Hot in Cuba - Gerardo Alfonso, FolkCuba 2016, Zenon Dance and Old School rock 'n' roll

Last week saw plenty of concert action taking over the capital and beyond. This week might be a little less strong on the musical side but packs a powerful punch in other diverse cultural offers, from art exhibitions to exclusive dance performances, choir music and the two-week-long celebration of FolkCuba 2016 - an annual celebration and massive workshop of folkloric dance in Cuba which will be taking over Havana for its 62nd edition. Of course, we haven't left out our weekly calendar listing the best music events to attend in the capital each evening as well as our dedicated separate section for families with kids. Keep reading for more....

Hot in Cuba - Gerardo Alfonso, FolkCuba 2016, Zenon Dance and Old School rock 'n' roll

What’s hot in Cuba this week? Well, maybe not a lot where the more modern salsa music scene is concerned, but plenty of variety when it comes to other forms of performing arts, like dancing, singing (with outstanding symphonic choir performances), photography and painting exhibitions as well as miscellaneous art collections showcased at various museums and art galleries across the country. So, if you’re a multifaceted culture lover you’re in for a treat this week, as there’s something guaranteed to be going on in some of Cuba’s main cities.

Highlights of the Week

Summarising the main events in Cuba’s calendar islandwide and across all categories, from performing arts like dancing and music to photography and painting, this first section of my weekly blog aims to bring to light my favourite picks of all there is to do and see in Cuba over the next few days,; but more particularly in Havana, as this is where most of the highlighted events below will be taking place. Read on to find out more and pick your own favourites.

Zenon Dance to perform in Cuba for the first time

This weekend hots up in Cuba’s cultural calendar with the arrival of US dancing company Zenon Dance which will be staging a series of first ever live performances in the Cuban capital on Friday 15th, Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th January (at 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 5 p.m. on Sunday). Their presentation will be staged at Havana’s centric Teatro Marti in Old Havana (just opposite the Capitolio and close to the Saratoga hotel) and will include a variety of their signature choreographies with the addition of one local piece “Coming Home” by Osnel Delgado, a Cuban dancer, choreographer and director of Cuban contemporary company, Malpaso.

The over 30-year-old dancing group from Minessota directed by Linda Andrews excels at harmoniously pairing elements of modern dance and jazz to create a visually striking and emotionally moving effect. Zenon Dance arrives in Cuba with a repertoire that includes various pieces by US creators that include Bebe Miller, Bill T. Jones, Sean Curran, Doug Varone, Danny Buraczeski and Tere O Connor. They’ve been warmly received with their highly performances in Switzerland, Hungrary, Russia and Aruba – and I’m sure Cuba will be no different. Make your way to the ticket office at Teatro Marti in order to secure a seat. Tickets are on sale daily from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

This dancing company stands out not only for their unusual and dynamic mix of the modern and the traditional but also for their knack of snapping up rising talent and featuring emerging choreographers as well as renowned international names. They’ve earned rave reviews in publications like Village Voice and The New York Times and received prestigious accolades like the McKnight Excellence in the Arts Wards and the Twin Cities Mayor’s Public Arts Awards.

California’s Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus gives last performance in Havana

Last week I let you in on the fact that the California-based Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus would be in Cienfuegos to give a special one-off performance last Saturday. Well it seems that soon after they extended their agenda in Cuba to include a few more performances islandwide (including a stopover in Santa Clara and Matanzas last Monday and Wednesday), so if you didn’t manage to see them last week in Cienfuegos, you’ll have one more chance to do so in Havana this coming Friday.

The Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus will be giving their last concert in Cuba this 15th January at the Iglesia San Francisco de Paula, a historic church located on the Alameda de Paula promenade in Old Havana. For this last performance they’ll be joined by local choir Coro Entrevoces, directed by Digna Guerra.

FolkCuba 2016 kicks off in Havana

Officially described as the “International Laboratory of Folklore” the 62nd annual edition of FolkCuba 2016 will kick off in Havana next Monday 18th January for nearly two weeks of non-stop celebration of folkloric dance in Cuba.

As part of the festival’s activities, which will also include special performances at various venues throughout the capital, a number of dance workshops will be set up for those looking to learn the secrets of Cuban folk dance with its unique mix of African and Hispanic roots to the beating sound of rhythmic percussion instruments. Anyone can enrol in this classes so if you happen to be in Cuba next week and you like dancing, I’d say go for it! It’ll absolutely make for an unforgettable experience.

Folkloric dance courses will be taught at the Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba in the centric downtown neighbourhood of Vedado and registration is already open. During the courses, participants can look forward to learning various dance styles including conga and rumba, which stem from Yoruba, Congos and Arara origins.

