Hot in Cuba - Cuban Ballet opens new season, FAC hosts photo expo and the 32nd funeral of a living dead

This week in Cuba it's decidedly about the performing arts scene with the hottest thing in this week's calendar being the opening of Cuba's prestigious national ballet company's new season with a programme called La Magia de la Danza (The Magic of Dance) and which will include scenes from Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker among others. Also hot in Havana's music scene is a one-off concert from Diana Fuentes (tonight) at Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) which (on the plastic arts side) will also host a special new exhibition by local photographer Yuri Obregon.

Hot in Cuba - Cuban Ballet opens new season, FAC hosts photo expo and the 32nd funeral of a living dead

Highlights of the Week

My personal pick of highlights in this week's cultural scene include a thought-provoking photo exhibit, a special concert by a young Cuban folk singer and a series of exquisite ballet performances taking place over the next few days and put on by Alicia Alonso's prestigious Ballet Nacional de Cuba at their home stage of Gran Teatro de La Habana; which has been recently renovated. Beyond this, the 32nd funeral of Pachencho is my wild card of the week, a very amusing and peculiar celebration by townsfolk in a municipality just outside Havana. Read on to find out more and chuckle with the peculiarities of such celebration.

Cuban Ballet Company opens season with new Magic of Dance programme

The Ballet Nacional de Cuba is proud to announce its new programme for the end of this winter season with the presentation of La Magia de La Danza at the Gran Teatro de La Habana. Comprising a selection of scenes from some of the most famous ballet productions ever, the Magic of Dance programme kicking off tonight includes pieces from Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, The Nutcracker, Coppelia, Don Quixote, Swan Lake and Gottschalk’s Symphony.

You’ll have five opportunities to catch these presentations with the first being tonight at 8:30 p.m. and the remaining ones on 6th, 7th, 12th, 13th and 14th February (talk about a special Valentine’s outing) also at 8:30 p.m. on most days except Sundays, when performances take place a little earlier on at 5 p.m. Tickets are on sale right now at the Gran Teatro’s ticket office but they sell out fast so get there as soon as you can.

Yuri Obregon unveils new photograph exhibition at FAC

Cuban artist and photographer Yuri Obregon Batard will be unveiling his latest works at FAC with the official inauguration of his new exhibition taking place tonight at 7 p.m. Including images from his series “Frozzen”, the new “Prometo no lastimarte esta vez” (translating as: I Promise not to hurt you this time) is a provocative presentation with crude elements where responsibility overtakes image quality. You’ll find it on La Pared Negra) Nave 3 and access to view it is completely free.

The peculiar celebration of the 32nd funeral of a living dead

Before you think we’re going to be talking about some Halloween-style or Mexican Day of the Dead celebration let me warn you that this is no national celebration, it’s not even a regional celebration. It’s in fact more of a rather peculiar town tradition that’s been held for over three decades. As it turns out the town of Santiago de Las Vegas, which sits on the outskirts of Havana has for long held a local party that consists of celebrating the fake funeral (and burial) of a local man who goes by the nickname of Pachencho and who is revived moments before dust is poured over his coffin thanks to a few drops of rum. The humorous street party is celebrated every year on 5th February and kicks off at the town’s Liceo, where a special funeral service is held (and where a fake wife mourns the loss of her husband) before moving on to the cemetery and carrying a street procession of the dead as his coffin is towed along by a tractor, followed by a group of mourners who look more like partygoers than saddened friends but who do their best to fake their grief. Just as the coffin is lowered in a hole in the ground a member of the mourning pours some rum over the dead’s lips and the real party kicks off to loud music and overjoyed dancing as Pachencho comes back to life. If you want to immerse in this town’s odd tradition then make it there tomorrow and prepare to participate in a merry funeral like no other – for the 32nd time!

Diana Fuentes stages concert at FAC tonight

If you live in the UK you most probably haven’t heard much (or most likely not at all) about Diana Fuentes, one of Cuba’s youngest songstresses with a peculiar folksy style that brought her to national stardom a few years back. She now lives in Puerto Rico after having married one of the members from popular (and several times Grammy winning) Latin duo, Calle 13, but will be back at her homeland to treat fans to her music. If you’re curious about what the fuss’ all about make it to Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) tonight at 11 p.m. If you can’t make it then then she’ll be giving yet another (albeit more low-key) performance at Flauta Magica later on in the week (you’ll find more details on that performance in the Havana Music Scene section below).

