The end of the summer is near and with it the end of many seasonal cultural festivals, special performances and family-geared activities taking place in Havana during the hottest of seasons. But since it is not all over yet and you still have a few days left of August to catch the latest performances and exhibitions before summers draws to an official close, here is the low-down on where to go, what to do and what to see during your time in Havana if you happen to be there in the next five days (including tonight).
Follow where the music leads
If there is one thing there’s never a shortage of in Cuba, and especially in the capital, that’s music and music shows or concerts, so regardless of the time of year and season, you can be guaranteed a good night out listening to some quality live Cuban music in a variety of genres, but more specifically in salsa, timba and jazz. Reggaeton is another local favourite but it doesn’t appeal to everyone and most tourists either love it or hate it. Regardless, if there’s a good reggaeton concert happening in Havana I’ll let you know about it too.
What’s on tonight in Havana
If you’re serious about experience the very best of Latin Jazz then tonight has the hottest ticket to a live performance and concert by Yissy & Bandancha, one of the newest and most popular musicians to enter Cuba’s jazz scene. You’ll absolutely adore the melodic contemporary tunes of this young Cuban lady and her band, a quintet made up of a pianist, bassist, trumpetist, DJ and Yissy herself on the drums. They’ll be playing live at El Ciervo Encantando (18 Street, between 11th and Linea) in Vedado with the concert kicking off at 8:30 p.m. It’s not too late to change your plans this evening or make new ones to go see them, I promise it’ll be definitely worth it!
Alternatively, if you can’t make it on time to catch this show but you’d still like another chance to witness a live Cuban jazzist performing with a fusion afro-Cuban band to perfectly create a masterful blend of jazz mixed with other popular music genres, then you’re in luck as a little bit later on to night Roberto Carcasses & Interactivo will be giving it their all at the Corner Café also in Vedado (you’ll find it on 1st and B Street).
If jazz isn’t quite your thing then tonight is also very promising on the salsa front and it will definitely deliver with a choice of two concerts to attend. Head to the Casa de la Musica in Centro Habana at 11 p.m. for your electrifying dose of contemporary salsa tunes expertly performed by Jose Luis Cortes y NG La Banda (my personal favourite among the two) or if the Casa de la Musica in Miramar catches you closer, go there to enjoy a full performance by Adalberto Alvarez y Su Son.
What’s on tomorrow
If you don’t manage to catch any of the jazz performances taking place in Havana tonight, then there’s yet another chance this week to attend a live jazz concert in the city, as tomorrow brings a performance by Yasek Manzano at the Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC). This accomplished trumpet player who has performed with some of Cuba’s greatest and most legendary music figures, including Celia Cruz, Irakere and even British group Simply Red, will begin his performance at 11 p.m. so be there or be squared!
Later on in the night, at the very same spot, DJ Set Rezak will be performing at 12 a.m. in the Santiago Feliu sala at FAC. This up-and-coming Cuban DJ is earning a reputation for artfully blending electronic music and setting the mood on the dance floor, so if that sounds like a good way to round up your night, get over there and dance ‘till dawn (or until you drop…whatever happens earlier).
For salsa lovers, Cuba’s most popular salsa band of the moment, Havana D’ Primera with Alexander Abreu will be performing at Casa de la Musica in Miramar starting 11 p.m.
Usually the most special of nights, when Cubans head out before the weekend officially starts, this Friday isn’t as hot as it could be in Havana, at least for my liking.
That being said, however, there are a couple of top picks I’d recommend and I’ll proceed to do so without further ado.
Kick off your afternoon with some afro-Cuban tunes by Rumberos de Cuba at Jelengue del Areito. Starting at 5 p.m. this performance will give you a good musical introduction to authentic Cuban rumba. I wouldn’t miss it if I was in Havana, but maybe I feel the rumba in my veins deeper than I sometimes realise.
Continue your afternoon with the soulful musical styling of songwriter, guitar-player, singer and composer William Vivanco, a beloved Cuban troubadour (or trovador as the term in Spanish goes) with a percussive vocal style. If that’s not your cup of tea there’s plenty more fish in Cuba’s musical sea of a different, more get-up-on-the-dance-floor style. One such example is Adalberto Alvarez y su Son who will once again be performing for the second time this week, this time at the Casa de la Muisca in Centro Habana at 11 p.m. Likewise and at the same time but switching venues, Jose Luis Cortes y NG La Banda will put on another brilliant acoustic show this Friday night at the Casa de la Musica in Miramar.
