As November relentlessly marches on and we approach December, Cuba starts to get busy again with many festivals lined up over the coming few weeks.
From the JoJazz festival officially kicking off today and taking over the capital for four concert and competition-packed days, to its bigger and most famous predecessor the Jazz Plaza International Festival to follow in mid-December, the International Film Festival of New Latin American Cinema and the FIART Crafts Fair amongst other celebrations – the build-up to Christmas and New Year’s is certainly a busy time for Cubans and what do they do throughout it all? Well, dance of course!
Hot in Havana’s music scene this week
As I was just saying there’s plenty of musical action in Havana to go around this week, of all kinds. On one hand we’ve got the JoJazz Festival, immediately following this there’s the celebration of Baila en Cuba where mambo will be taking centre stage and then we have
Tonight – classical piano meets blues and bolero: Jose Maria Vitier in concert
A night for pairing classic piano tunes with talented Cuban voices and for blending styles verging between classical music, Cuban folk, blues and bolero, this one-night-only promising concert is a unique gem no serious music lover can afford to miss. Led by Cuban pianist and composer Jose Maria Vitier, famous for his contribution to music and television soundtracks as well as various compositions for symphonic orchestra, chamber orchestra, piano and other formats this special concert will also feature guest performers and singers Zule Guerra and Ivette Cepeda, who will add their melodic voices to Vitier’s beautiful music.
Be there to enjoy this beautiful fusion of some of Cuba’s most talented artists taking place at the Teatro Mella starting 8.30 p.m.
JoJazz – the festival for the youngest rising stars (19 – 22 November)
A preamble to the bigger, older and more prestigious Havana Jazz Festival, also known as Jazz Plaza, the 18th edition of Havana’s JoJazz Festival starts today 19th November and promises a week-long of outstanding jazz performances by some of the most talented young jazzists in the world.
The opening ceremony and concert takes place tonight at 8.30 p.m. at the Sala Tito Junco in the Centro Cultural Bertolt Brecht. If you’re at all interested in jazz (and even if you aren’t) I’d strongly advice not missing the performance of Roberto Carcasses and "El Trio Salvaje", Hector Quintana and guest of honour Emilio Matini.
Beyond that other of my personal highlights of the JoJazz festival this weekend include the jamming sessions at Jardines del Teatro Mella on Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. and on Sunday at 7 p.m.
Another must-see would be the closing ceremony on Sunday 22nd November at 5 p.m. at the same place where it all kicked off – the Sala Tito Junto of the Bertolt Brecht Theatre; where awards and prizes will be announced and given out followed by a concert from Maracujazz, last year’s winner.
For the full programme of JoJazz Festival events in Havana and the full list of participants click here.
Cuban artists unite for Una Noche en Latinoamerica (20th Novemeber)
Tomorrow night brings another very special one-time event with a concert at the ever-popular Fabrica de Arte Cubano (aptly named after all as it keeps producing and creating amazing events and popping them out one after the other). This one-night special in particular, titled "Una noche en Latinoamerica" (One night in Latin America) will be uniting musicians from all over Latin America in order to celebrate the regional culture and bring together a variety of Cuban and Latin American artists.
Whilst the main event will take place on 5th December and will be shared live across major social networks, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, the Cuban part, due to technological limitations will take place earlier, so instead of Cubans singing at the same time as the other 15 participating countries, it will do so tomorrow night.
Going by the hashtag "#ESTAMOSUNIDOS" (we’re united) this one-off concert kicks off at 11 p.m. and highlights of the night include performances by Harold Lopez Nussa, Eme Alfonso and Yissy & Bandancha. The event will be streamed live across 15 Latin American countries through the official website of MMF Latam, Latin American Association of Music Managers.
Baila en Cuba (22 – 27 November)
The biggest salsa event of the year, Baila en Cuba is back for another week-long edition of frenetic salsa-dancing, spectacular performances, fierce competitions and numerous workshops and classes. Dedicating this year’s edition to the mambo, a dance genre that revolutionised the world in the 40s and 50s, Baila en Cuba will place a special focus on this music and dancing style as an important contributor that’s still part of the rhythmic base for many other Cuban music genres and variations.
If you are a keen dancer and would like to compete there’s still time to register online if you can make it there fast enough. And you don’t even have to be a dancer or compete to be part of the event, in fact those with no previous dancing experience are welcome to sign up to workshops and some packages include free entrance to six nights of salsa-tastic concerts. Get acquainted with various Cuban styles of dancing (mainly salsa), join a class or simply show off your freestyle moves in a concert – you have six days of absolute salsa craze to choose from!
