Rhythm of life


Last year, while i was a student in Havana, a band accustomed to rehearse while in the apartment below me. I had been there primarily for that salsa, thus it was simply my luck we were holding a rock band, whose repertoire included a power-ballad version of a bolero made world-famous by the Buena Vista Social Club, Dos Gardenias.

So yes, there exists music everywhere, but dancing at work? It’s actually not even true that everybody knows tips on how to dance (another oft-repeated phrase).

A journey to Havana lets you immerse yourself in a rich various sounds and performing arts and, should the mood call for, to bop, too. The atmosphere has brought me frequently and i also have been enthusiastic about Havana repeatedly. This is a long distance to get a dance even so the omnipresent tropical rhythms, with the city’s timeless ambience and warm but com-plicated people, have an irresistible allure.

Since its settlement through the Spanish in 1512, Cuba became one of the very musically prolific nations on earth. The ensuing centuries saw African rhythms combine with European musical traditions (primarily Spanish and French) to develop greater dozen new forms.

In the ’40s and ’50s three of such – mambo, conga and cha-cha-cha – burst out from Cuba and swept the globe.

In the ’90s it absolutely was the turn of son, a provincial music coded in the late 19th century that hit its stride in Cuba the 1920s. It had been a worldwide phenomenon when American musician Ry Cooder went to Havana and recorded an album with forgotten stars of the genre. Buena Vista Social Club sold above 6 million copies and won a Grammy. The film by Wim Wenders, documenting the album’s creation, was nominated on an Oscar.

It has been many decades since son was widely heard in Cuba though the government, no slouch on the subject of tourism, realised quickly that your sudden boom in holidaymakers was really a direct results of the prosperity of Cooder’s album.

You don’t need to go far to uncover son in Havana any longer; it spills away from cafes and bars inside the city’s two main tourist areas. Songs from the album are dealt with verve and feeling by small conjuntos (salsa bands), who follow Compay Segundo’s Chan Chan with My Way or Yesterday. The music could possibly be authentic but the experience is not really: you’ll discover few Cubans here and it’s really possible you may not be permitted to dance. “No se permite bailar”, dancing is not really permitted, reads an illustration outside the kind of restaurant.

To hear son in the more lively environment, go to Salon Rosado Benny More, known as La Tropical, in suburban Havana. The open-air venue is a favourite playground for Habaneros given it was opened by an adjacent brewery in 1904. Each of the top bands have played there costs century and it continuously hold a vital set up Cuban culture.

On Sunday afternoons a band plays traditional music, usually son, in an audience keen to maintain alive the accompanying style of dance, which happens to be more refined compared to the raunchier “casino” form of dancing that accompanies timba, Cuba’s fiery, funky form of salsa which is son’s hyperactive grandchild.

You can find timba at La Tropical through the night. Not too long ago, in honour of the birthday of “El Tosco”, a musician often credited with creating timba, there’s a concert at La Tropical featuring all the top groups. It started at 3pm. I arrived at 9pm observed the area a madhouse outside: throngs of an individual milling around, police helplessly looking to contain them, gridlocked cars beeping their horns after disgorging Cuban girls with elaborate hairdos, skin-tight jeans and skyscraper heels.

Two roadies invited me into your backstage area with them. Once i stood behind happens slapping away persistent mosquitoes, I examined the heads from the playing musicians for the seething mass of persons while in the multi-tiered venue. They didn’t stop dancing through to the birthday boy’s band finished at dawn.

Timba groups dominate the additional live venues in addition they host R&B, son, hip-hop and reggaeton (a Puerto Rican hybrid of hip-hop and dancehall). These clubs have two sessions on a daily basis: from the afternoon (5-9pm) as well as night (11pm-3am). The matinees absolutely are a bargain, only ever $CUC10 ($13) admittance, plus they’re a memorable experience.

Manolito y su Trabuco, among the many country’s top 5 salsa groups, play every Thursday afternoon at Cafe Cantante, when but not on among their frequent tours to Europe, Canada or The philipines. Likely to open invitation only at that gig, that’s regularly stuffed with locals and tourists, for musicians using groups, together with other genres, to shed in and play. I worship weekly in this dark, underground nightclub, a stone’s throw within the enormous expanse of cement be the Plaza en Revolucion, where Castro, a long time ago, addressed the faithful thousands for hour after hour.

The higher level of musicianship across all genres is partly due to the government’s commitment to culture in every its forms; barely every week goes by without some form of celebration on the arts. The web based magazine Cuba Absolutely lists 25 festivals in 2010, including celebrations of ceramic and digital art, lifespan and work of Ernest Hemingway, Latin American film, Spanish culture and traditional music and dance.

One of the, Cubadisco, a week-long celebration of forms of music and dance held every May, is really a must-see to the music aficionado. It commences by having an awards ceremony, a slickly produced event kept in the fabulous ’50s white and powder-blue Karl Marx Theatre. This week is packed with events; alternatives days immersed in music and dance, high of it free.

