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Hot in Cuba - Chinese New Year celebrations, Silvio Rodriguez and a tribute to Schubert

This week in Havana is all about celebrating the start of the Chinese New Year in style as it kicks off with a bang bigger than ever before. With most activities, events and street parades taking place in and around Chinatown in downtown Havana, you'll enjoy easy access to all the festivities if you happen to be staying in the capital. Elsewhere other highlights include a concert by the most internationally famous of Cuban troubadours and a special tribute to Schubert with a magical classical music concert.

Hot in Cuba - Chinese New Year celebrations, Silvio Rodriguez and a tribute to Schubert

Chinese New Year celebrations kick off in Havana’s Chinatown

This year the Cuban capital is celebrating the arrival of a new year in the lunar Chinese calendar in a bigger way than it ever has before, paying homage to the older generations (and their mixed offspring) of Chinese migrants that came (or were brought as contract workers) to the island during the late 19th century and who planted roots in Havana’s centric municipality of Centro Habana, in an area known as Barrio Chino (Chinatown).

With a full programme of festivities kicking off this Friday and a myriad of activities planned for the celebration of Chinese New Year between 29th January and the end of February 2016, with the aim of further promoting Chinese culture in Cuba, there is a long list of events to attend if you’re in Havana over the next couple of weeks – a unique opportunity to immerse in Chinese-Cuban culture!

To welcome the Year of the Monkey of Fire, the Casino ChungWua, the Centro de Tradiciones Chinas and the Instituto Confucio have lined up a good number of acts, among them the Gongfu Shaolin Chinese Martial Arts Show taking place on 28th, 29th and 30th January at 8:30 p.m. in the Teatro Mella. A feast for the senses with plenty of kung fu action and acrobatic antics - definitely worth it.

Alternatively, other highlights of Chinese New Year 2016 in Havana include a conference on what the Year of the Monkey will bring (held at the Casa de Artes y Tradiciones Chinas on 5th February) and the most awaited and biggest event of all - the Feliz Fiesta de Primavera China (Happy Chinese Spring Party) street parade taking place in the afternoon of 7th February between the streets of San Nicolas and Dragones. After further celebrations on 8th February to welcome the official start of the Chinese New Year many other activities will take place, like artisan fairs, book sales and traditional Chinese games among others.

Havana’s Barrio Chino or Chinatown is one of the largest and oldest in Latin America and at one point in time it had even been considered the second most important in the world after the one in San Francisco, U.S. After their settlement translated into the flourishing of successful small businesses and shops, the Chinese community in the capital grew and blossomed before it started decaying and diminishing after the triumph of the Cuban Revoluiton. In more recent years and with financial support from the Chinese government, the Chinese Cuban population has gained visibility once again and the Barrio Chino has been restored and brought back to life with new shops, restaurants (the biggest draw for habaneros due to modest prices and tasty cuisine) and outlets selling traditional Chinese holistic remedies.

It’s your chance to experience it fully and get into the full spirit of Chinese New Year celebrations with a unique Cuban flair! Don’t miss the chance!

Silvio Rodriguez gives special free concert in Cerro

As part of his Gira por los Barrios (Tour Around Neighbourhoods), the most famous and oldest of Cuban troubadours will be staging a concert at the centric Havana municipality of Cerro in the humble neighbourhood of El Pilar this Friday 29th January at 5 p.m.

One of the founders of the Movimiento de la Nueva Trova (New Trove Movement), Silvio has one of the widest fan bases in the island and beyond, with clever lyrics that are more like poetry than songs, accompanied by finely strung sweet melodic tunes from a guitar. Even if you can’t speak a word of Spanish you might enjoy his guitar skills and soft voice. The location isn’t one of the most appealing, as it’s one of Havana’s shabbiest neighbourhoods but if you’re up for mingling with locals in an authentic ambience, then go for it! It’s not often you find such an internationally renowned musician giving out free street concerts for the people like this one.

