Hot in Cuba - Havana Festival of Contemporary Music and Leo Brouwer

The weather in Havana this week might be a little torrential, hot and wet and with this mix of natural elements comes an equally varied array of performances, festivals, one-off concerts and much-loved salsa regulars. From contemporary instrumental music that takes over Havana as part of the International Festival of Contemporary Music to live reggaeton gigs, outstanding Jazz jamming sessions and live salsa music to make you dance until your feet explode; Cuba has it all and here I lay it down day by day, one performance at a time

Hot in Cuba - Havana Festival of Contemporary Music and Leo Brouwer

This week in Cuba is a mixture of contemporary sounds, alternative fusion music and a touch of the instrumental magic. From the privilege of attending a live performance by acclaimed Cuban guitarist and composer, Leo Brouwer, as part of Italian Culture Week in Havana to numerous other performances lined up throughout the week as part of the 28th edition of the Havana Festival of Contemporary Music, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to listen to quality music from renowned international musicians performed live.

28th Havana Festival of Contemporary Music

Kicking off this coming Saturday from 14th to 21st November a series of concerts will be taking over Cuba’s capital as part of the Contemporary Music Festival of Havana (or, as it's officially called Festival de La Habana de Música Contemporánea). Presided by Cuban composer Guido Lopez Gavilan, the festival this year will have the participation of international musicians acclaimed the world over, including names like Hans WernerHenze, Xavier Montsalvatge, Krystof Pendrecki and Luigi Nono.

This year’s 2015 edition of the festival will be paying tribue to Cuban composer Edgardo Martin as well as musicologist and teacher, Carmen Valdes to mark the 100th anniversary of their births. The programme includes a variety of concerts stretching far and wide throughout the course of the week and taking over some of Havana’s largest and most beautiful concert venues which include the evoking atmosphere (with a monastic touch) of the former Convent of San Francisco de Asis in Old Havana, the theatre at the Museo de Bellas Artes, the Casa del ALBA Cultural de La Habana, Casa de las Americas and the Sala Covarrubias at the Teatro Nacional de Cuba.

Hand-picked highlights

The opening concert will be held at the Convent of San Francisco de Asis and the closing ceremony will be held at the Teatro Nacional de Cuba. If I could only attend one of the many concerts planned for this week in Havana I for sure would try to make it to either of these ceremonies as they encapsulate all of what’s to come and the different music styles that will have participated in the festival.

Some of my other personal picks of the week when it comes to this contemporary music festival include the concert that will be held at the Basilica Menor of the San Francisco de Asis convent scheduled for next Tuesday 18th November at 6 p.m. where Efren Gorrostieta (Mexico), Anna Bofill (Spain) and Patrick Castillo (U.S.) will all be performing various pieces from all over the world.

For lovers of contemporary guitar sounds I’d recommend the Sala Che Guevara at the Casa de las Americas next Wednesday 19th September with the performance of various Latin and European musicians and an evening performance dedicated to exploring the use of guitar in contemporary music. This evenign concert is titled La Guitarra en la Musica Actual (Guitar in Contemporary Music).

To find out more about the concerts staged each day during the duration of the festival, please find the full schedule here.

Havana’s Music Scene – what’s on this week?

Beyond the celebration of the Havana Festival of Contemporary Music 2015 you can always rely in the capital’s abundant offering of quality music, never missing a beat when it comes to live salsa performances, fantastic Latin jazz, intoxicating afro-Cuban beats, authentic fusion music and loud reggaeton performances. Keep reading to find out about your day-to-day nightlife options in Havana this week.

On tonight – something for all tastes

There’s quite a selection of venues for you to hang out it until the early hours of the morn if you choose to with gigs starting as early as 7 p.m. with a very special concert by Cuban composer and guitarist, Leo Brouwer and the Orquesta de Camara de La Habana who will be performing at the Oratorio San Felipe as part of Italian Culture Week and for one night only. Pieces by Tchaikovsky, Nino Rota and Leo Brouwer himself will take centre stage.

Later on, if you’re up for some quality contemporary Cuban fusion music with plenty of improvisation and impromptu creativity head to the Café Teatro Brecht at 9 p.m. to catch Telmary and Ray Fernandez – the Cuban kings of improvisation sharing the stage for one night exclusive.