Peña de Gerardo Alfoso in concert

Unless you’re Cuban or know your fair bit about the island’s troubadour movement, you most likely won’t have heard of Gerardo Alfonso; yet there is reason for you to discover if you happen to be in Havana this week.

One of the pioneering artists in Cuba’s New Trova movement of the 80s, Gerardo Alfonso is an incredibly talented and charming performer who writes all of his own songs and typically performs them with the only accompaniment of his guitar. His iconic tune “Sabanas Blancas” inspired on his birth city of a Havana is a theme song that every Cuban can sing along to (and often does - you might hear people humming it in the streets) as is his signature track “Yo te queria Maria” but if you attend this special concert you might pick a different favourite from his ample repertoire.

Make it to Casa del ALBA Cultural this Friday 15th January at 6 p.m. to be in for a truly special one-off treat. This is a veteran troubadour who no longer gives frequent concerts as he once used to so make the most of it this Friday. This won't be your typical tourist trap and you are guaranteed to be surrounded by a local crowd of genuine Alfonso's fans.

Old School Rock ‘n’ Roll every Sunday in Vedado

Starting this coming Sunday 17th January, the beautiful Casa de la Amistad in Vedado (former grand residence of two famous lovers in Cuba’s aristocracy of the 18th century) will be hosting a special crowd of old rock ‘n’ roll performers giving out special afternoon concerts for lovers of old school rock. The local group of veteran rockers “La Vieja Escuela” will be treating the audience to some famous timeless rock tunes as well as some of their own creation.

Classic tunes to be regularly played include everything from Elvis Presley and Mudy Waters to Oasis and Nirvana, The Doors and Led Zeppelin.

The best part? It will be taking place every Sunday at the same time (5 p.m.) from now onwards and the privilege of sitting on the leafy, breezy patio of this stunning mansion won’t cost you more than 1 CUC for a cold beer if you feel like one.

Collective Art Exhibition “El Blanco Mas Oscuro”

Put together by curators Arlene Ladaga and Hamlet Fernandez a brand new collection of fresh paintings and photographs by emerging Cuban artists will be displayed at Galeria Casa 8 in Vedado from 15th January until 10th March.

The premiere showcase will take place this Friday at 7 p.m. and the location is very centric if you’re in downtown Havana. You’ll find the small and quaint gallery on Calle 8, between 15th and 13th Streets.

Havana’s Music Scene

With the capital being the centre of the island’s cultural action, as is to be expected in most other parts of the world, Havana tends to have the widest variety of musical concerts, festivals and nightlife options. Also being one of the most visited places by tourists, alongside Varadero and other beach resorts, it’s only natural we dedicate it some special attention, hence the need for this Havana-devoted music calendar. Keep reading to find out where you should be each of the way to get the best of Havana’s evening music scene.

On Tonight – Thursday 14th January: Rock, salsa classics or Cubaton

For kicking things off early this Thursday make your way to El Diablo Tun Tun in the Casa de La Musica de Miramar at 5 p.m. and delight yourself with the soulful sounds of troubador Ray Fernandez. Plenty of honest local flavour guaranteed!

If you fancy a rocking start to the night then tonight is the night to head to El Submarino Amarillo at 9 p.m. to enjoy the musical stylings of young local rock band, GENS.

To round up things with some quality salsa the Casa de la Musica de Miramar is the place to be to enjoy a fantastic energetic performance by the talented Alexander Abreu and his group Havana d’Primera, true rising stars in modern Cuban salsa.

To enjoy the tunes of salsa legend and veteran Jose Luis Cortes and his group NG La Banda then you better be at El Diablo Tun Tun, also at 11 p.m. Hard choice to pick between two salsa greats…I know

Lastly, if you want to experience Cuban reggaeton (or Cubaton as the local version is known) you will have the chance to do so tonight at 10 p.m. in Don Cangrejo. It’s not the kind of music that typically appeals to non-Cubans (and even in Cuba there is a divide, a bit like Marmite, you either love it or hate it) and it might not everyone’s taste but you can’t really knock it until you’ve tried it, right?

Friday 15th January - afro-Cuban magic, romantic boleros or frantic salsa-dancing

If you want to immerse in afro-Cuban folklore during your time in Havana, this Friday brings you the perfect chance to do so if your start your evening entertainment earlier. Head to El Jelengue del Areito to see Rumberos de Cuba perform at 5 p.m. After their performance you’re sure to have a newly-found appreciation for Cuban rumba and conga.

To start the night with some mellow tunes that pull at the heartstrings head to Hotel Telegrafo and let Ivette Cepeda set the mood for romance with her array of ballads and traditional boleros. At 8 p.m. it’s the perfect accompaniment to an evening dinner or some pre or post-dinner cocktails in an atmospheric location.

