I have a soundtrack for every trip that I make or at least I always try to create my own and pick one or two music themes influenced by the places I visit, at the point in time when I visit them. Of course this can only be done thanks to the cultural and musical encounters I have in a particular place. That's why as a traveller, I think you should really try to get into the music and nightlife of every destination you visit so that you take home a special soundtrack to accompany your memories when you press "play back" on your mind.
If you happen to be in Cuba this week, from 22nd to 27th July, there's one event you shouldn't miss and that's Van Van's concert on Sunday 26th, which will take place at 10 p.m. in Centro Cultural El Sauce. Its location might not be the most centric as it's not in downtown Havana and you'll most likely need a taxi to get there.
But to be in Cuba and attend a concert of the legendary 46-year-old Grammy-winning salsa group, Los Van Van is a lifetime event you cannot afford to miss. Of course, the scenic trip to this district of the city is one to enjoy on its own, as you pass through the leafy streets and parks of Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) and you get to admire the elegant neighbourhood of Siboney – Cuba's most luxurious residential neighbourhood.
But, going back to my initial purpose of listing my top entertainment evening pursuits in the Cuban capital this week, below I outline two of the very best events to fill your Havana nights with:
Salsa concert: Jose Luis Cortes y NG La Banda will play live on 24th July in Havana's Casa de la Musica in Miramar at 11 p.m. This salsa band will have you moving your feet all night.
Son and Trova: Cuban sonero and troubadour Ray Fernandez will give a concert at Diablo Tun Tun (a small room in Casa de la Musica) from 5 to 9 p.m. tomorrow 23rd July. Although he stages a concert here every Thursday, each performance is unique, be it for the variations he makes or the guests he brings. It's a place filled by university students, professional young adults and those who know how to have fun.
This Friday and Saturday are hosts to Havana's most explosive evenings. You'll find all sorts going on. For those hoping for a romantic and quiet night out, heading to Telegrafo Hotel in Old Havana to listen to the melodic voice of Ivette Cepeda live as she belts out soulful bolero tunes is a fantastic option. The concert starts at 8 p.m. but in order to secure a seat it's best to arrive a little earlier.
On the other hand, if you want to witness some authentic Cuban rumba dancing then attending the performance of Rumberos de Cuba in Jelengue del Areito at 5 p.m. is an absolute must. You can even combine these two options as the times they are held at don't clash and Jelengue del Areito is located very close to the Telegrafo, just on 410 San Miguel Street, between Campanario and Lealtad in Centro Habana.
If you are serious about salsa dancing this Friday 24th July you'll have quite a few options, all of them very good. The group Azucar Negra will be performing at 10 p.m. in Jardines del 1830, located just at the end of the Malecon on the popular downtown district of Vedado. At 11 p.m. Lazaro Valdes and Bamboleo will be at the Casa de la Musica in Centro Habana, and at the same time, like I mentioned on the above bullet points Jose Luis Cortes and NG La Banda will be performing in Miramar's Casa de la Musica. So you could be hopping from place to place if you wanted to and get a feel for each group before moving on to the next.
On Saturday 25th July you'll find even more variety but this would be my ideal journey: head to Vedado to kick it all off in Pabellon Cuba with a concert of Roberto Cascasses and Interactivo at 6 p.m. These are local bands specialising in fusion music and they can have you spinning to the sound of salsa beats one minute and then one modernised guaganco the next. Moving on from there I'd go down La Rampa and once in Malecon I'd make a left turn towards the Anti-imperialist Tribune (Tribuna Antimperialista facing the new U.S. Embassy in Cuba. On this square a free salsa concert will be delivered at 8 p.m. by Maykel Blanco y Su Salsa Mayor.
Here is where you'll really get to watch Cuban people dancing freestyle, joining "ruedas de casino" or dancing with partners (or taking turns to do a bit of everything) under an open sky. If you are a Jazz lover and you long for a more soothing finish to your night, a relaxing night cap shall we say, then I'd advise you to head to the Fabrica de Arte Cubano next to listen to the hypnotic tunes of Harold Lopez-Nussa.
If, on the other hand you're in the mood for it and want to carry on partying, then you have the Lazaro Valdes y Bamboleo concert to attend in Miramar's Casa de la Musica at 11 p.m.
If you enjoy cabaret shows and would like to see a bit of Cuba's LGTB nightlife then you should pay Proyecto II Divino a visit, held every Saturday at 11 p.m. at the Cafe Cantante in Teatro Nacional, adjacent to the Revolution Square (Plaza de la Revolucion). In any case, you should save some energy for Sunday as you simply cannot miss the Van Van concert held that day. I insist once and again – you can't afford to overlook it!
Finally, on Monday 27th July, there's a little less to choose from but you at least have a Sur Caribe performance to attend at Casa de la Musica in Miramar, a band from Santiago that performs the best conga music in Cuba. And that's a wrap for this week! Have fun and dance your way through Havana's magical nights!