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Musicabana is coming: the first Cuban-American festival in 30 years

Practically overnight Havana has become a city of big concerts and international festivals. Free for all, colourful and charged with boundless energy. Adding to the list of already well-established festivals like the Havana World Music and America por su musica, Musicabana arrives on the scene as a mega festival of never-before-seen proportions jointly organised by Cuba and the United States and uniting over 25 music stars in a Cuban stage. Yet another irresistible opportunity to keep enjoying quality music under the sun.

Musicabana is coming: the first Cuban-American festival in 30 years

Still buzzing with the generous dose of ecstatic joy The Rolling Stones left behind with their concert last March, us habaneros have recently welcomed the news of yet another big music event: Musicabana.

Taking place between this coming 5th and 8th May it will bring together a total of 25 international music stars including talented Brazilian songwriter and composer Carlinhos Brown, and Jamaican reggae star Sean Paul. On the Cuban side there’s contemporary salsa band Habana D’Primera, the legendary Los Van Van as well as veteran songwriters and composers Pablo Milanes and Carlos Varela.

Officially the festival had already started warming up for the party to come in May a few weeks ago, with the mega concert given by American electronic band Major Lazer on 6th March, which brought to the Malecon an audience of over 400,000 people.

What’s going on; why is everyone coming to perform here?

The news of Musicabana confirms for me something that all Cubans have been coming to the conclusion of in recent times: our island is experiencing one of its biggest moments of international attention in its history. We’re in fashion. Everyone wants to visit Cuba, discover Cuba, and explore the many possibilities that have been opening up in Cuba. Since presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama decided to improve bilateral relations on 17th December 2014, Cuba has become one of the destinations to see and be seen.

It has attracted pop superstars like Katy Perry, legendary rockers like Mick Jagger and Ozzy Osbourne, and it’s been drawing less well-known individuals such as music producer Fabien Pisani, founder of Musicabana – the first ever international music festival jointly organised by Cuba and the United States in the last 30 years.

“We’ll be making history and building an unprecedented cultural bridge between Cuba, the United States and the rest of the world through the power of music.”

Pisani revealed during an interview for Billboard magazine. And he is right, because since 1979’s Festival Musical Bridges, nothing of this scale has taken place in Cuba.

What is Musicabana bringing to the scene?

One of the exclusives that Pisani and his counterpart, the Instituto Nacional de la Musica, are bringing to the table is an extremely diverse musical cocktail, multi-genre at an international level, and which will feature everything from salsa and electro-house to folk and alternative music. It aims to draw an audience of over 250,000 Cubans and tourists every day, with free admittance all the way through.

But if you happen to be one of those that prefers paying through the nose to see artists and bands performing more upclose as well as enjoy other exclusive perks, the organisers will also be setting up VIP areas in all concert locations; according to what’s on Musicabana’s official webpage.

The location of the concerts will be excellent too. La Piragua, the Tribuna Antimperialista, the Plaza San Francisco de Asis and the Salon Rosado in La Tropical are all centric venues in the open air, all frequently visited by Cuban music lovers.

So you have more of an idea of the locations, La Piragua and La Tribuna are only 300 metres from the landmark Hotel Nacional, right at the heart of the centric Vedado neighbourhood. La Tropical is in the Playa municipality and the Plaza de San Francisco de Asis is in Old Havana, two of the capital’s most visited tourist hotspots.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy getting from one place to the next, observing how the city’s architecture and atmosphere changes from one area to the other, just in the same way the sounds of this mega festival will be changing too.

Music for all tastes

In a big festival of this stature we typically tend to highlight the biggest performing names. And, of course, you shouldn’t miss a performance from the absolute master of popular Brazilian music like Carlinhos Brown or one of God’s gifts to Cuba – Los Van Van. But the festival also offers the chance to go a different way and explore less well-known newcomers in the contemporary Cuban music scene.

Such is the case of Ibeyi, who I recommend you to follow to wherever they perform. This young Cuban duo consists of two talented sisters whose extremely subtle voices blend afro-Cuban music heritage with minimalistic sounds that are somewhat close to Indie pop.

Also go and check out Kelvis Ochoa, one of Cuba’s most talented singers and songwriters, with a unique talent for getting a whole stadium moving to the sole accompaniment of his guitar. And whatever you do make sure you don´t miss Interactivo, a rather unique jazz band that fuses funk and salsa sounds, led by accomplished Cuban jazz pianist Roberto Carcasses.

In every one of those concerts you´ll get to grips with a side of the vibrant and cosmopolitan national identity that’s hard to find in any tourist package or organised tour. For sure we´ll be seeing each other around in those events, listening closely and drinking beers under the sun which still is somewhat forgiving in May (although this is also the time when it starts getting hotter).

Musicabana offers up days of joyous parties in a country where the second language is, without a shadow of a doubt; music.

Marcel Lueiro

Marcel Lueiro

Gramophone Operator

As if he were standing in front of a gramophone in an old bar in Havana, Marcel Lueiro uncovers and...

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