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Hot in Cuba - Havana Film Festival, Olga Tanon, FIART and human-sized dogs on the street

Strikingly packed to say the least, this week's cultural calendar in Cuba is sure overflowing with big events - from the annually celebrated and internationally acclaimed Havana Film Festival kicking off today (with invited guests including Ethan Hawke and Tim Robbins) to a much-awaited free public concert by Puerto Rican singing sensation Olga Tanon in Santiago, a one-off special anniversary performance by Van Van and Havana d'Primera and a wild pack of large Mexican dogs roaming free in Old Havana...exciting much?

Hot in Cuba - Havana Film Festival, Olga Tanon, FIART and human-sized dogs on the street

Human-sized dogs in Havana? Meet XICO the mythological Mexican canine

Before you get too spooked about the last part of this weekly calendar’s title, the dogs temporarily inhabiting Old Havana’s cobbled streets in the centric San Francisco de Asis square aren’t dangerous nor in the least scary; firstly because they’re made of fibreglass and secondly because they’re incredibly cute with bright colours and vividly designed cartoonish patterns.

It’s all part of a month-long exhibition by Mexican artist Cristina Pineda, the creator of a project entitled “Travesias de Xico por America Latina” (Xico’s journey through Latin America) and which unites the work of various Latin American artists in a unique collection of seriously cute human-sized dog which are now being publically exhibited in Old Havana.

The character of Xico the Mexican dog, was inspired on a pre-Columbian Mexican tradition that worshipped a god with a dog-like form. The legends and traditions surrounding this mythical creature aim to recapture the magic of reviving old tales and inspiring younger generations with a touch of Mexican culture perfectly blended with other continental roots.

Travesias de Xico por America Latina

Taking up residence in the centric San Francisco de Asis Square, the vibrantly coloured family of 16 canines comprise the work of artists from Colombia, Guatemala, Panama, Mexico and Cuba. Giving tourists and passers-by the perfect selfie photo op, these rather large doggies were first unveiled on 16th November to mark the 496th anniversary of Havana’s foundation and will be on show until 12th December, coinciding with the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint.

The statues will be removed from the square then but they will stay in Cuba as the exhibition was a donation by Pineda. Regardless, the time to smile as you pose next to your favourite Xico sculpture is now as they will move on to other Latin American latitudes to continue their inspirational travelling journey.

37th Havana Film Festival – 3rd to 13th December

Officially starting tonight with the screening of Argentinian film El Clan which will be shown at the Karl Marx theatre in Havana, the 37th edition of the most famous cultural annual event of the Cuban capital will be celebrating the work of director Pablo Trapero with a film that was warmly received by critics in the industry and which has been was awarded in Venice and Toronto film festivals. It’s based on the real-life case of Clan Puccio, which shook Argentinian society during the 80s.

37th Havana Film Festival

Along its 10-day duration, the festival will see a total of 159 nominated films competing for the CORAL Awards across different categories while a total of 444 films will be screened across various Havana theatres and cinemas. Selected films participating in this year’s festival edition are split in the categories of 23 fiction films, 22 medium and short films, 21 debuts (first films), 36 documentaries, 33 animated films, 24 unedited scripts and 24 film posters. To take a glimpse at the full programme and what’s being shown where, click here.

Special 46th anniversary concert – Van Van and Havana D’ Primera

Another highlight of this week comes in the form of musical notes with a very special on-off performance to celebrate the 46th anniversary of Cuba’s oldest and most popular salsa band of all time: Los Van Van. To mark the occasion the living Cuban legends will be giving a special concert this weekend - on Saturday, 5th December to be more precise - and accompanying them on their birthday celebration will be contemporary (and highly successful Cuban salsa group) Havana D’ Primera, attending the event as a performing honoured guest.

Los Van Van

This very special concert kicks off at 8. 30 p.m. in La Tropical, at the Salon Rosado Benny More. Don’t miss it; this powerful salsa combination will truly be a one-of-a-kind act and it’s a limited one-time event! You’ll find it hard to come across these two huge salsa stars sharing stage ever again.