Kick things up a notch with some serious salsa dancing at the Casa de la Musica de Centro Habana where Charanga Forever will be performing at 11 p.m. Alternatively, Jose Luis Cortes y NG La Banda will be performing at the Casa de la Musica de Miramar once again tonight, at the same time.

Saturday 16th January - your pick of Cuban rap, jazz, salsa or the LGBT scene

If in the mood to start the action early in a great location at a fantastic new private venue that’s very much in vogue, head to King Bar at 5 p.m. this Saturday to down a few cocktails (perhaps accompanied by tasty snacks) while listening to the eclectic sounds of Telmary, an award-winning Cuban lady famous for her original rapping mixes and highly regarded by many as the island’s most authentic rapper.

For something completely different to follow up on the above experience head to the Café Miramar at 10 p.m. to be serenaded by quality sounds of Cesar Lopez y Habana Ensemble, a powerful combination of award-winning musicians offering the best of Cuban jazz.

If after that you’re in the mood to pick up the pace with something that makes your whole body move and shake in a way that only Latin music can, it’s time to make your way to the Casa de la Musica de Miramar next (conveniently close to the previously mentioned location, so you can make this Saturday a music-hopping night) and dance to the salsa sounds of Lazaro Valdes y Bamboleo. It’s on at 11 p.m.

Or, alternatively, for something completely different elsewhere, Proyecto Divino is back on the scene in Havana, returning to the city with their flamboyant LGBT shows at the Café Cantante Mi Habana from the onset of 11 p.m. The place to experience Havana’s gayest, most colourful side.

Sunday 17th January – afro-Cuban folklore, salsa-dancing and more jazz

Things inevitably slow down in Havana’s nightlife scene come Sunday, yet there are a couple of places I can recommend if looking for a little nightlife action.

If you haven’t had the chance to properly acquaint yourself with afro-Cuban music (or if you have and love it) this Sunday afternoon brings you yet another chance to do so, as Yoruba Andabo give a drum-tastic guaganco session at the Casa de la Musica de Centro Habana at 5 p.m.

If salsa-dancing is what you seek then make it to the Casa de la Musica de Miramar, where Lazaro Valdes and Bamboleo will be performing again, also at 5 p.m.

If instead you want to be inspired by what is highly regarded as Cuba’s youngest promise on the saxophone, head to Café Miramar at 11 p.m. to enjoy a jamming jazz session with Michel Herrera.

And if you want to salsa dance among a mostly local crowd – the Casas de la Musica in Cuba tend to attract more tourists - then head to the Salon Rosado Benny More in La Tropical to enjoy an open-air salsa concert performance by Manolito Simonet y Su Trabuco.

Monday 18th January – more salsa and a plenty of conga

Monday and Tuesdays are typically the slowest day in Havana’s music nightlife, so it’s more of a challenge to find variety. Still, there are a couple of acts to attend depending on what you’re after.

If out to enjoy salsa then you have two performances to choose from. The first is for early afternoon dancers and starts at 5 p.m. in the Casa de la Musica de Miramar. It’s a concert by charismatic Wil Campa and will definitely have you tapping your feet along (at the very least). The second takes place well into the night, at the Casa de la Musica de Centro Habana this time and at 11 p.m. It’s this week’s second salsa performance by Manolito Simonet y Su Trabuco.

This Monday brings yet another exceptional opportunity to enjoy the best of afro-Cuban music live with not one but two performances from Sur Caribe, Cuba’s leading conga band straight from the heart of the birthplace of conga music – Santiago de Cuba. They’ll give their first performance at 5 p.m. in El Diablo Tun Tun and the second one at 11 p.m. virtually in the same spot at Casa de la Musica de Miramar.

Tuesday 19th January – a spot of rock, fusion Cuban music and salsa, of course

The quietest of days this week wont’ leave you without choice. First up, if you fancy a bit of contemporary fusion Cuban music is Raul Paz’ live performance at the Café Cantante Mi Habana. It’s a great opportunity to be introduced to this talented singer, composer and musician famous for creating catchy and infectious tunes.

If you want salsa it’s on at 11 p.m. with Pedrito Calvo y La Justicia performing at Casa de la Musica de Miramar.

And if you’d like to precede the salsa dancing with a bit of rock then heading to El Submarino Amarillo at 9 p.m. will make for a rocking start to the evening with GENS playing some classic old school tunes as well as more contemporary hits.

But my absolute best pick of the day is to go and see Achy Lang at El Diablo Tun Tun, an outstanding violinist, composer, singer and music director who cohesively brings together an array of Cuban music genres, from chachachá to rumba, mambo, son, changuí, Latin Jazz, salsa and timba. It’s a really creative and inspiring musical show with a full display of 100% Cuban music, don’t miss it!