And if you want to grab a piece of theatrical action then head to the Spontaneous Theatre (Teatro Espontaneo) session at 10.30 p.m. for a whole new experience the likes of which you’ve never seen. It’s on every Thursday at Factoria de Arte Cubano’s Santiago Feliu Hall.

If salsa is what moves you then your chance to see Jose Luis Cortes y NG La Banda perform live is at El Diablo Tun Tun starting from 11 p.m.

Lastly if you want to end the night in style (or start the day in a good tune) then do so with a concert by Mary Paz at 12.30 a.m. Be electrified by the sounds of this young Cuban percussionist and her signature electro-percussion beats wowing the audience at the Fabrica de Arte Cubano’s Santiago Feliu room.

Friday – 13th November and all that jazz

Don’t let that fateful number coinciding with this Friday put you off, Friday the 13th in Cuba has nothing to be afraid of!

To start your afternoon in style and to enjoy the sweet melodies of one of Cuba’s best flautists, head to the Sala Ignacio Cervantes at 6 p.m. and be treated to a duo made in heaven consisting of flautist Niurka Gonzalez and pianist Maria del Henar who will be performing some famous Cuban and Brazilian pieces by composers orge López Marín, Javier Zalba, Yalil Guerra, Camargo Guarneri y Radamés Gnatalli.

To continue the night in a soft and mellow mood head to the Jazz Café next, where at 9 p.m. you’ll be able to enjoy an outstanding performance by saxophonist and composer Cesar Lopez & Havana Ensemble.

Alternatively, if you want to defy the Friday 13th curse with more lively rhythms you can dance to then an early escape to El Jelengue del Areito could see you swinging your body as you attempt some impressive guaganco moves to the afro-Cuban beats of Rumberos de Cuba.

Or, you could always head to the Fabrica de Arte Cubano at 9.30 p.m. to scare the evil spirits away and enjoy the upbeat musical stylings of Conjunto Folklorico Nacional where you’ll be in for a night of visual delights taking in the visually stimulating choreographies of the Arte Folklorico Teatral, an aesthetically pleasing show to get you in high spirits (no we’re not speaking of the undead here, nothing to get spooked by, just to liven up your old tired self and your weary soul).

You can finish offsetting all evil predictions this Friday with the perfect end to the night - unwinding to the soothing music of Real Proyect, an alternative Cuban band that fuses traditional Cuban music with modern jazz sounds and other international genres to create a very unique and special mix that has a special depth and warmth to it.

Saturday 14th November - trova, salsa or rock n' roll

If you want to start this Saturday with a little bit of Cuban trova, then head to the Barbaram Pepito’s Bar at 9 p.m. to listen to Erick Sanchez, a singer and composer that incorporates a great variety of rhythms in his songs, from bolero to traditional son Santiaguero, guaracha, guajira, ballad and rock.

If afterwards you’re in the mood for salsa head to the Centro Cultural Bertolt Brecht to move to the beat of David Blanco performing at 10 p.m. or make your way to Casa de la Musica de Miramar at 11 p.m. to dance to the salsa stylings of Lazaro Valdes y Bamboleo.

If rock is your thing and you want to get acquainted with some quality Cuban version of it, then you simply cannot skip going to El Diablo Tun Tun tonight to enjoy the music of GENS, a group founded in the 80s to defend rock in the island and now fusioning Cuban classics with their unique rock signature twist. Don’t miss it!

Sunday 15th November - from classical viola to fusion Latin sounds

Not much is going on this Sunday in Havana’s music scene, and perhaps not surprisingly so as with all the stormy weather many are choosing to stay indoors and rest up over the weekend (Cubans aren’t used to braving wet weather and facing it daily like us over here in Britain). Regardless, there’s always somewhere to go and something to do in the capital, and here I present a couple of options for you.

If you’re in for some soul-reviving electro-acoustic music by Martha Mooke, catch her one-off concert No Ordinary Window at Iglesia de Paula this Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m. All the pieces she will be performing are her own and she will make those notes come to life through her five-chord electric viola.