This Saturday seems to dedicate big space to Cuban trova with two popular veterans of the genre taking centre stage: Frank Delgado and Kelvis Ochoa. Now, to enjoy listening to these troubadors you don’t need to understand a word in Spanish as the melody that accompanies their lyrics is so soothingly infectious that you’ll appreciate it for just that.
Catch Frank Delgado at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana at 7 p.m. and Kelvis Ochoa a little bit later on that night at 10 p.m. with a private performance at one of Cuba’s up-and-coming private restaurants, Carbones Grill – that way you can combine a hearty and authentic Cuban meal with authentic Cuban music. Good food and good music, what better combination could you ask for? Seriously now, don’t hesitate and make a meal out of it, literally!
You can attend one performance or both as they don’t clash and the venues are not too far from each other (you can travel from one to the other by car in around 20 minutes) or you might be up for a different genre of Cuban music by the time the first performance ends.
If the latter is the case head to Casa de la Musica in Centro Habana next, where you’ll be privileged to enjoy a live performance by Paulo FG y Su Elite, a Cuban salsa band with years of prestige and some catchy tunes to dance to. The perfect way to end a Saturday night.
But whatever you do with your evening this Saturday in Havana, make sure you do one thing with your afternoon and that’s to catch the live show by Vocal Sampling, a phenomenal all-male a cappella musical group that has been thrice nominated at the Grammys. See them at Pabellon Cuba in Vedado and be there at 6 p.m. sharp to ensure you don’t miss a single vocal beat.
For yet another opportunity to get a close encounter with Cuban rumba, Yoruba Andabo will be performing a top selection of their best rumba tunes at the Casa de la Musica in Centro Habana, starting at 5 p.m. – a fantastic way to get an early afternoon start to set the mood for an all-Cuban musical evening to follow.
Next, make sure to head to Pabellon Cuba at 6 p.m. to attend a concert by Raul Paz, known as the French-Cuban responsible for revolutionising 21st century Cuban music. Born in Cuba but having lived a long time in France, Paz initially received a classical music formation which had little to do with the salsa-pop-jazz-electro style he then created. You shouldn’t miss an opportunity to hear his musical stylings, whether you end up loving it or hating, he’s one of Cuba’s most interesting musicians without a doubt. See him and judge for yourself.
Lastly, you didn’t manage to catch Kelvis Ochoa’s concert on Saturday you have yet another chance today if you head to Nave 4 of the Fabrica de Arte Cubano where he’ll be performing at 11 p.m.
Monday, 31st August
This is where my calendar comes to an end this week, also marking the end of the month.
To close off the week’s musical events we have a concert by Zule Guerra at La Zorra y el Cuervo in the Vedado municipality. Come and listen to her melodic blues at 10 p.m. and chill out with a refreshing cocktail as you cherish yet another day in Havana. Perfect for a night cap after a very busy, tiring day of sightseeing, Zule Guerra will lighten the mood and slow down the pace of hectic Havana.
But if you’re in the mood for some dancing or listening to more upbeat tunes then Casa de la Musica in Miramar is where you should head to next, as the popular Sur Caribe group will be staging a concert full of feet-tappingly infectious conga tunes. It all kicks off at 11 p.m. so be there on time to join the conga line!
Exhibitions and Performing Arts
Friday night on 28th August will bring the opportunity of catching a live performance by Cuba’s contemporary dance company – Danza Contemporanea de Cuba. The duet “Noemas y Noesis” will be performing at Nave 3 of the Fabrica de Arte Cubano with the stage opening its curtains at 9:30 p.m.
As I mentioned in earlier editions of my cultural calendar blogs, Arte en La Rampa continues at the Pabellon de Cuba in Vedado, with a variety of special exhibitions, performances and activities for children and youngsters. It will remain open until 13th September so this is one of the last weeks to stop by and have a look at what’s on offer.
This also marks the last week that the special exhibition of different pieces belonging to the ballet productions of Giselle and Carmen in Cuba will be on show at the Centro Hispanoamericano de Cultura. So if interested catch it before it closes on 31st August.
For families and children
Following on from last week’s family-friendly and special children activities and performances, not much new is on the scene for kids and their families in Havana, especially with the start of the next school year fast approaching next week. But one place you can still head to in order to catch the last special shows of the summer is the Parque La Isla del Coco in Vedado (on 5th Avenue and 112th Street) to catch performances by Cuba’s National Circus (Circo Nacional de Cuba). Shows will be held every Sunday in Augurst at 11:30 p.m. with the very last performance taking place this Sunday…it’s not too late to see it!