Day by Day - what's on in Havana
The full nightly calendar of where to have fun, be it attending jazz concerts, classical concerts or live salsa performances. Read on for the full daily low-down below.
Friday - classical piano or jazz?
If you want to start your evening entertainment early this Friday and you fancy doing so with the inspiring melodic music coming from classical piano tunes, then the Sala Ignacio Cervantes in Havana is the place to head to at 6 p.m. to enjoy a very special joint concert of piano for four hands performed by Chinese pianist Yun-Ling Hsu and Cuban pianist Ana Rosa Hernandez. Pieces to be played include works by Robert Schumann, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Camille Saint-Saens, Antonin Dvorak and Ignacio Cervantes (after whom the theatre is named after all). Each pianist will also be individually performing a number of additional pieces as soloists with a selection from George Gershwin in Yun-Ling Hsu's repertoire and pieces by Yalil Guerra and Jaures Lamarque Pons.
If classical piano is not quite your thing and you're more of a jazz lover then the place to head to this Friday is the eponymous Jazz Cafe in Havana, where saxophonist and composer Cesar Lopez will be performing alongside Havana Ensemble.
If however if salsa is what your soul seeks, a bit later on in the night Jose Luis Cortes y NG La Banda, now performing as regular at the Casa de la Musica de Miramar will be there to perform again this Friday at 11 p.m.
Saturday - a spot of salsa and more jazz
More jazz is on this Saturday at the Jazz Cafe once again, and at the same time as the previous day, only this time it will be saxophonist Denis Carbó & Jazz en Trance who will be performing at 9 p.m.
However, if you've had enough of jazz or instrumental music by now perhaps you'd like to shake your stress off my moving your hips and feet to some rhythmic salsa tunes. If that's the case you've got two great choices this Saturday. You can either head to the Casa de la Musica in Centro Habana to dance along Lazaro Valdes & Bamboleo's music at 11 p.m. or head to the Centro Cultural Bertolt Brecht an hour earlier to enjoy the salsa beats of David Blanco. If you find yourself closer to the Casa de La Musica in Miramar and don't fancy either walking or taking a taxi, then be there at 11 p.m. to enjoy the musical stylings of Maykel Blanco y Su Salsa Mayor.
Sunday - closing ceremony of the Havana Festival of Contemporary Music
Today is a day for yet more quality instrumental concerts as the 28th edition of the Havana Festival of Contemporary Music (Festival de la Habana de Musica Contemporanea) comes to an end and another special concert is held as part of the celebration of the 27th International Havana Festival of Chamber Music (Festival de la Habana de Musica de Camara Internacional) .
For the former a special concert for the closing ceremony will be staged at the Sala Covarrubias of the Teatro Nacional de Cuba at 11 a.m. and prepare for a long spectacle showcasing the best of contemporary music around the world with musicians from El Salvador and Mexico as well as full Cuban cast of musical directors and performers. You'll be treated to performances by La Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional de Cuba and an ensemble from the Banda Nacional de Concierto, with a special dedication to wind instruments.
If that last concert was too early for you and you're more of an evening entertainment type of audience, then the special concert celebrating the city's 27th edition of the Festival of Chamber Music will kick off at 6 p.m. at the Sala Ignacio Cervantes in a restored palatial building formerly known as Casino Español but which now is mostly known as Palacio de Los Matrimonios.
Sunday - Los Van Van in concert
I know I've put this under a separate heading even though it's taking place on the same Sunday, but what's to come deserves a space of its own. The most legendary of Cuban salsa bands responsible for revolutionising the way Cuban salsa sounded in the 70s not only sound-wise but in the way it was danced, will be performing at the Salon Rosado Benny More in La Tropical this Sunday at 10 p.m. If you want to catch a performance by these elusive award-winning legends, Monday brings the perfect opportunity - and not one to be missed!
Monday - a different Cuban night 50s style!
Now, let's be clear first, you can do this on any night of the week, but I'm taking over Monday's space to introduce you to this unique project simply becase there's nothing too fantastic or out of the norm taking place in Havana next Monday. So I thought a great alternative to while the evening hours this Monday would be to spend a Cuban night 50s style with the city's newest, most dazzling music project. A real spectacle offering two hours of non-stop traditional music from the "Golden Age" will make you step back in time and feel as though you're in that dreamy Havana of yesteryear that everyone buzzed about.
