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By Ismelys Quevedo (Cuban Music Teacher and Business Development Specialist of Havana Music Tours and Musical Getaways

jazz-plaza-official-flyer-2023The 38th edition of the Havana Jazz Plaza Festival will take place next January from the 22nd to the 29th in cities like Havana and Santiago de Cuba. The festival will be represented by the free spirit of jazz and visual arts, which is reflected in the event’s promotional poster by famous Cuban artist Arturo Montoto.

This festival edition will be a big celebration with two special tributes. One to its creator and Cuba’s National Music Award Winner 2012, Bobby Carcasses, and the other to the 70th anniversary of the Latin Grammy Award Winner group, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. Members of this last group will join the festival in this celebration offering a special master class to show the wide range of interconnections of jazz music with other music genres.

The Havana Jazz Plaza Festival 2023 edition’s promotional music video by composer and pianist Roberto Fonseca (Art Director of the festival) was recently released with the title “Madre Oshun.” A beautiful song that brings together representative jazz performers such as Yandy Martinez (bass), Dayron Ortiz (electric guitar), Ruly Herrera (drums), Adel González (Congas), Javier Zalba, and Emir Santa Cruz (saxophones), Roberto Garcia, Thommy Lowry (trumpets), Eduardo Sandoval and Yoandy Argudín (trombones), Rodrigo Sosa (quena flute) and the voices of Zule Guerra and Brenda Navarrete (batá drums). “Madre Oshun” also has the special participation of the saxophonists Cesar Lopez and German Velazco, along with the classical music singer Bárbara Llanes.

Among the main venues selected for the 38th edition of the Jazz Plaza Festival in Havana are the Teatro Nacional de Cuba (Sala Avellaneda and Sala Covarrubias), Teatro América, Teatro Martí, Sala Tito Junco del Centro Cultural Bertolt Brecht, Teatro del Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Pabellón Cuba, Fábrica de Arte Cubano, and the Casa de la Cultura de Plaza. Other activities will be happening on the other side of the island, especially in Santiago de Cuba city. The venues selected for this part of the event are the Iris Jazz Club, Patio de la UNEAC, Teatro Martí, Teatro Macubá, and Plaza Dolores. 

Among the well-curated concerts, the Jazz Plaza Festival will also propose other internal events like Primera Línea and the International Colloquium “Leonardo Acosta in Memoriam.” Yes, Primera Línea is back. This music business event, developed to create an interchange between musicians and business people from the global music industry, has brought a lot of success for Cuban musicians. So, the festival organizers are bringing it back in 2023. 

On the other hand, the Annual International Colloquium “Leonardo Acosta in Memoriam” will proudly commemorate its XVIII edition. This event, curated by musicologist Nerys Gonzalez Bello, will dedicate part of its workshops, lectures, and professional exchanges to a few important anniversaries, such as: the 90th Birth Anniversary of musicologist Leonardo Acosta, the 85 death anniversary of Chano Pozo, the 45 years of the foundation of CIDMUC (Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Música Cubana), the 60 Anniversary of the Original de Manzanillo band, and the 65th anniversary of the pianist and composer Ernán López Nussa.

At the moment, only a few artists have been confirmed as part of the event’s Line-Up. However, Havana Jazz Plaza Festival is well known for showcasing the best jazz musicians of Cuba and the world. So, we believe that this 2023 edition won’t be different. 

Join us on our special annual jazz tour. Together we can enjoy the best music of Havana during Cuba’s famous music festival, the Havana Jazz Plaza. As always, we expect the best from this 38th edition of the festival, and you should too.  More info on our tour page, HAVANA JAZZ FESTIVAL TOUR 2023.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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)

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.