Cuban musicians in Havana play tribute to Schubert

A real treat for classical music lovers in Havana this week, a group of some of the best and most talented Cuban musicians will be honouring Austrian composer Franz Schubert with a dedicated concert this Saturday 30th Saturday at the Oratorio San Felipe Neri, an event sponsored by the Teatro Lirico Nacional de Cuba and the Austria Embassy in Havana.

Performing some of Schubert’s most famous pieces like Ave Maria, his collection of Impromptus and Piano Sonatas, will be Cuban pianist Gabriel Chorens, while sopranos Conchita Franqui and Indira Hechevarria, tenor Luis Javier Oropesa and the Orquesta Sinfonica de Santa Clara will perform a selection of various of Schubert’s Lieder (songs and brief compositions for voice and piano).

The concert, part of a project called “Schubertiada” to commemorate the Viennese musician’s 220th anniversary, will be directed by Helson Hernandez and Roberto Chorens and you are best finding out its starting time locally as this hasn’t yet been made public on online sources.

This Week’s Music Scene in Havana – your day-by-day guide

Beyond this week’s one off Schubert special there’s not much new or special going on in Havana’s music scene. But the usual standards of great live music performances are always guaranteed, especially where salsa is concerned, but also extending to rock, rumba, reggaeton (a.k.a Cubaton), boleros, soul music, and even underground rap. Read on to find out where to go in the capital each night depending on what kind of music you’re in the mood for. Here are my top picks:

What’s on tonight – Thursday 28th January

For the absolute best salsa this evening head to El Diablo Tun Tun at Casa de la Musica de Miramar to enjoy a quality performance from the original creator of “timba” (a style of salsa unique to Cuba) Jose Luis Cortes and his group NG La Banda. The show is on at 11 p.m.

If contemporary Cuban fusion music rocks your boat (or you want to get a taste of it) then make for an earlier outing at the very same spot I just mentioned above; El Diablo Tun Tun, where talented Cuban troubadour, Ray Fernandez will be giving a live performance at 5 p.m.

If afterwards you feel in the mood for rocking and rolling your night away head to El Submarino Amarillo at 9 p.m. to enjoy a great selection of international rock classics by local cover band GENS, who also perform some of their very own rock tunes with a clear and distinctive Cuban twist.

Friday 30th January – jazz, boleros, reggaeton, rumba or more quality salsa

Today (or should I say tonight) is a little more packed and varied, as is to be expected of a Friday night. You’ll be in quite a pickle to select from different events, as many I would say are

First up, if it’s salsa you seek you’ll have another chance to enjoy a live performance from NG La Banda, again playing at La Casa de la Muscia de Miramar and again at 11 p.m.

To start the night off with some mellow, romantic and soulful tunes head to Hotel Telegrafo at 8 p.m. to enjoy Ivette Cepeda’s rendition of some of the best classic Cuban boleros.

For the earliest of musical events to attend this Friday and especially recommended if you want to immerse in the local afro-Cuban folklore, head to El Jelengue del Areito where Rumberos de Cuba will give one of their rhythmic drum performances accompanied by the traditional songs and chants of this unique music genre. It might move you emotionally or it might make you dance – whatever your choice you’ll no doubt enjoy the experience.

If you want jazz there’s one big opportunity to enjoying a live performance by Carlos Miyares that you shouldn’t miss, and it’s on this Friday at 10 p.m. The venue is the Flauta Magica, and in case you’re wondering or you’re not familiar with this performer, Carlos Miyares is a talented tenor saxophonist that performs his very own original compositions as well as beautiful collaboration pieces with the likes of Chucho Valdes. A real jazz treat for serious jazz lovers.

For a completely different kind of evening entertainment altogether and a much trendier, hipper and younger audience head to Jardines del 1830 to enjoy a live reggaeton concert by Los Desiguales, a local band. You simply won’t be able to resist getting on your feet and at the very least swinging along to the often infectious reggaeton beats (unless you absolutely loathe this kind of music in which case you’ll be running away in horror – but that’s what reggaeton is like for most, a bit like Marmite; you either hate it or love it).