Wednesday 20th January – Cuban pop fusion, plenty of trova, rock and first-class salsa

Things get rocking again as Wednesday makes its way on the calendar, with a much fuller list of acts lined up bringing the greatest variety of choice.

To enjoy the best of contemporary Cuban trova and fusion music head to Sarao’s Bar at 10 p.m. and get ready to enjoy Kelvis Ochoa’s unique and melodic voice while downing a few drinks.

If you are after contemporary Cuban music that’s a touch livelier and more danceable then make an earlier exit towards the Café Cantante in Centro Habana at 5 p.m. to dance along Qva Libre’s many popular hits.

For a unique blend of Cuban jazz with afro-Cuban elements head to the Centro Cultural Bertolt Brecht to enjoy a fantastic performance by Roberto Carcasses & Interactivo. It’s on at 10 p.m.

Lastly, if you’re salsa-inclined this Wednesday, the Casa de la Musica de Centro Habana will be your perfect haunt from 11 p.m. when NG La Banda will be giving one of its twice weekly performance. It’s the best of the best in Cuban salsa so if you’re serious about your salsa make sure you don’t miss one of their performances.

A spot of rock comes at 9 p.m. expertly delivered by talented cover band Los Tackson, who will be treating the audience at El Submarino Amarillo to some of the most popular international rock classics.

The Arts in Havana

To start things off you’ll have the last few days to enjoy the personal exhibition “Reencuentro” by Cuban artist Irene Sierra Carreño at Casa Guayasamin. Part of the celebration programme to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the foundation of this gallery, this artist’s collection will be on display until Sunday 17th January, so if you want to see you’ll have the last chance to do so this weekend.

On the other hand the Museo de Artes Decorativas in Havana is busy hosting quite an array of different collections, with the transitory exhibit “Cristal de Murano” exhibition which we announced a couple of blogs ago still on show until the end of this month and two newer exhibitions added which will also be on display until 31st January. One of them is entitled Lo Nuevo y Lo Viejo (The Old and The New) while the other honours mother-of-pearl (or nacre) with a specialised collection of artistic pieces made out of this fine material. The latter is entitled “El nacar y la maestria de una manufactura” (Nacre and the mastering of its manufacturing) and consists of a series of unique pieces made by manufacturing English company, Worcester, back in the 19th century.

On the other hand and gracing the iconic Palacio del Segundo Cabo, an exhibition titled “Bocetos de Zanelli para el Capitolio Nacional” (Zanelli’s sketches for the Capitolio Nacional) shows the 10 original sketches sculpted by master Angelo Zanelli in plaster, each specially designed for the main portico of the Capitolio building. The collection includes the magnificent Statue of the Republic, the two titans flanking the exterior staircase and the seven friezes of the central portico that make allusion to the march of Cubans towards freedom and democracy.

Lastly, like announced as part of the highlights of this week, the new collective exhibition titled El Blanco Mas Oscuro (The Darkest White) will be inaugurated this Saturday 15th January at private gallery Galeria Casa 8 in Vedado. Uniting the work of various photographers and painters, this collective exhibition is not to be missed.

Beyond Havana – What’s going on in Varadero, Trinidad and Santiago

The best act in Cuba outside Havana this week will be this Friday’s concert by popular Cuban pop and salsa singer Leoni Torres at the Casa de La Musica de Varadero. His performance starts at 10:30 p.m. and guarantees a great night out if you happen to find yourself basking on Varadero’s fine white sands this weekend.

If in Trinidad this week (or this month) you’ll be able to enjoy the traditional Cuban sounds of local band Los Lamas every Monday at 4 p.m. and then again at 8 p.m. at the Casa de la Musica de Trinidad.

If you happen to be in Santiago de Cuba, Havana’s fiercest rival when it comes to music and the arts, you are in for a special treat as just by walking along the street you will be treated to a one-of-kind painting exhibition. A personal display by local artist, Israel Tamayo Zamora, this open-air mural will be on display until 27th January. Part of a 24-year-old bi-annual festival entitled “Encuentro Internacional de Pintura Mural” (International Encounter of Mural Painting), this public gallery and workshop will include a varied array of individual and group exhibitions.

Families with children

Sadly, there isn’t much child-geared activities to be enjoyed in Cuba this week with the end of the year festivities having drawn to a close and the return to school leaving the entertainment options nearly blank.

There is one show though, that you can take your young offspring too if you find yourself in Havana this week and want to treat little ones to a special evening just for them. Every Wednesday and Friday in January the Teatro Apolo will be hosting Circo Fantastico at 7 p.m. wowing the youngest in the family with some cool circus antics.

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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