebrations, national anniversary dates, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas, the New Year, school graduations, religions, and the reception of friends or relatives who live in other regions are often top reasons to organize a party. Food, drink, and dance music will not be missing in these celebrations. We must add that, in reality, there is not always a reason for this kind of event; many times, Cubans meet only for leisure and recreation.

Yes, socialization and partying are essential elements in Cuban society. To better illustrate the Cuban character on this topic, note that some dates indicated as “International Worker’s Day” or “International Women’s Day” are usually commemorations of struggle and protest in other world regions; in Cuba, they are holidays. In addition, we will mention events such as Festivals and Carnivals, different spaces that occur regularly, and where music and celebration abound.

So, if you are looking for a community where you can find cultural parties, not so much in clubs, but spontaneous and artistic events, full of traditions, culture, and joy, Cuba is one of the best places for it. However, you can also find all kinds of venues around the Island with excellent music and an impressive number of people dancing. 

 

If you want to learn more about Cuban dance, we highly recommend the Music Education & Cultural Cuba Tour

Cuba, a benchmark for dancers

We could list hundreds of reasons in favor of travel, and about the benefits of visiting and interacting with new cultures. One of these, without a doubt, is that knowing a new city allows us to confront stigmas and stereotypes usually built around culturally different communities. Cuba has not been exempt from this condition. That is why it is necessary to talk about these common stigmas related to Cubans and their culture.

If you like to dance, undoubtedly, Cuba will not disappoint you, especially since the conceptions of dance tend to be more accessible and without so many rigid structures of interpretation. As a general rule, Cubans value the atmosphere, the energy more than the virtuosity of the movements. Their celebrations are full of life and flavor, a friendly spirit, and communion. Even if you are not a dancer, but you like to enjoy this type of environment, in Cuba, you will have unforgettable experiences, and you will indeed be infected with the joy and warmth of its people.

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

The rumba is one of the most important and universal Cuban styles of music. Many travelers and music lovers go to the island of Cuba to learn and enjoy a good Cuban rumba. Without a doubt, it is a relevant cultural attraction of this Caribbean island. Therefore, in this article, we will be addressing some essential elements of this peculiar genre.

What does the term rumba mean?

The term rumba is included within a series of Afro-Cuban words that designate a collective and profane festival in Cuba during colonial times. It is originally conceived as a couple of dancers that occur within a related group of people. Rumba is a party, touch, and dance. It manifests itself within a cohesive collective by ties of kinship or friendship, of the neighborhood.

Rumba party? Music and dance in Cuban rumba.   

At the rumba party, some play the drums, others raise the song, others respond as a chorus, and the others cheer with claps, waddle, go into the ring to dance, etc. Initially, the instruments used in these festivities were boxes of different sizes, frequently boxes of cod and candles; to achieve the highest sounds it was percussed in a bottle, in pans, or in some metallic implement.

These instruments were replaced with the development of the genre by three “tumbadoras” or “congas” of different heights. Each drum has a particular and specific rhythmic function.

The highest voice, the “Quinto”, a talking drum, is the one in charge of the improvisations that urge the dancer to make different figurations. The third drum or “salidor”, with a deep voice, marks a low ostinato, and the middle voice, “tres dos”, produces another stable rhythm that balances the whole percussion section of the rumba music. The singer carries the “claves”, which start and remain stable during the song.

Generally, rumba songs are preceded by a melodic vocal inspiration called “Diana”. Then, with the entry of the text, improvisation begins to expose the issue that gives rise to the rumba; this is called decimating. After improvisation, it “breaks” the rumba with the entrance of the instruments and the alternating solo-chorus form.

When the rumba breaks, a couple of dancers go into the ring. The dance is evocative and, in general, convulsive and disjointed; every step and gesture represents the events that precede the possession of a chicken. The Cuban rumba also presents variants of its style of music and dance: the guaguancó, the yambú, the Columbia, and a Spanish type of rumba.

Cuban rumba style became known at the beginning of the 20th century through famous groups such as `Los Roncos´, and `El Paso franco´. Later, they met rumberos who acquired great prestige such as Agustín Pina, Roncona, Malanga, Tío Tom, Chano Pozo, Virulilla, etc.