Havana’s Music Scene This Week

Without further ado here is our weekly presentation of the best live music performances in the capital from today 4th February until 10th February 2016. See you on the dance floor or at the concert hall!

What’s on tonight – Thursday 4th February

Perhaps the biggest musical event of tonight (if you like that folksy Latin American style of music) is Diana Fuentes’ concert at FAC. The Cuban folk singer and composer will be at the Fabrica de Arte Cubano at 11 present some of her latest hits to a live audience of local fans and curious tourists alike.

For some good old salsa tonight make sure you head to Casa de La Musica de Miramar to indulge in some frenetic salsa dancing movements as you sway your hips to the intoxicating melodies of Alexander Abreu y Havana d’Primera. Their show starts at 11 p.m. – the perfect apres-dinner treat.

If you want entertainment and you can’t wait until evening to get started, Arsenio Rodriguez will be giving a quality afro-Cuban rumba session at Jelengue del Areito later this afternoon at 5 p.m.

A few hours later rock has a home at El Submarino Amarillo where local cover band GENS will be giving it their all and rocking the audience with some old school classic hits as well as more recent hits.

And if you’re up for some bluesy tunes from one of Cuba’s youngest talents, then head to La Flauta Magica at 10 p.m. to listen to the powerful voice of Luna Manzanares, covering some of the best international hits in English (from The Beatles to Adele and Amy Winehouse) with a particular jazzy twist – her own signature style. You can YouTube her to get sneak preview into the kind of melodic treats she delivers. I’d highly recommend her for a romantic end to the night or a prelude to some energetic, passionate salsa dancing later on.

Friday 5th February – salsa, boleros and the best of Cuban fusion music

For the best salsa tonight head to the Casa de La Musica de Mirmar once again to enjoy the infectious salsa style of timba music creator, Jose Luis Cortes and his group NG La Banda. They’re on at 11 p.m. but if you can’t make it there and prefer staying closer to downtown Havana, then you can check out the Casa de La Musica de Centro Habana, where Charanga Forever will be performing also at 11 p.m.

For some mellow and romantic tunes as you enjoy some pre-dinner cocktails head to Hotel Telegrafo, where Ivette Cepeda, like every other Tuesday will be giving one of her inspiring performances at 8 p.m.

For the best of contemporary Cuban music with a unique flavour head to the Centro Cultural Bertolt Brecht to enjoy a concert by charismatic David Torrens at 10 p.m. That’s where you’d find me this Friday for sure!

Or, if you want to check out a talented group of young Cubans fusing some of the most loved classics in the English language with a dash of added Cuban flavour, head to Corner Café also at 10 p.m. to enjoy Los Boys’ lively performance.

Saturday 6th February – jazz, Isaac Delgado, rap and a taste of the LBGT scene

If you were trying to spot a quality jazz act in this week calendar, the first one comes expertly delivered by Cesar Lopez y Habana Ensemble who will be performing at Café Miramar this Saturday at 10 p.m.

A perhaps equally tempting option if you want to enjoy some of the best Cuban salsa is to opt for Don Cangrejo instead, where internationally renowned Cuban salsa singer Isaac Delgado will be giving a performance also at 10 p.m. Katy Perry hired him for a private concert during her time in Havana, so you know he’s definitely something special!

If you missed Diana Fuentes’ concert at FAC on Thursday you’ll have the chance to enjoy her folksy tunes sung live once again as she performs at Flauta Magica tonight, also at 10 p.m.

For early afternoon entertainment King Bar is the place to be in order to down a few drinks and snacks while appreciating the rather unique musical talent of female Cuban rapper Telmary. Her show is on at 5 p.m.

If rock is what moves you then you should make it to El Diablo Tun Tun at 10 p.m. to enjoy yet another performance by local rock band GENS, where they’ll be covering some classic hits as well as getting you acquainted with some of their very own tunes.

And to give the perfect finish to the night how about experiencing Havana’s gayest side with a flamboyant show put on by Proyecto Divino, like every other Saturday at 11 p.m.

