Not every good spot can be found in the tourist guides. Whenever I travel, I like to dig deep and find those venues where you can truly savour the essence of a place and live a more authentic experience than that offered by a travel guide. One of these hidden jewels in Havana is the Piano Bar Diablo Tun Tun (more commonly known as the “Tun Tun” by locals) on Thursdays with Ray Fernandez.
This venue invites you to dance non-stop with live music and a spectacular host. As you step in you feel close to the people, thanks to its unpretentious yet charming environment. Diablo Tun Tun is a special thread allowing you to connect with Cuba: rhythm, energy, movement, history.
Tun Tun is the Spanish onomatopoeia for knocking on the door (knock knock), and “El Diablo” is Spanish for “the devil”. On which side of the door will the devil be when you step inside this venue? Entering or leaving? Either way, all concerns will melt away as this locale will allow you to free yourself, let go and enjoy to the maximum.
A place that seduces you
I have even enjoyed Friday and Sunday afternoons here. But Thursdays are without a doubt my favourite. For years, I have surrendered many of my Thursday afternoons to the Diablo Tun Tun. I could call myself an avid “tuntunera”, a fun nickname for true fans of this club; my friends and I might even say: “Let’s tuntun!” When a noun becomes a verb, it’s not a simple coincidence. In this case, we refer to a very special experience marked by Ray’s spontaneity and charisma as well as the pleasant vibe the public shares.
Easy to get to
Situated inside Miramar’s Casa de la Musica, in the Kohly area of Havana’s posh neighbourhood of Playa, Diablo Tun Tun is very easy to reach as it is a popular concert venue in the capital. If by any chance the driver doesn’t know the spot, the Cira Garcia hospital that is just in front is a good reference point. Finding the right entrance is where most people get confused (it has happened to friends of mine), don’t walk directly into the larger building (the Casa de la Musica); look for the smaller hall by the side, the Diablo Tun Tun Piano Bar.
Both venues host different shows and schedules in the morning and the evening. In this case, Ray Fernandez’s performance takes place every Thursday from 5pm to 9pm. Although the actual concert begins at 6:30 pm, it is a good idea to arrive earlier as the hall sometimes fills up quickly.
Surely, the place itself isn’t the reason for my devotion. As usual, the true magic is within the people, and in this case the key charmer is Ray Fernandez, a spectacular musician whose essence is a mix of a bohemian, a thinker and a philanthropist. A sincere, upbeat and humble musician, Ray is always willing to share the stage with other great performers.
Ray’s music and his peculiar charisma as a host manages to unite a broad variety of people: from young students to grey-haired enthusiasts, from high-heeled damsels to casual-dressing ladies, from rock fans to salsa lovers, from those who love complex lyrics to those who prefer a catchy chorus. Such a diverse spectrum getting along harmoniously is hard to find in any other place. The chords of Ray’s guitar grow with his music and sow together a web you will be hopelessly trapped in.
As Ray says goodbye at 9pm and the show ends, he grins at peace knowing that everyone leaves with a strong desire of returning. As a matter of a fact, many devotees come back week after week for this special rendezvous with Cuban Son.
Ray and his music
Ray Fernandez is a peculiar musician with a peculiar background. Originally a chef who was renowned for his witty online newspaper column on food anthropology, he decided to explore his own abilities in the music scene after several years. With this purpose he took off with his guitar every night to the Malecon seawall strolling around and playing songs to anyone who would listen (a practice we refer to as “sopa” in Cuba).
Years later he launched a song that would gain him ample recognition and almost become an anthem in the island “Lucha tu yuca taino” which appeared in the “Buscandote Habana” documentary. Later on, the fans he made (me included) became familiar with many other tunes he has written like “Matarife”, “Gerente”, “Condena” and “Bucanero”, songs filled with popular Cuban knowledge and wisdom gained through the roughest years of the 90’s economic crisis, from attempts to build a more just society, with chords of disappointment, pain, anger and courage.
Ray belongs to the Cuban “Nueva Trova” movement but with a distinctive edgy style. His musical accompaniment is more complex than the traditional guitar, including drums, trumpets and bass as well as back-up singers. Ray also loves to combine various Latin rhythms; from the euphoria of rumba and the sensuality of Son to the melancholic chords of bolero; but always with the same passion of protest songs.
Ray music is a mix of son, salsa, guaguanco, rock and soul: Cuba fusion music at its highest.
Having fun is also a serious matter
Although his songs always make you think, they never become overly dense. On the contrary, Ray shares some of the principles he believes in with the public, like the simplicity of enjoying life and of being self-critical and taking criticism with humour.
You must bear in mind that the Tun Tun is a small venue, where there’s not a great amount of space to spread out dancing or strolling around. Prepare yourself for a fun time in a cosy area. You can rest assured that even if it’s a little crowded there is no danger. As you say “excuse me” to walk through the, you might even run into a local star.
Surprises are always in order
Every Thursday with Ray, the Tun Tun’s stage is a completely open space waiting to be shared. Frequently, famous musicians who are scattered among the public and later invited by Ray to join in and improvise some fun tunes. As soon as our host discovers one of his colleagues, he invites them up stage, an offer they never refuse due to the profound respect they have for him. For us, the audience, these moments end up being amazing, unexpected gifts: this why each Thursday evening is unrepeatable.
Reencounters are also a common affair at the animated Tun Tun. I’ve met old friends, new acquaintances, former lovers and future boyfriends in this magical space brimming with good old memories and new experiences.
It leaves you wanting more
The Tun Tun is one of those places that leaves you with “el pico caliente”, a Cuban line meaning full of energy and thirsty for more action and excitement. After the show, the night is still young so instead of waiting for next Thursday to repeat the fun, you can choose keep partying. Excellent bars in a relatively close distance include the Melen Club in 1st street, Miramar, the Espacios Bar 10th street in the Playa neighbourhood, and a little further out the dazzling Sarao’s Bar in 17 street, Vedado.
You can also choose to visit the 1830 venue, a club by the Malecon seawall where salsa music plays each Thursday from 8pm until midnight. Sleeping is certainly your worst option, make the most of your time in Havana. It won’t last forever!
Other week days at the Tun Tun
Fridays at the same time offers another interesting show. Local band “Los Gens”, which are part of a project to rescue rock music from the 60s, play beautiful classics in English. After the performance ends, the Tun Tun starts working as a disco at 10pm.
For more accurate information you can call +537 2040447 and ask about the different options the club offers as it may vary each day.
The entrance fee for locals is $50 Cuban pesos and $5 CUC (Convertible Cuban Pesos) for tourists. Drinks are cheap, including beer ($1.25 CUC), which is quite inexpensive in comparison to many other clubs. I give you my word, Thursdays from 9pm to 5pm at Tun Tun is a great experience you won’t regret.