New technologies and most current rumba sounds

Undoubtedly, technology has allowed the Cuban rumba to approach contemporary sounds. With it, the electric bass is incorporated into a percussive plane. On some occasions, you can see the electric piano’s presence and the jazz band’s current sound, which has accompanied us since the 1920s when Cuban musicians, mentioned above, brought the rumba and the son to the Latin Quarter of New York. In addition, we can regularly find the violin combined with a contemporary touch during the spiritual songs to the ancestors.

Nowadays, there are famous rumberos such as the Clave and Guaguancó, Yoruba Andabo, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas and Los Papines groups, among others. The artistic representation of this folkloric manifestation can also be appreciated in the presentations of professional groups such as the Conjunto Folclórico Nacional, and local groups such as Rumbatá de Camagüey and Rumbávila de Ciego de Ávila.

Conclusions

As you can see, these are just some relevant data regarding the Cuban rumba. The Cuban rumba is a complex and very peculiar artistic phenomenon. On our part, it only remains to invite you to meet and enjoy this wonderful Cuban party with us.

The rumba is one of the most attractive Cuban styles for our team. That is why we always have a special space for her on our Tours. Havana Music Tours offers the opportunity to enjoy this style through direct contact with specific artists and musical groups such as Los Muñequitos de Matanzas or Clave y Guaguancó.

However, we recommend our Cuban Jazz and Rumba Tour, Fiesta Del Tambor (VIP), and even the Josone Music Festival in Varadero (Rumba, Jazz Son). These tours specialize their experiences in Cuban musical matters such as the rumba, and especially its percussion instruments. It is valid to highlight that our agency will also take into account personalized suggestions.

Are you ready to dance and enjoy Cuban rumba with our Havana Music Tours team?

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

Also, check out our Ultimate Cuba Travel Checklist (Updated January 2022)

Tonadas Trinitarias, Cuban Folk Music

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

Trinidad is a beautiful city in the center of Cuba. There we can find a very distinctive genre of this city, known as Tonadas Trinitarias. In the beginning, this musical expression was developed as part of a festive musician-dance event of a movement and purely profane nature. This style is currently performed by some of its main folkloric-traditional musical groups from Trinidad city.

Although its name refers to a generic species linked to country Cuban music, the Tonadas Trinitarias musical form is very distant from this type of music. On the contrary, it denotes a type of music that is accompanied by three small drums with the parietal wedge, a guataca, a guiro, and a mixed choir. This type of group is also very similar –in terms of sound and instrumental format– to that of the harpsichord choirs from the rumba and typical of the cities of Matanzas and Sancti Spíritus.

This tradition dates back to the second half of the 19th century, and some sources highlight its similarity with the beginning of the independence struggles and the revolutionary fervor of the time. They were organized by choral groups of men and women, in charge of representing the different neighborhoods established in the town.

During the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, it was known of the existence of two main groupings of Tonadas Trinitarias, each one representing specific neighborhoods, such as La Popa or Jibabuco and Simpá or El Tamarindo. However, the socio-cultural changes that occurred in the neocolonial stage caused a strong depression in the practice of these tunes, leaving both groups practically disabled.

The group meets again with the Triumph of the Revolution. This was possible at the request of government entities such as Cultura Municipal, and with the help of young art instructors. They bring together the main bearers of the tradition, it makes possible the creation of the Tonadas Trinitarias Group in 1963.

Unfortunately, starting in the 80s, this process led to the degradation of the tradition.  The Tonadas Trinitarias became a generic type to be included as part of a repertoire of the Conjunto Folclórico de Trinidad, and other local groups.

However, due to the ideological and commercial value attributed to the tradition, this tradition has a new resurgence as a cultural product after opening the city to tourism in the 2000s. The Tonadas reaches into the present despite the great challenges in improving its practice.

Currently, the group remains in force thanks to its own members’ efforts and some of the cultural authorities of the town. The Tonadas Trinitarias can be found in different places in the very center of Trinidad, Cuba, such as the Palenque de Los Congos Reales, or in the Patio Bécquer.

 

Here are a couple of different videos,

including a collaboration with Havana Music Tours founder, Chaz Chambers

 

 

By Rosi del Valle (Cuban musician)

For more than a century, the transverse flute has been one of Cuban music’s leading and most exciting instruments. Its prominence ranges from the so-called Charanga orchestras to the most contemporary Jazz, having virtuous exponents renowned worldwide.