Olga Tañon’s free public concert in Santiago de Cuba

Olga Tanon free public concert in Santiago de Cuba

If you’re not in Havana this Saturday to catch Los Van Van’s one-off birthday concert but you’re lucky enough to be in Santiago de Cuba instead; then you’ll have an equally good option for entertainment and one that’s just as (if not more) unique as the former.

The first of two announced free concerts in Cuba by the beautiful and charismatic Latin singing sensation, Olga Tañon, will take place this Saturday 5th December in the afternoon, although the exact time hasn’t yet been announced.

Plaza de la Revolucion Antonio Maceo

The location however has been confirmed as the wide esplanade facing the iconic Plaza de la Revolucion Antonio Maceo, where she will be joined on stage by Cuban musicians including Descemer Bueno and Qva Libre, under the artistic direction of Cuban maestro, Joaquin Betancourt. If you’re anywhere close to Santiago you absolutely MUST NOT miss it! Not only is it free to attend but it will also bring together a very real and authentic crowd of Cuban fans so you can dance along while soaking up the genuine Cuban party atmosphere.

Hot in Havana’s music scene – Day-by-day low-down

As usual, as the Cuban capital remains the country’s hub for mainstream visitors from all latitudes (and hence most artists favour performing or exhibiting here) we dedicate more space to Havana’s daily nightlife scene with a day-by-day calendar showing you the day’s hottest events in the way of live musical performances. Keep on reading for the daily line-up.

What’s on tonight – 3rd December

Rock, salsa or jazz? The choice is yours tonight as there is quite a selection for all musical preferences.

NG La Banda

If you want rock then El Submarino Amarillo is the place to kick off your night at 9 p.m. with a stellar, feet-tapping (or, more appropriately perhaps, head-shaking and hair-tossing) performance from local rock cover band, GENS.

If salsa is your thing you might find yourself in quite a pickle when deciding whether to see a live performance by Alexander Abreu and Havana D’ Primera and Jose Luis Cortes y NG La Banda, both outstandingly good quality salsa acts by award-winning performers. They will both be performing at the same time (11 p.m.) and while you can catch Havana D’ Primera in Casa de la Musica de Miramar, NG La Banda will be at El Diablo Tun Tun.

Zule Guerra be at the Corner Cafe

For soulful blues beautifully performed by talented local artist Zule Guerra be at the Corner Café at 10 p.m.

Friday 4th December

Tonight the musical offerings range between more rock, more salsa and a little bit of rumba.

If you didn’t catch their earlier performance, NG La Banda will be performing some of their salsa classics again at Casa de la Musica de Miramar from 11 p.m.

El Submarino Amarillo

El Submarino Amarillo will once again host yet another fantastic local rock band, Los Kents with a performance that kicks off at 9 p.m.

Lastly, a little earlier in the evening, today also offers you the opportunity to get acquainted with Cuba’s afro-Caribbean roots with a live folkloric performance by Rumberos de Cuba at El Jelengue del Areito. Be there for their afternoon performance at 5 p.m.

Saturday 5th December

To get introduced to one of the freshest faces in Cuban popular music head to Don Cangrejo this Saturday at 10 p.m. and enjoy an upbeat salsa-infused performance by Alain Daniel. It’s sure to put you in a party mood!

If you prefer playing it safe with a more well-established salsa band, then head to the Casa de la Musica de Miramar at 11 p.m. to enjoy a hip-shaking performance by Lazaro Valdes and Bamboleo and try out all your salsa moves. It’s on at 11 p.m.

GENS performing at El Submarino Amarillo

If you’re a rock fan or if you just fancy a break from salsa and you haven’t been to any of this week’s rock performances yet, tonight you have another chance to catch Cuban rock cover band GENS, performing at El Submarino Amarillo once again, this time at 10 p.m.

Sunday 6th December

It’s looking rather sombre this Sunday in Havana’s musical calendar, but there are two options that I’d still recommend.