What’s on tonight – Thursday 28th January

For the absolute best salsa this evening head to El Diablo Tun Tun at Casa de la Musica de Miramar to enjoy a quality performance from the original creator of “timba” (a style of salsa unique to Cuba) Jose Luis Cortes and his group NG La Banda. The show is on at 11 p.m.

If contemporary Cuban fusion music rocks your boat (or you want to get a taste of it) then make for an earlier outing at the very same spot I just mentioned above; El Diablo Tun Tun, where talented Cuban troubadour, Ray Fernandez will be giving a live performance at 5 p.m.

If afterwards you feel in the mood for rocking and rolling your night away head to El Submarino Amarillo at 9 p.m. to enjoy a great selection of international rock classics by local cover band GENS, who also perform some of their very own rock tunes with a clear and distinctive Cuban twist.

Friday 30th January – jazz, boleros, reggaeton, rumba or more quality salsa

Today (or should I say tonight) is a little more packed and varied, as is to be expected of a Friday night. You’ll be in quite a pickle to select from different events, as many I would say are

First up, if it’s salsa you seek you’ll have another chance to enjoy a live performance from NG La Banda, again playing at La Casa de la Muscia de Miramar and again at 11 p.m.

To start the night off with some mellow, romantic and soulful tunes head to Hotel Telegrafo at 8 p.m. to enjoy Ivette Cepeda’s rendition of some of the best classic Cuban boleros.

For the earliest of musical events to attend this Friday and especially recommended if you want to immerse in the local afro-Cuban folklore, head to El Jelengue del Areito where Rumberos de Cuba will give one of their rhythmic drum performances accompanied by the traditional songs and chants of this unique music genre. It might move you emotionally or it might make you dance – whatever your choice you’ll no doubt enjoy the experience.

If you want jazz there’s one big opportunity to enjoying a live performance by Carlos Miyares that you shouldn’t miss, and it’s on this Friday at 10 p.m. The venue is the Flauta Magica, and in case you’re wondering or you’re not familiar with this performer, Carlos Miyares is a talented tenor saxophonist that performs his very own original compositions as well as beautiful collaboration pieces with the likes of Chucho Valdes. A real jazz treat for serious jazz lovers.

For a completely different kind of evening entertainment altogether and a much trendier, hipper and younger audience head to Jardines del 1830 to enjoy a live reggaeton concert by Los Desiguales, a local band. You simply won’t be able to resist getting on your feet and at the very least swinging along to the often infectious reggaeton beats (unless you absolutely loathe this kind of music in which case you’ll be running away in horror – but that’s what reggaeton is like for most, a bit like Marmite; you either hate it or love it).

Saturday 30th January – Los Van Van, local rock, LGTB or underground rap

Los Van Van are a legendary salsa group that needs little introduction, hence why I put their name directly in the sub-heading instead of listing the music genre they belong too – they are that recognisable! That’s if you know your Cuban music basics; and if you don’t, tonight brings the perfect opportunity for such an introduction.

The group that has been highly regarded as having laid the groundwork for the Cuban salsa of today and how it has evolved, Los Van Van, a popular band that dates back to the 70s, are timeless and incredibly enjoyable. They made salsa-dancing as popular in Cuba as it is today so you would do well to get a taste of their music if you can. They’ll be performing this Saturday at Don Cangrejo. Be there at 10 p.m.

If instead, you want to sample the best of local pop-rock (actually sung in English) with original songs written and performed by a talented bunch of young Cuban musicians, then you better check out The Sweet Lizzy Project at the Flauta Magica. It’s also on at 10 p.m. this Friday.

Or, for a taste of Cuba’s booming LGBT scene head to the weekly show of Proyecto Divino at the Café Cantante Mi Habana. It starts at 11 p.m. and promises a night of flamboyant fun.

