Modernity in Cuban music continues to showcase excellent female artists, who make the culture grow on the island more and more. In the last 20 years, women musicians have stepped forward to create songs in various genres. Therefore, we could not end Women’s History Month without honoring the new generations of Cuban Women in Music. That’s why we are launching this second part of our blog CUBAN WOMEN IN MUSIC: SPOTIFY PLAYLIST TRIBUTE TO WOMEN ARTISTS – PART 1.
This new list of artists included in our Playlist will find an extraordinary variety of impressive Cuban and Cuban-American female musicians who defend their musical roots worldwide. Most of them are considered among the best contemporary female singers and composers in Cuba and Latin America due to the diversity of their voices and musical spectrum.
Cuban Women in Music, 21st Century songs written or popularized by female musicians in the last 20 years
Ángel y Habanera – by Liuba María Hevia
Mala – by Haila María Mompié
La Bella Cubana – by La Camerata Romeo / Zenaida Romeo
Bailando con otro – by Anacaona / Omara Portuondo
Donde stabas anoche – by Aymee Nuviola / Septeto Santiaguero
Lágrimas de soledad – by Danay Suarez
Guajiro – by Sexto Sentido
Tu nombre – by Diana Fuentes
Equivocao 8.6 – by Telmary y Habana Sana
Tenerme – by Gretell Barreiro
Palabras – by Haydée Milanés
La rumba me llamo yo – by Daymé Arocena
Mulata Linda – by Brenda Navarrete
Tengo que partir – by Luna Manzanares
Voy – by Eme Alfonso
River – by Ibeyi
Universo – by Yissy García y Bandancha
Bonus track: Havana – by Camila Cabello / Young Thug
You can find our Spotify Playlist Tribute to Women Artists here. Enjoy, and let us know your opinion about our selection on the bottom part of this blog post.
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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.
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Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso, more widely known as Celia Cruz, was a famous Cuban singer and left a footprint in history as one of the most popular Latin artists of the 20th century. Often referred to as Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz‘s biography and history are very rich, intriguing, and full of accomplishments. Therefore, let‘s explore and discover the history of the legendary Cuban singer in 4 steps that are made simple, to take you back through one of the most illustrious music careers in Latin America‘s history.
Step 1: Early Life Footprints
According to Catalina Alfonso Ramos, her mother, Celia Cruz began singing as early as 10 months of age!
Celia Cruz was born at 47 Serrano Street in the Santos Suárez neighborhood of Havana, Cuba while her father, Simon Cruz, worked as a railway stoker and her mother was a housewife who took care of a big family of 14.
What started early continued every year for Celia Cruz. She sang practically everywhere: in school during the Fridays’ actos cívicos, in her neighborhood ensemble, Botón de Oro, and in cabarets as a teenager when her aunt took her there to perform.
Yet, still, Celia Cruz originally intended to become a literature teacher, but it was that critical victory in a
talent show where she interpreted the tango piece „Nostalgia“ in a bolero tempo that became life-changing, making her pause studies to pursue what became an elusive music career.
Step 2: The Rise Of Musical Career
Her musical breakthrough started here in Cuba with her first recordings made in 1948 and 1950 when she began singing with the celebrated Cuban orchestra Sonora Matancera.
Celia Cruz sang regularly in Cuba with the ensemble on radio and television, made extensive tours, compiled full-length albums, headlined Havana’s Tropicana nightclub, and even appeared in five films that were produced in Mexico.
Unfortunately, after the Cuban revolution of 1960, Havana’s nightlife came to a standstill which made her leave Cuba.
A journey that changed her life and career forever.
Step 3: Commerical Success In the USA
When the revolution started sweeping over Cuba, Sonora Matancera with Celia Cruz was touring Mexico and decided to cross into the United States instead of coming back home to Cuba. This led Cruz to become a U.S. citizen by 1961, settling in New York City while enraged Fidel Castro forbade her to return to Cuba‘s soil.
In the beginning, as expected, she was relatively unknown in a new country, with a presence only in the Cuban exile community. In the mid-1960s she started gaining exposure and momentum after joining Tito Puente Orchestra which had a strong following across Latin America.
Not only did she become the face of the group, but Cruz captivated audiences with her enthusiasm, sparkling attires, and crowd entertainment, skyrocketing her musical career into new heights that not many could have predicted, forming one of the greatest music legacies in Cuban history.
Step 4: Strong Legacy & Death
Celia Cruz passed away in New Jersey on July 16, 2003, at the age of 77.
Her legacy left behind still goes strong to this day, and it encompasses so many areas that she was able to touch with her fascinating 40-year musical career.
As Celia Cruz continued to perform throughout the years, she made over 75 records of which 23 went gold, winning multiple Grammy & Latin Grammy awards. But that‘s only the tip of a legacy iceberg that still floats around today, approaching 2020.
The singer made an appearance in several movies, stamped a star on the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame, and received an award of the American National Medal from President Bill Clinton. The highest recognition an artist can receive from the United States government. Cruz is remembered as one of the 20th century’s most beloved and popular Latin musicians with many tributes made for her over the years, including music schools being named after her, television series, and many many more.
However, Celia Cruz did manage to return to Cuba in 1990 after she was invited to make a presentation at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. After that, she took a few grams of earth from Cuba with her.
An epilogue in her autobiography notes that, in accordance with her wishes, Cuban soil which she had saved from a visit to Guantánamo Bay was used in her entombment. Returning her home, forever.
Let‘s admit it, we all love music.And with so many different genres, sub-genres, techniques, sounds,and historicalaspects, 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-movingAfro-Cuban Jazz.Acknowledging the intriguing and complicated development of such music genres like Afro-Cubanjazz might not be easy, but if you‘re a music fan and want to explore Afro-Cubanjazz without hassle, then let this article create you a composition ofeasyhistory notes that you will certainly love exploring!