It all starts at 9.30 p.m. and as I said earlier it's on every night. The place where it all happens is the Sociedad Rosalia de Castro in Old Havana. If you want to book your seat ahead you can email them or send them a message through their Facebook account. They've also got a website and you should check it out anyway to take a glimpse at their gallery and find out more about what exactly goes on here every night, but I bet it truly is something to remember during your time in Havana! If you're already fascinated about Cuba's impressive collection of 50s vehicles and classic cars you'll no doubt relish the opportunity to get in the full 50s mood for a night or two!
Tuesday - more salsa and Cuban fusion music
If you wan to start the night off with some authentic Cuban contemporary tunes, excellently performed by jazzist and composer Roberto Carcasses, alongside the fusion group Interactivo with strong afro-Cuban roots and a rather unique vocal style, the Centro Cultural Bertolt Brecht is the place to be at the onset of 10 p.m.
Alternatively, or to follow up on the earlier-mentioned experience you can head to Casa de la Musica de Miramar next to enjoy the salsa beats of Pedrito Calvo y La Justicia - on at 11 p.m.
Wednesday - a bit of rock to razzle things up
A bit of more variety on Havana's music scene finally arrives next Wednesday and to rock the week we have the performance of Cuban rock cover band Los Tackson performing some beautiufl rock classics at El Submarino Amarillo from 9 p.m. onwards.
On another note (quite literally) an hour from the onset of 10 p.m. locally loved - and internationally renowned for having co-composed the soundtrack for the film Habana Blues - Cuban contemporary legend Kelvis Ochoa will be performing at Sarao's Bar.
If of salsa you're in need you can always head to the Casa de la Musica in Centro Habana next to enjoy another quality performance by Jose Luis Cortes y NG La Banda. On at 11 p.m.
In Cienfuegos – Remembering the Mambo King: Benny More
The city of Cienfuegos will be celebrating the biggest musician it ever gave birth to, the giant among giants who once made mambo popular around the world, so popular in fact it was rumoured even eskimos were dancing along to it (no one can verify this though) – the one and only Mambo King; the legendary and beloved Benny More.
The town of San Jose de las Lajas in Cienfuegos, where this exceptionally talented and charismatic man affectionately called El Benny was born will be celebrating the festival that honours him – Festival de la Musica Popular Cubana Benny More.
Taking place from 26th to 29th November this biannual festivity will focus on stage direction this year, paying tribute to British theatre, film with a special homage to opera director Peter Brook on his 90th birthday. The festival will also celebrate the 30th anniversary of Havana’s Teatro Buendia Company. Whilst the official programme of events has not yet been disclosed, 43 international groups from 23 countries have confirmed their attendance and Cuba will present 16 award-winning companies. The opening ceremony will take place at the Sala Covarrubias, Teatro Nacional with the play Charenton, directed by Flora Lauten with Teatro Buendía.
The Arts in Havana – from photography to theatre
Friday 20th November marks the end of the "Noviembre Fotografico" (Photographic November) event with a number of exhibits being shown around the capital city since 16th November when it officially kicked off. To follow up on this, on the very same day of the former event’s closure the “Fotografiando mi Habana” collection will take over at the Museo de Arte Colonial on 20th November.
Yet another arts exhibition will be closing this week in Havana, this time at the Museo de Arte Cubano. We announced this one a few weeks back and it’s been on show for nearly over a month now. Still you have your very last chance to enjoy the “Altavoz contra la pared” presentation before it’s taken down at the end of 22nd November.
Highlights of this collection include the retrospective work of Esterio Segura with some of his old pieces from the 90s and some of his newer ones, presented with humour and ingenuity. The exhibition includes interactive installations and some special performances.
Finally, to round up things on the artistic front, we have a bit of performing arts returning to the capital after the conclusion of the Havana Theatre Festival. This time a Shakespearian-inspired production called “El Deseo de Macbeth” (Macbeth’s wish) will be presented every Friday and Saturday at the Argos Teatro starting 8.30 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sundays.
This reinterpretation on the original Macbeth play by Shakespeare offers a contemporary and refreshing Cuban twist, with playwright by Cuban narrator Agnieska. It’s a very interactive play that seeks to engage the audience every step of the way.
Plans for Families with Children – What’s On?
Well, not much really at the moment, but still there is something to fill an empty weekend afternoon or two when wandering around Havana with your little ones.
Those enjoying holidays in Cuba's capital with their offspring this weekend can look forward to some circus performances at the Carpa Trompoloco with the new show Havaneando every Saturday and Sunday of the month with two sessions running at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on both days. This Cuban circus company will be performing a selection of the circus numbers that proved most popular during the summer season.