If up for something a bit more up-tempo head to King Bar at 10 p.m. to see up-and-coming Cuban singer, Alejandro Boue give one of his shoulder-swaying, feet-tapping performances, fusing reggae, pop, ballad, fusion and Latin sounds like merengue and la plena.

Monday 16th November – salsa, conga or reggaeton?

If you fancy some authentic conga beats from Santiago you’re in luck with this otherwise slow Monday. Catch the legendary Sur Caribe at the Casa de la Musica de Miramar.

Alternatively, go see Wil Campa perform a little earlier at the same place and start dancing those Monday blues away from 5 p.m.

And if you like reggaeton then the opportunity to catch a live performance comes this Monday at 11 p.m. with pouplar local reggaeton singer Baby Lores staging a performance in 3rd and 8th Streets (3ra y 8), Miramar.

Tuesday 17th November - salsa through and througoh with a spot of jazz

Today is a great day for Cuban salsa if you want to dance the night away to the sounds of well-established Cuban band. Head to the Casa de la Musica de Miramar at 11 p.m. to dance to Pedrito Calvo y La Justicia, or alternatively (and most would probably say, even better) head to the Casa de la Musica de Centro Habana to move to Jose Luis Cortes y NG La Banda.

For jazz head to the Jazz Café this Tuesday at 11 p.m. to enjoy Real Proyect’s second performance of the week, if you didn’t catch their first one on Friday. Or, even better why not head to the Centro Cultural Bertolt Brecht to enjoy the fusion jazz stylings of Roberto Carcasses & Interactivo – on at 10 p.m.

Outside Havana – Cuba-Danzón Festival in Matanzas

If you're sunning yourself in Varadero beach this week then you're in luck to catch the 18th Festival Cuba-Danzón Matanzas 2015 which is taking placing from 12 to 15th November and will treat you to a very special dancing competition in a dance/music genre that dates back to the early 1900s.

As part of the festival you’ll be able to enjoy the dancing of Cuban and non-Cuban dancing professionals competing in two categories: 16 – 35 year olds and 36 -75 year-olds. It’s your best opportunity to get acquainted with this Cuban music genre (the danzón) and listen to the finest pieces: “Las alturas de Simpson,” “Fefita,” “Almendra,” “El Cadete Constitucional,” “La flauta mágica,” “El bombín de Barreto” and “Rompiendo la rutina.”

As part of the Cuba-Danzón festival many other special gatherings will be taking place including meetings and special seminars with music experts, musicians, researchers and dance teachers.

The Arts – A photographic November

November has been officially classified as a "photograpich month" in Havana, so much so in fact that they’re holding a special Noviembre Fotografico event taking over the city from 16 – 20 November in collaboration with the National Council of Plastic Arts (Consejo Nacional de Artes Plasticas). The goal? To unite efforts across all national galleries and art institutions in the city to promote the values of photographic art.

As part of this photographic month an array of different exhibitions will be displayed across galleries and cultural centres with works by Steve McCurry (the photographer that captured the enigmatic stare of that Afghani girl who famously graced THAT National Geographic’s cover) and Justine Ford and her collection of works entitled Candela and depicting Cuban landscapes of abandoned sugar cane fields - which we talked about in previous editions of our cultural calendar and which has been on show for over a month now at Fototeca de Cuba.

Performing Arts - Decameron production in Havana theatres

Returning to Havana once again this year after a series of successful performances in February 2015, the comical, erotic and satirical characters from the famous 14th century Italian tales of The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio are back on the cultural calendar of the capital this week, brought back once again under the direction of Carlos Diaz and put together by his group: The Public at The Trianon Theatre.

The production will be staged every Friday and Saturday in November at 8:30pm and on Sundays at 5 p.m. at the Teatro Trianón. Several stories from Boccaccio’s The Decameron will be brought back to life on stage with more than a hint of the Cuba of today. Those expecting nudity galore from Carlos Díaz are in for a surprise as some nude scenes have been replaced by spicy jokes and grotesque attitudes reflecting Cuba’s present.

Susana Corona

Susana Corona

The islands' go-between

Having lived most of my life between Cuba and the UK and being half-raised in both island nations, I...

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