It All Starts With Deep Roots of History
Untilthemid-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 includeAfro-Cuban musical motifsextensivelyin the 19th century when the habanera gained international popularity.
The habaneraitselfwas the first–ever music to be writtenthatwas rhythm-based on the African motifs whichareoften described as the tresillo and the backbeat combination.
An Important Interaction With American Music
Duringthefirst decadesofthe Afro-Cuban jazz movementwas muchstronger in the United Statescompared toCuba.
The interaction and connection betweentheUS and Cubaisfascinating when it came to jazz music.The early jazz bands ofNew Orleans jazzincorporated habaneras as well, and eventually the habanera became a staple of jazz music in the 20th century.
Musicians from Havana and New Orleanstraveledbetween both cities to perform,whileLatin American melodies and dance rhythmsspread throughthe United States,andthesound wavesof American jazzmade theirstowardsthe 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 oftenshowcasedversatility 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 musicand jazz together,wasn‘t enough to make their presence strong in Cubafor 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 bandIrakerewas born and sparked anew era in Cuban jazzthatis still present to this day.
Irakere made historicinnovations 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 astyle of music that blendsand encompasses many components to craft that soulful jazz sound. From Cuban and Spanish Caribbeanrhythms and percussion instruments to jazz harmonies, improvisations alongsideEuropean and African musical elementsas well.
Aftereverything that was made and played,Afro-Cuban jazztruly emerged in the early 1940s when Cubanmusicians Mario Bauzá and Frank Grillomore known by his iconic name“Machito”formed a band calledAfro-Cubansin New York City.
Machito’s musicnot only refined Afro-Cuban jazzbut alsohad a tremendouseffect on the lives of many musicians who played in the Afro-Cubans over the years, and on those whofell in love with the rhythms ofLatin jazz because of his music.
An intersection in East Harlem is named “Machito Square” in his honor.
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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.
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 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.
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.
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You’ve probably heard about the vintage cars and delicious cuisine, but as cool as those things are, my favorite part of my Cuba Tour was the culture. Don’t get me wrong, eating fresh mango and riding in a car from the 50s is impressive, but there’s something truly unique about their culture.
The city squares teemed with life every morning and evening. The people were very kind and incredibly excited to hear I was from the US. I sat with locals and watched a Cuba vs. USA baseball game, and though my Spanish is terrible, we still laughed, cheered, and hazed each other when our teams did well. I’m a nerd, so of course, I hung out and watched the locals play chess in the square. One evening, I even had a local English-speaking professor come up and tell me about the history of their revolution. There’s a sense of community there that I hadn’t experienced back in the states.
I consider myself an astute musician, art appreciator, and lover of random historical knowledge, and this Caribbean island appealed to each of these aspects of my character. From beautiful cathedrals to statues of Don Quixote, from vibrant pastel buildings to streetside musicians improving rumba music, my mind was enamored! I will be taking another trip back to this timeless paradise!
If you’ve always wanted to do a Cuba Tour but you’re worried about the travel bans and regulations, some great articles in the blog cover these topics. The new rules were announced 2-3 weeks before I flew down, so I had the same concerns: Can Americans still travel to Cuba? What do I have to do to go to Cuba? Etc. There very well may come a time when we will have limited access to that beautiful country, but that time isn’t now! Enjoy it while you can!
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We are so very glad we decided to go with Chaz on such an amazing adventure! My husband had been wanting to go to Cuba for as long as I... read more can remember. I was a bit nervous at first but Chaz made me feel very...More
Pam H May 1, 2018
Well organized visit for Jazz Plaza festival. Many other types of music as well. Learned a lot about Cuba. Stayed in great non-government owned casas (so legal per USA)... read more Side trip to Trinidad was beautiful. Excellent gourmet meals. Highly recommend.
AlanBachrach January 1, 2022
My husband and I spent 5 nights in Havana on the VIP music tour with Chaz. It was incredible! Everything was scheduled and taken care of for us- our meals,... read more our transportation, tour guides, and best of all- tickets every night to amazing live music....More
kelsey2harris January 3, 2019
After researching several music tours in Cuba, we signed up with Havana Music Tours because we could tell right away the tour would be personal and flexible. We didn't want... read more to be with a large group, and stuck in a very touristy schedule. Chaz, the...More
Julie A April 30, 2018
My wife and I attended the 2020 Havana Jazz Festival with Chaz Chambers, who operates Havana Music Tours. It was a wonderful experience in every respect. Chaz made arrangements for... read more accommodations and meals, as well as a few touristic activities (walking tour of old Havana, visit to the music conservatory, etc). There were activities from midday until late at night, but tour participants could choose to come along, retreat to their hotel or pension, or set out on adventures of our own choosing. Chaz had anticipated just about every eventuality and all arrangements went off very smoothly.
The tour included passes to hear music afternoons and evenings at a variety of venues in central Havana. Chaz, who himself is a professional drummer, curated the selection of concerts and provided transportation for our group of 7 to and from all the events. The performances, which included both Cuban and foreign musicians were all good and most were excellent. The musical level in Cuba is extraordinarily high. We hear some of these performers on tour in the US and on recordings. But to hear so many of them playing together in a single place in a single week is a privilege.
At present it's much easier than most people imagine for Americans to visit Cuba. You can fly from several US cities to Havana, and you buy a visa at the airport. The US government places restrictions on where you can stay and what you can buy, but these restrictions are easy to work with. Best of all Havana Music Tours looked after all the paperwork, so we never had to give the matter a second thought.
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