Lastly, if you want to get acquainted with one exceptional Cuban lady rapper, King Bar is the place to be this Saturday afternoon at 5 p.m. Head to King Bar to enjoy the peculiar musical stylings of Telmary; a true original and, no doubt, one-of-a-kind performer. It might not be to everyone’s taste but do you have anything better planned in Havana for this Saturday afternoon? She goes great with a couple of cocktails at this trendy new private bar.

Sunday 31st January – rev it up on a slow day with a bit of early salsa

Things really slow down come this Sunday and today if you want to head out you’re best making an early afternoon exit if you want to enjoy the best salsa option in today’s calendar – Lazaro Valdes and Bamboleo, performing live at the Casa de la Musica de Miramar at 5 p.m.

Monday 1st February – conga and a choice of salsa hotspots

If you’re up for some of the best, most authentic conga straight from its birthplace of Santiago then this Monday you should definitely end your night at the Casa de la Musica de Miramar with a performance by the talented Sur Caribe duo taking place at 11 p.m. It’s sure to get you up and your feet and moving along, no one can resist the infectious Cuban conga from Santiago!

For some salsa today you’re better off making an early stop at the Casa de la Musica de Miramar at 5 p.m. where Maykel Blanco y Su Salsa Mayor will be putting on a feet-tappingly good performance.

And if you’re still in the mood for salsa come 11 p.m. then you’re best heading off to the Café Cantante Mi Habana where Manana Club will be performing some of their timba fusion music with elements of son, jazz and even traditional music with a decidedly danceable rhythm. Put simply; it’s music to get you up and dancing no matter what…so go with the flow!

Tuesday 2nd February - rock, salsa and that Cuban-French guy

In terms of variety it gets a little better this Tuesday, with the promise of great good old rock n’ roll at El Submarino Amarillo as local band GENS returns for a nostalgic performance of the best all-time international rock classics, including some of their own originals. A great excuse to unwind with modestly priced drinks at 9 p.m.

If you want to continue the night on a salsa note, then Casa de la Musica de Miramar will be the place to hit at 11 p.m. as Pedrito Calvo (former legendary member of Los Van Van) y La Justicia put on a hip-shaking performance.

To get introduced to contemporary Cuban fusion music with a lot of soul then the Café Cantante Mi Habana will be the haunt to check out at 5p.m. to enjoy the self-produced and self-composed original songs of charismatic Raul Paz – an artist that’s won acclaim beyond Cuba having sold over 200,000 albums in France. He is famous for having made “Cubanity” universal with his crossover music – so go on, make it there to check him out. I don’t promise you’ll necessarily love him but you might enjoy a lazy Havana Tuesday afternoon with his easy melodies, seemingly effortless music.

Wednesday 3rd February –a varied selection to end the calendar week

As Wednesday gets under way things definitely hot up on the musical calendar in Havana. There’s everything to choose from – jazz, salsa, trova, fusion music, rock and the best salsa.

To start the day’s entertainment on an early high head to Café Cantante Mi Habana at 5 p.m. to enjoy a lively, get-on-your-feet performance from eclectic and contemporary Cuban band, Qva Libre.

Then you have quite a choice from enjoying good classic rock tunes performed live by popular Cuban cover band Los Tackson at El Submarino Amarillo come 9 p.m. to picking between good old jazz and fusion music at 10 p.m.

My personal pick would be heading to the Centro Cultural Bertolt Brecht at 10 p.m to enjoy a stellar concert by award-winning Roberto Carcasses and Interactivo. You’ll get the best mix of Latin jazz and contemporary fusion music in one treat of a musical evening.

Alternatively, you could head to Sarao’s Bar at 10 p.m. to enjoy the upbeat musical stylings and catchy honey-sweet tunes of Kelvis Ochoa.

Or, for the best salsa of the week, end the night at the Casa de La Musica de Centro Habana at 11 p.m. to enjoy yet another amazing live performance by Jose Luis Cortes y NG La Banda.





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...

109 Articles

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