In Cuba, the boom of the flute made this instrument increasingly present in orchestras due to the singularity of its sound and the “flavor” it added to dance music.

The transverse flute can be classified as an aerophone instrument whose register encompasses the mid-bass and high-pitched sounds. It’s got a versatile sonority since it can achieve different sounds for different purposes.

History and significant performers of the transverse flute in Cuba

The flute reached its peak in Cuban popular music during the first decades of the 20th century with the emergence of the “Charanga orchestras.” These traditional music groups were made up of percussion instruments (tumbadoras, timpani, minor percussion), piano, violins, bass, flute. Later on, other instruments such as the trumpet, the trombone, and a more extensive percussion set were added. Because of its sonority, the flute became emblematic in the orchestras of the time; it is essential in musical genres such as Danzón, Cha-cha-chá, and Son, all of which are characteristic of Cuban music.

Orquesta Aragón (Aragón Orchestra) is undoubtedly Cuba’s most crucial charanga band, while Richard Egües, nicknamed “the magic flute,” has been its most recognized flutist. His skills and peculiar sound became a reference for many professional and amateur musicians. His improvisations became so famous that they were imitated inside and outside the country. This virtuous musician became the hallmark of this orchestra. One of his most outstanding soloist performances appears in the recording of the famous song “Tres Bellas Cubanas” during the boom of the Buena Vista Social Club musical project.

Over the years, the flute has become essential in Cuban music. This fact justifies its presence in different musical genres and instrumental formats, as was the case of the well-known Los Van Van Orchestra —directed since its foundation by the late Juan Formell, an artist who claims to have changed the development of his group with the incorporation of this instrument.
The versatile and renowned Cuban musician José Luis Cortés was the first flutist to use this instrument in Los Van Van. Cortés, known as “el Tosco,” is considered one of the essential flute players within Cuban musical culture.

After being a member of orchestras such as Los Van Van and Irakere, Jose Luis Cortés founded his own, NG la Banda. His performance in this new musical group brought about new sonorities, more moderate and different. His technique to play the flute is nourished daringly by elements of concert music and Jazz, which generates a change in his way of improvising. Due to his transgressive and diverse career, Cortés is considered the most influential flutist of the new generation of Cuban Jazz.

Orlando “Maraca” Valle, another representative flutist of Cuban music, came onto the same artistic background. Unlike Jose Luis Cortés, he covered a much broader spectrum in the world of flute performance. During his studies, he absorbed specific and unique techniques beyond the trend, focusing on sonority according to the instrument’s evolution.

Maraca has the merit of having managed to reproduce the sound of the wooden flute in the transverse flute. He has become one of the world’s strongest exponents of Latin Jazz, especially for his technique to play the instrument and his improvisation skills. He has expanded his music, reaching out to a very diverse audience. He was named “the liberator of the flute” for moving away from the standard established for flutists in charanga music.

The transverse flute is and will be one of the most fantastic attractions of Cuban dance music. It came from Europe to stay forever.

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)

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!

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

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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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!

 How to make an authentic Café Cubano (Cuban Coffee). VLOG 

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

Café Cubano (Cuban Coffee) is one thing that pops up every time you think about Cuba. It’s inevitable. Every lover of Cuban Culture should know how to prepare it. That’s why in this article, we will share our favorite recipe with you so you can learn. Let’s make some Café Cubano!

What should you know about Café Cubano or Cubano Coffee?

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 colonialists and immigrating slaves of French colonies. Cuban’s way of making coffee has evolved into a unique brewing style, 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. Historically limited in their luxurious purchasing abilities, they have also lacked many of the fantastic coffee machines we have all around the world. But, possibly against their knowledge, this could be a good thing for their final product.

Cubans traditionally use a “cafetera” (coffee machine in Spanish), but otherwise known as a percolator in English. This unique gadget holds water, coffee, and the finished product in one tea kettle-looking device. Very different than an expresso machine.

How to make an authentic Cafe Cubano (Cuban Coffee)

Instructions for making a Cuban coffee with a Cafetera

To prepare a Cuban Cofee you will need:

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

Steps to the perfect Cuban Coffee

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

Enjoy this video from Havana Music Tours owner Chaz Chambers demonstrating how to make an authentic Café Cubano.