Sunday 7th February – rumba, salsa or outstanding quality jazz

To enjoy the finest of folkloric afro-Cuban rumba you have a date tonight with Yoruba Andabo at 11 p.m. They cover great Cuban and international classics with a unique rumba-tastic twist…I personally love them – see if you can justify my fascination and judge for yourself by checking them out at the Casa de la Musica de Centro Habana this Sunday.

The next best thing in this Sunday’s calendar (or perhaps even better, according to your musical preferences) is the outstandingly good quality jazz performance by talented and award-winning Cuban jazzist Ruy Lopez Nussa who will be giving an amazing jamming session to remember at Café Miramar. Be there at 10 p.m. and get carried away by his tunes for the perfect mellow end to a sultry Havana night.

Monday 8th February – get into a line for conga or salsa dance the Monday Blues away

As usual, Mondays tend to be the slowest and quietest on the capital’s music scene but there’s still a couple of recommendations to make if you want to head out of your hotel room in search of some live entertainment.

For live salsa head to the Casa de La Musica de Miramar at 5 p.m. to enjoy Maykel Blanco y Su Salsa Mayor’s hip-shakingly-good performance.

For a musical escape later in the night the Casa de La Musica de Miramar is certainly the place to be once again. So come back here to enjoy the best of authentic Cuban conga music, delivered fresh from Santiago and awesomely performed by the intoxicating and charming Sur Caribe boys.

Tuesday 9th February - more jazz and the best pick of salsa

Things start picking up again on the live music scene this Tueday with fantastic jazz, salsa and fusion music performances to choose from.

The first recommendation is for jazz lovers to head to La Zorra y El Cuervo tonight at 10 p.m. to enjoy the sexy saxophone tunes of Delvis Ponce.

For serious salsa dancers that want to start things off early the first salsa stop this Tuesday is at 5 p.m. for what arguably is the best salsa music of the day delivered by Alexander Abreu y Havana d’ Primera at Casa de La Musica de Miramar.

For nigh revellers in search of a bit more salsa stay put at Casa de la Musica de Miramar or head back there tonight at 11 p.m. to take your pick from two great performances to dance along to: one by Achy Lang and another by Pedrito Calvo y La Justicia

Coming soon – Havana International Book Fair, Festival del Habano and Carnaval de Salsa

Things to look forward to in next week cultural blog include the start of Havana’s 25th edition of La Feria Internacional del Libro – the Havana International Book Fair which will be launching on 11th February for an 11-day extravaganza of book presentations, writing workshops, book signings and stalls selling books everywhere around the city. Celebrated every February this is one of the capital’s most loved events of the year, where young and old gather alike to immerse and rejoice in the world of the written word. Children have their special dedicated space too with special presentations, plays and theatre performances as well as planned open-air activities with clowns and some of the most famous characters in children’s literature. While most of the books sold at the Havana Book Fair are indeed in Spanish there are many areas and sections with books in other languages, with English being the largest majority after Spanish. In other words, you’ll always find something in your language to get excited about although just getting immersed in the great bookish atmosphere might be enough of a highlight during your trip to Cuba.

On a completely but just as exciting note, the first ever Carnaval de Salsa in Cuba will debut from 25th to 28th February to close off the month with a big, loud and musical bang! The Primer Carnaval de Salsa will include unique performances by some of the island’s most legendary salsa bands, from veterans like Los Van Van to contemporary salsa icon Isaac Delgado who will both be opening the event on 25th February. The stage will be the open Avenida Primera (1st Avenue), between streets A and E in Havana’s centric Vedado neighbourhood.

On another note, cigar connoisseurs will be in luck if travelling to Cuba by the end of this month as 29th February will see the opening of the 18h edition of the Festival del Habano (Habanos Festival) which will take place in Havana over the course of five days, from 29th February to 4th March 2016. An event that celebrates the finest brand of Cuban cigar: the Habano, registration is now open for the selected few that want to be part of the festival’s activities which include tours around cigar factories, a commercial fair, an international seminar, a special dinner and a welcoming evening as well as cigar-rolling master classes, gala dinner, a humidor auction and a cigar sommelier competition. If you are serious about cigars this is where you’ll want to be.

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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