If you happen to be in Cuba this week or will be arriving there shortly in the next few days and are eager to find out how to fill your nights out on the town in Havana, Varadero or Trinidad; this is your full cultural event guide, whether you're a concert chaser, a dancer, an art lover or an enthusiast of all the arts in general. Even if you're experiencing Cuba as part of a family holiday I have some tips and suggestion on where to take younger visitors this week and this coming last month of summer holidays so that everyone can make the most of it. Read on and plan ahead!
Follow where the music leads
Of course, of all the things going on in Cuba in any given week music will be the biggest star of the show, with most events in Cuba planned around music and dancing, and no surprise there as the vast majority of the Cuban population are enthusiastic dancers or keen music lovers (and in fact most fall within both categories) so if you want to listen to authentic Cuban music played live, be it jazz, salsa, timba, fusion, conga, trova or rock, you will find plenty of opportunities and places to do so.
Likewise, if you want to join in on all the dancing and spend a typical Cuban evening and night (or early morning evening) dancing to the infectious beats amongst rhythmically skilled locals (and learning from the very best) or just being entranced by how they dance, then I’ll give you plenty of pointers here on where to head to.
Salsa concerts, shows and salsa dancing venues
For attending live salsa concerts or shows is where you’ll have the most choice, as most Cubans like to combine the opportunity of listening to music with dancing and with salsa music both go hand in hand.
In Havana you’ll have the most choice, with some kind of salsa music concert or show taking place virtually every night of the week and in various locations at the same time. How to choose which on to go see and enjoy? In some cases it will be a tough decision and tough for me for recommending you to go and listen to one band instead of another, but the good news is that if you choose to attend one concert one day it’s highly likely that you’ll be able to attend the one you missed the following day at another venue. In reality if you go out every night, you’ll get to see every band and pick your own favourite.
Tonight head to the Casa de la Musica in Centro Habana to listen and dance to the intoxicating rhythms of Charanga Latina, performing from 11:00 p.m. into the wee hours of the morning for a non-stop salsa session that might leave your limbs sore the next day. Tomorrow an even more renowned (and more legendary) salsa band will be playing at the same place at the same time: Manolito Simonet y Su Trabuco. If you want to continue on the salsa trail all the way into the weekend, here you’ll also have Wil Campa y La Gran Union performing on Saturday and the Charanga Forever band playing on Sunday at the same time.
Elsewhere in Havana, there’ll be plenty more bands luring you with their rhythmic salsa beats. Another sizzling hot popular venue for live salsa performances in the capital is the Casa de la Musica in Miramar, Centro Habana’s twin sister. Alexander Abreu y Havana d’ Primera will perform live tonight at Casa de la Musica in Miramar. The show starts at 11 p.m. and tomorrow at the same time this venue will host the famous NG La Banda who will have you dancing your way into the early morning. On Saturday the stage will be taken over by Elito Reve y Su Charangon while on Sunday you’ll have the chance to shake your hips to the melodic sounds of Anacaona, Cuba’s legendary all-female salsa band.
If you can’t see NG La Banda on Friday, you’ll have another chance tonight as they perform at El Diablo Tun Tun, with a show that starts at 11 p.m. but the music keeps on flowing until 6:00 a.m.!
If you happen to be in Varadero this week then you should catch Enrique Alvarez y Su Charanga Latina performing this Saturday at Casa Musica Varadero. Sunday will bring a full audiovisual show with added entertainment factor with Proyecto Habaneando.
A little bit of Rumba – only in Havana this week
If you want to immerse in the island’s Afro-Cuban musical roots Jelengue del Areito is the place to head to this Friday 31st July in Centro Habana. For an afternoon of rumba you’ll be treated to the folkloric sounds of Rumberos de Cuba, who will perform from 5 to 9 p.m. If you wan to finish the night off with a little dancing or mellow down with the soulful tunes of Cuban traditional music like son, there are a few places where you can continue your night in the town. You can either head to the salsa concerts or enjoy the traditional music in Delirio Habanero in Teatro Nacional (adjacent to the Revolution Square) or El Diablo Tun Tun in Miramar.
Son and traditional music
Delirio Habanero and El Jelengue del Areito are the prime spots in Havana for catching some traditional music tunes this week. On Friday at 10 p.m. Son en Klave will perform in Delirio Habanero and the following day the stage will be taken over by Andyson at the same time. Jelengue del Areito will host an earlier show in the afternoon on Saturday when the Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro performs at 5 p.m. -ideal for enjoying that afternoon coffee or tea to the soothing notes of the Cuban son.
In the early afternoon shows of Casa de la Musica in Centro Habana Soneros de la Juventud will be performing traditional music tunes from 5 to 9 p.m. tomorrow, Friday 31s July. And if you can’t catch their early show you can definitely attempt their later one at 11 p.m. which will be staged in El Diablo Tun Tun on the same day.
But the city that outperforms all the rest when it comes to traditional music performances is a traditional city like no other – Trinidad. Here the Casa de la Musica Trinidad hosts a traditional music show virtually every night of the week (except for Thursdays when it’s closed). Otaikun will play from 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Resistencia Trinitaria will perform from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the following day and Sonora Trinitaria will kick off the afternoon session that same day from 4 to 8p.m. Sunday will see yet more traditional music at the hands of Resistencia while Ache Son will perform on Monday afternoon.