To dance along some contemporary Cuban music performed by a rising young artist that fuses popular Latin pop rhythms head to King Bar, a popular nighttime hangout spot that’s been hosting Alejandro Boue for the last few Sundays. His performance starts at 10 p.m.

Are you in a rocking mood? Then heed to the call of the Submarino Amarillo, Havana’s number one venue for mainstream international rock and enjoy a performance by Eddy Escobar and his group.

Monday 7th December

Not much might be going on in Havana’s music scene this Monday as it’s looking decidedly quieter than in previous editions…but still, your chance for the most authentically Caribbean conga music comes this Monday with a performance from Sur Caribe at the Casa de la Musica de Miramar at 11 p.m.

Wil Campa

Alternatively, if salsa is what gets your mood going, Wil Campa will be giving an early afternoon performance at the Casa de la Musica de Miramar. Catch him at 5 p.m.

The Arts - FIART kicks off in Havana

Beyond the afore-mentioned public exhibition taking over Havana’s San Francisco de Asis Square with the charismatic XICO sculptures, there’s not much else new in the capital’s artistic scene.... except one of the biggest annual art festivals in the country!

FIART kicks off in Havana

FIART which stands for Feria Internacional de Artesania (International Artisans' Fair)r officially kicks off this Friday, 4th December in Havana with a variety of contemporary works by worldwide artists being exhibited in PABEXPO until 20th Decemeber. With this year's edition honouring the eastern Cuban province of Matanzas' ceramic work, this festival (an authentic for the senses) transforms December into the month of Cuban visual arts.

An event that has seen exceptional growth year on year adn which is orgnasided by the "Fondo Cubano de Bienes Culturales" in collaboration with ARTEX and EGREM, will include various artistic presentations, plastic arts exhibits and, of course, the sale of artisan products from national and international exhibitors.

Feria Internacional de Artesania

The fair presents an outstanding opportunity for cultural exchange, for sharing experiences among participating artists and allowing visitors to discover new styles, new artisants and new creative movements. If you are an art lover you simply cannot miss it.

But the one thing you should especially not miss is FIART’s opening show this Friday, where a one-of-a-kind puppet show titled Azules de Matanzas offers a unique musical and visual journey along the culture of the so-called “Athens of Cuba” – the province of Matanzas.

William Vivanco

With popular local singer William Vivanco lending his voice, his music and his acting talent to the event while accompanied by local dancing company from Matanazas, Danza Espiral, this inspiring show takes the audience on a cultural journey where they will learn about Cuba’s African deities, street dances, country dances and danzon.

Ai Weiwei - Follia Continua

Having said that, there is still time to enjoy “Follia” a special exhibition of paintings shown at the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo Wilfredo Lam. With the participation of 15 foreign artists, the collection, whose full title is “Follia Continua! 25 Años de Galleria Continua” comprises the work of celebrated artists like Chinese Ai Weiwei, French Kader Attia, Russian couple Ilya and Emilia Kabakov and the Italian Michelangelo Pistoletto.

Families with children

There are quite a good few things going on in Cuba this week are that especially appealing to families, and oddly enough only of them is in Havana!

The first of these is the kick-off to Cuba’s National Circus’ autumn season. With a new show titled “Soy Cuba” the circus will be setting up camp in the province of Matanzas (just minutes from Varadero’s white sands) with performances scheduled from 2nd to 6th December in the municipality of Jaguey Grande. Shows start at 8 p.m. from Monday to Sunday with an additional 4 p.m. performance on Saturdays and Sundays.

Clown - Circo Nacional de Cuba

Likewise, various circus performances will be presented in Camaguey at the Parque Casino Campestre this Saturday 5th December at 10 a.m. A great opportunity to bring the youngster along (and the not-so-young) if you happen to be visiting Camaguey this week.

Lastly, Havana’s Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes will host a special event for children this Sunday 6th December at 11 a.m. with clowns Jaquelin and Dimas staging a special performance for little ones.

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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