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

 

It All Starts With Deep Roots of History

 

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

Cuba Music Festival

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

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

havana music tours jazz plaza festival picture at teatro nacional

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

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

live latin jazz in havana cuba

Live Jazz at La Zorra y El Cuervo

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

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

a picture of chucho valdez playing at havana jazz plaza

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