Jamming sessions in the capital
If you're a Jazz lover then the Fabrica de Arte Cubano in Havana is the place to head to this Saturday. Starting at 11:00 p.m. a jamming session by Ruy Lopez-Nussa y La Academia will take centre stage giving you the opportunity to listel live to one of Cuba's most famous and accomplished percussionists and leading figure of his own jazz band, La Academia, which explores Latin and folkloric sounds. He has a long history of famous collaborations over the years as he's teamed up with Santiago Feliu, Elmer Ferrer, Roberto Carcasses and pianist and composer Ernan-Lopez Nussa (who also happens to be his brother).
Trova - An open-air concert with Buena Fe in San Francisco de Asis Square
This Saturday 1st August, the centric and scenic small square of San Francisco de Asis in Old Havana will become an open-air stage to welcome Cuba’s most beloved contemporary troubadours – the Buena Fe group. They will perform alongside Cultura Profetica and the show starts at 8:30 p.m. If you want to meet the band most Cuban souls have fallen in love with because of their lyrics and infectious melody, this is the place to be on Saturday night. You’ll take a piece of modern popular music in Cuba with you…absolutely priceless!
If you’re not in Cuba this week – Cuba comes to London
If you aren’t lucky enough to find yourself in Cuba or travelling to Cuba this week then I have a bit of an alternative to the music shows and cultural events happening in the island with one that’s taking place right now in London. It’s not too late to catch a piece of Cuban dance and folklore as Carlos Acosta performs his Cuban contemporary dance show “Cubania”, his own production, choreographed by himself and featuring an outstanding selection of Cuban dancers. It’s on at the Royal Opera House this week for its last few days. You must be quick to book though as tickets sell out fast and the last performance is on Sunday 2nd August. So hurry if you want a piece of this!
But that’s not all, Cuba’s oldest, most internationally acclaimed, Grammy-winning salsa band, Los Van Van with Pedrito Calvo and Angel Bonne will be playing in London this weekend! This event is in fact so sizzling hot that tickets to both performances are nearly sold out (you’d be lucky if you’re still able to get one). The concerts will take place at 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday 1st and 2nd August at The Dome in Tufnell Park. The concert itself will last two hours and a half (what a treat!) and will preceded and followed by DJ sessions with a Cuban party taking place at the end of the concert and lasting until the wee small hours of the morning all the way until 3 a.m.! Now that’s how you party Cuban style in London!
Art Exhibitions and Fairs
There are a few galleries to peruse this month in Havana, with Arte en La Rampa giving art lovers over two months’ worth of public exhibitions in the Vedado municipality from now until September. Held inside the centric Pabellon Cuba, the focus of this year’s art fair is to pay homage to local filmmaker and caricaturist, Juan Padron, also celebrating the 45th anniversary of his most popular children’s cartoon and comic character, the patriotic, energetic and always resourceful, Elpidio Valdes – the island’s most recognised childhood icon and hero. The fair also pays special tribute to Cuba’s oldest and most successful salsa band, Los Van Van and will see a series of special concerts and shows taking place, both for the adult public and for little ones. Its cultural programme includes book signings, multimedia, art exhibitions with works for sale, celebrity speeches and special shows for children on weekend mornings.
Photographer Jorge Dager will be exhibiting his photograph collection “El Flash de Mi Mano” (My hand’s flash) in Galeria Collage Habana until 14th August while young Cuban artist, Osy Milian will be showing a personal exhibition of her collection entitled Eridani, on show until 23rd August in Galeria Artis 718 in the municipality of Playa.
Honouring Cuba’s prima ballerina, Alicia Alonso, a special exhibition entitled “Giselle y Carmen” will be held at the Centro Hispanoamericano de Cultura until 31st August. The exhibition is an exquisite work of art displaying special pieces including performance photographs, billboards, dancing costumes worn by Alonso, documents and the testimony of the people that attended these ballets immortalised by Alicia Alonso decades ago.
The Ballet Nacional de Cuba will be performing a series of productions this weekend to commemorate the 120th anniversary of Cuban composer and pianist, Ernesto Lecuona. Performances will be staged at Teatro Martí in Habana and will start at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday 1st August and at 5 p.m. on Sunday 2nd August.
Special performances to mark the occasion will be named as follows:
• Tarde en la siesta - Afternoon nap
• Cuba dentro de un piano – Cuba inside a piano
• A la luz de tus canciones – To the light of your songs
• Impromptu Lecuona
Recreational options for families with children
On Sunday 2nd August there will be a programme of special children activities taking place inside the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes of Havana which will kick of at 11 a.m. Details about what the show entails haven’t been released but if you’re staying in the vicinity and you have children it can’t hurt to drop by and have a look, it will give your little ones a chance to join in and see how other kids their age have fun in other parts of the world.
A special clown show entitled “Los payasos olvidados y enamorados” (The forgotten clowns in love) will be staged in Teatro Nacional de Guiñol in Havana on Saturday, with performances scheduled for 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
For families eager to discover what picnics on the park are like for Cubans in Havana, a special children’s show entitled Cascabel will be staged at the Parque Almendares this Sunday 2nd August and again on 23rd August at 11 a.m. in both ocassions. There will be clowns, circus and magician arts galore.