A quick glance at this week’s cultural blog on Cuba and you might think things still haven’t picked up much from the festive season, and quite understandably so, as many in Cuba took a break to celebrate the New Year, and this includes musicians, artists and other performers. But even though many are still slowly coming out of the holiday mood, others are already revving up their recently recharged batteries and putting them to good use.
Highlights of the Weekend
Here I present my top picks and what I believe to be the most special performances taking place this weekend on a countrywide scale. Watch out, these are the ones not to be missed depending where in Cuba you happen to find yourself over the next three days.
Ballet Nacional de Cuba presents Giselle
Such is the case of Cuba’s national ballet company, who is back in the game once again this week with three more scheduled performances taking place over the weekend.
This time around they are treating a lucky audience to the classical production of Giselle which will be performed at the Gran Teatro de La Habana, choreographed by the legendary Alicia Alonso, with music by Adolphe Adam and costume design by Salvador Fernandez.
These limited performances will take place on Friday 8th January and Saturday 9th January at 8:30 p.m. and again on Sunday at 5 p.m.
Tickets are already on sale and available from the ticket office at the Gran Teatro de La Habana. You must be quick though as they sell out fast. You can only purchase them at the official ticket office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. only...steady; ready; go, go, go!
Omara Portuondo in concert at Teatro Nacional
Many fans were left disappointed when Omara Portuondo’s open-air concert that was announced during las week’s Hot in Cuba blog never took place and had to be cancelled due to unfavourable weather conditions. It was supposed to take place in the centric San Francisco de Asis Square in Old Havana but unforeseen rain dampened the occasion.
But Omara, not being one to stand down or give up easily is making up to fans with another performance this weekend at the Teatro Nacional de Cuba. A key vocal part of the Buenavista Social Club and a much loved Cuban singer with a long and very successful career, Omara never ceases to wow fans with her mix of humility and timeless talent. It’s your chance to see her perform along with other Buenavista Social Club members and the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional this Sunday 10th January at 5 p.m.
Festival de Trovadores “Longina” in Villa Clara
An extremely popular annual event that celebrates Cuban trova (trove) and Cuban troubadours, the Longina festival recently kicked off in its hometown of Santa Clara. Having officially celebrated its opening gala yesterday and taking place until Sunday 10th January, those in the Cuban province of Villa Clara can look forward to four days of quality and truly soulful Cuban music from the heart.
There’s nothing commercial (or at least there shouldn’t be much) about authentic troubadours and this is where you’ll find plenty of authencity, charm, wit, honesty, humbleness and sweet melodies that can turn out to be more infectious than you initially think.
Closely related to the Trovuntivitis event that we hailed in previous editions of the Hot in Cuba Blog, this year’s edition of the Longina festival will also see a concert by Trovuntivitis this Thursday (tonight) at 11 p.min El Mejunje. Other highlights of the festival include a performance by Gerardo Alfonso at 9 p.m. and the closing concert by Ray Fernandez at 11 p.m. again at El Mejunje.
Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus stages a special performance in Cienfuegos
Performing for the first time ever in Cuba, right from California, the Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus will be in Cienfuegos this Saturday 9th January to give a very special performance at the Sala Ateneo of the Teatro Tomas Terry from the onset of 6 p.m.
The concert will be led by the company’s musical director, Cheryl Anderson with the special participation of the Cantores de Cienfuegos company, directed by Honey Moreira Abreu. The programme consists of several pieces spanning different time periods – from Renaissance to the present time, including spirituals, sacred pieces, traditional music and popular music from the U.S.
Now, I announced this one-of-a-kind art exhibition last week but perhaps I didn’t give it as much prominence as I should have and that’s only because I hadn’t had the chance to take a glimpse at the amazing photographs this unique collection consists of.
Being showcased at Palacio de Lombillo in Havana from 8th January until 8th February 2016, a collection of photographs titled Habana Sensual (which translates as Sensual Havana, in case you haven’t guessed) and put together by Cuban photographer, Gabriel Davalos, these stunning images seamlessly capture the rather sensual movements of Cuban dancers in action. I highly, truly, definitely recommend it; the photographs are nothing short of breathtaking and emotion-provoking.
Havana d’ Primera and Alexander Abreu in Varadero
My last top pick of this week’s music scene is a one off performance from Alexander Abreu y Havana d’ Primera at the Casa de la Musica de Varadero. It starts at 10.30 p.m. but make sure to go in early and secure a place close to the stage as these salsa heavyweights do sure attract large crowds.
Havana’s Music Scene
Although everything in Havana (and elsewhere in the country) is decidedly slower-paced and you won’t find perhaps as much variety on the music scene as in other occasions, the capital and beating soul of the island never truly hibernates, never when it comes to music. So, while there isn’t as much to be enjoyed as in previous editions, there’s still plenty of quality even if it’s spread thin and far between. Read on to find where you should hang out in Havana next week for lively nights and entertainment-filled evenings.
What’s on Tonight
There’s quite a selection of nightlife hotspots in Havana to check out this Thursday evening and night depending on what you’re in the mood for.