Every year, the Cubadisco week ends using a free outdoor concert, held this year on the Anti-Imperialist Plaza (space also holds political events). The course had announced that your five nominees inside the awards’ most prestigious category, musica bailable (salsa-timba), would play for nothing.

As all sorts of events in Havana, it didn’t appear quite as promised, nevertheless the evening finished up offering a much more diverse taste of Cuba’s musical delights: Rumbata, an Afro-Cuban folkloric pair of drummers and singers, was and then Orquesta Maravilla de Florida, a charanga group (containing flute and strings as an alternative to brass) formed in 1948 but this time comprising young musicians who put a modern twist around the classic sound. Manolito y su Trabuco, the winner while in the category, closed the show.

Neither blazing incandescent lighting (designed to discourage fights) nor intermittent showers could dampen the spirits from the crowd.

You don’t always get whatever you expect in Havana but the truth is usually go great. In 2009, a week celebrating poetry ended in an outstanding performance in Habana Vieja (Old Havana). With the sea end of Prado, a stately old avenue that has a wide marble promenade to use centre, folkloric dancers in addition to their band placed on an electrifying performance because sun seeking the assembled, a blend of locals and foreigners, and the ones watching on the balconies of nearby apartments.

The athletic dancers, donning several colourful costumes, performed dances of the orishas (gods), or a stunning choreography of maypole dancing at breakneck speed, never once getting knotted up inside the poles’ colourful ribbons. As darkness fell, the show drew to a close having a spectacular fire dance.

Afterwards, for the reason that roadies packed in the gear, recorded salsa was played and people who weren’t quite good to go home paired off and started dancing – yep, there we were dancing in the street.


What to hear

A general rule for heading out in Havana is: be relaxed. It’s a challenge to discover what’s on and things often change with the final. Be flexible and you will see and also this camera performances, although they are certainly not the techniques you had anticipated. Outdoor shows are sometimes cancelled whether it rains possibly it looks like raining but not every ahead regardless. Whether or not it’s possible, call the venue to evaluate what’s on (you will need to understand Spanish and stay persistent: phones aren’t always answered). Otherwise, go anyway.

There are a slew of online event listings, carry out 100 percent (or perhaps 70 percent) accurate. The H Magazine (www.thehmagazine.com/agenda/havana-listings.htm) is comprehensive: it lists the bands at nightclubs (including matinees) and also films, galleries, dance, theatre and literary events.

Afro-Cuban, rumba

Saturdays, 3pm: Conjunto Folklorico Nacional perform outside at El Gran Palenque, 103 Calle 4, between Calzada and Quinta, Playa, 836 9075.

Saturdays, 6pm: Yoruba Andabo perform in the tiny Club Las vegas, nv, 104 Infanta, between Calles 25 and 27, Vedado, 870 7939.

Sundays, from 1pm: Clave y Guaguanco perform inside the closed-off alley Callejon de Hamel, between Aramburo and Hospital, in Centro Habana.


Sundays from 1pm: La Tropical (Salon Rosado Benny More), corner of 41st and 48th, Playa, 209 0985.

In tourist bars and cafes in Habana Vieja and Vedado; observe the sounds.

Timba, salsa

Casa de la Musica, corner of Galiano and Neptuno, Centro Habana, 862 4165.

Casa en Musica, Playa, corner of 25th and 20th, Miramar, 204 0447. Matinees 5-9pm (winter; 4-8pm); nights 11pm-3am. Mostly salsa, also Afro-Cuban, pop, R&B, reggaeton and hip-hop.

Cafe Cantante, corner of Paseo and 39th, Vedado, 879 0710. Matinees and nights. Mostly salsa, also son, Afro-Cuban, pop, R&B, reggaeton and hip-hop.

Salon Rosado Benny More (La Tropical): see above.

Flamenco, opera, ballet

Gran Teatro en Habana, 458 Paseo de Marti, between San Rafael and San Martin, 861 3077.


Teatro Amadeo Roldan, home with the National Symphony, corner of Calzada and D, Vedado, 830 1011.

Teatro Nacional, corner Paseo and 39, Vedado, 879 6011.

Free concerts

These are held throughout Havana. Check TV, papers, radio plus the grapevine for details.

Getting there

Air Nz flies to California via Auckland (from $2142 from Melbourne and $2042 from Sydney) after which it with Mexicana to Mexico City.

Qantas flies to Mexico City or Cancun from Melbourne (from $2332) and Sydney (from $2232). This will likely take you with Qantas non-stop to L . a . and with Alaskan Airlines to Mexico.

Japan Airlines provides a fare for $1743 from Sydney and Melbourne: fly from Sydney to Toyko that you stay overnight within the airline’s expense, after which to Mexico City via Vancouver. Mexicana has fares from Mexico City to Havana for $US379 ($454) and $US276 from Cancun.

LAN Airlines flies from Sydney ($2299) and Melbourne ($2399) to Santiago de Chile then, every Saturday, to Havana. All fares are low season and exclude taxes.


It costs $55, is offered on the Cuban consulate and it’s valid for Calendar month. See www.embacuba.cubaminrex.cu.

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