Salsa reigns tonight at the hands of Jose Luis Cortes y NG La Banda, who will be performing at El Diablo Tun Tun in Casa de la Musica de Miramar from the onset of 11 p.m. This several times award-winning band and its leading musician “El Tosco” are definitely your best bet for a night of quality salsa from an acoustic and dancing point of view, but there are alternatives if you want to kick things off earlier in the afternoon, with Pupy y Los Que Son Son performing at the Casa de La Musica de Centro Habana at 5 p.m.
If you are after something more unique and much less mainstream then you should reserve your night entertainment for Vocalite’s concert at the Centro Cultural Bertolt Brecht, which will take place at 10 p.m. If you haven’t been introduced to Vocalite in one of my previous blogs then I’ll start off by saying it’s a one-of-a-kind group who make sweet music acapella using no other instrument but their voices and sometimes hands to make melodic sounds. Similar in style to another famous Cuban vocal group, Sampling, Vocalite brings a fresh approach to Cuba’s music scene.
If you’re in the mood for jazzy blues then make it to the Corner Café at 11 p.m. tonight to catch the talented Zule Guerra in action and listen to her soulful, sultry voice.
If none of this fits the bill and you want to kick things up a notch with some rocking tunes then head to El Submarino Amarillo at 9 p.m. to enjoy a live rock performance from Cuban cover band, GENS.
Friday 8th January
Slightly less busy than Thursday night (and surprisingly so) this Friday does offer some nightlife entertainment options for those looking to explore Havana’s musical scene.
If you want to get a taste of Cuba’s Yoruba culture and afro-Cuban beats with deep spiritual roots you could kick off things early at 5 p.m. by heading to El Jelengue de Areito to catch a performance from Rumberos de Cuba.
A little bit later on, if you want to go for a mellower music scene, Hotel Telegrafo could be the perfect setting in which to unwind and romance at 8 p.m. as you are serenaded by the soothing sounds of classic Cuban ballads and boleros, belted out by the very talented Ivette Cepeda.
Shake things up a bit with some quality rock tunes at El Submarino Amarillo with a performance from local band Los Kents, who will be rocking the audience from 9 p.m. Playing up to the nostalgic element with some internationally famous rock songs from yesteryear, you can get ready to enjoy some good old rock classics as well as some tweaked originals with a few twists.
If you want to round up your night with a bit of salsa, then you should be heading to Casa de la Musica Miramar next for another chance to catch a performance by Jose Luis Cortes y NG La Banda who will have everyone taking to the dancefloor at 11 p.m.
A little earlier at 10 p.m. Kelvis Ochoa will be giving a concert at Flauta Magica, a great alternative for those who want to enjoy the best of authentic homemade Cuban music but not necessarily salsa. Kelvis Ochoa’s honeydew voice and fusion stylings that bring on a joyous mood are sure to seduce for a laidback evening to remember with generous dosage of “100% cubania”.
Saturday 9th January
Well, this Saturday certainly comes packed with a few good surprises and a couple of stellar instrumental music performances.
My personal highlights of the day are a joint jazz concert at the Basilica de San Francisco de Asis convent in Old Havana by two talented musicians and a one-off special performance by Ruy Lopez Nussa y la Academia at Casa del ALBA Cultura. The first of the two instrumental concerts will be performed by saxophonist Javier Zalba and pianist Maria del Henar Navarro alongside flautist Jose Ernesto Zalba as the invited guest. It starts at 6 p.m. so make your way there early to grab a seat. The second starts two hours later so that you can make it to both if you plan for it as it’s in a location not too far away from the first venue, right in the heart of the Vedado municipality (less than 10 minutes away by car or taxi).
Still, if quality salsa for a good night out that involves a lot of non-stop dancing in authentic Cuban style is what you seek, you’ll find the very best of it performed by Lazaro Valdes and Bamboleo at Casa de la Musica de Miramar. Be there at 11 p.m. to close the night in style.
On a completely different note, if you want to experience a bit of fusion music in the form of locally made hip hop and rap, you should make it to King Bar at 5 p.m. to enjoy the outspoken musical stylings of Telmary. She is a legend in her own particular and peculiar style and perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea but 100% percent authenticity is her guaranteed signature mark.
If you want rock you can help yourself to plenty of it at El Diablo Tun Tun in the Casa de la Musica de Miramar. The live concert is by GENS and their performance starts at 10 p.m. They’re true local quality, so if you are already a rock fan and are curious about experiencing it with a bit of Cuban infusion and flair, don’t miss it.
Sunday 10th January - jazz it up with Roberto Fonseca
As the last night of the weekend, this Sunday in Havana will be very quiet indeed for the most part.
My personal recommendation? Head to the Jazz Café this Sunday to enjoy the musical talent of Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca, one of the youngest and fastest rising promises in the island’s jazz scene. Get there at 9.30 p.m. to enjoy his signature mix of a variety of styles that blend afro-Cuban music with elements of jazz, funk, blues, soul or hip hop.
If you go anywhere looking for a little bit of dancing tonight make it to either King Bar at 10 p.m. to move to the rhythmic sounds of rising Cuban pop star Alejandro Boue or go for an early salsa session at the Salon Rosado Benny More in La Tropical to enjoy a performance by Maykel Blanco y Su Salsa Mayor at 4 p.m.