As temperatures finally starts plunging below 10 degrees Celsius in London and Cuba’s eternal sunshine glows brighter than ever after the passage of Hurricane Matthew, it is indeed a great time to be in the island. Not least of all because there are plenty of events to keep you busy when you tire from all the tourist sightseeing and beach-basking.
This month Havana will celebrate turning a year older, blowing 497 candles since its foundation in 1,519 and marking the occasion with a public ceremony. But before that happens the city will celebrate all things Belgian with a series of Belgium-dedicated events and a week after it will be all about celebrating Italy instead. Beyond these seasonal events there is plenty of music to choose from, whether you’re after classic sounds with the performances of symphonic orchestras or looking forward to salsa the night away.
From folk singers to rock, and Afro beats, there’s a multitude of ways to enjoy a concert in Cuba this month, with Havana offering the most variety. Oh, and a grand yet somewhat spooky house that once crumbled (and around which many spooky tales and urban legends circulated) has reopened to the public after extensive refurbishment, so, if curious, you can peek inside.
Ceremony celebrating Havana’s 497th anniversary (15th November)
On 15th November at 10 o’clock in the morning, a special ceremony celebrating the anniversary of Havana’s foundation will kick off, right at very place where the city was once founded in 1592, under the shade of the legendary ceiba tree in El Templete. No details have been revealed yet as to what the ceremony will entail but it is sure to be a nice addition to your Cuba holiday if you can make it to this part of Old Havana to enjoy the special birthday celebrations.
As part of Havana’s anniversary celebrations a special exhibition by local painter, Ileana Mulet will be covering the gates of the Castillo de la Real Fuerza (Castle of the Royal Force) and its interiors from 16th November until December. Entitled “Huellas sobre la ciudad” (roughly translating as “Marks on the city” or “Footprints on the city” depending on your interpretation) the collection revisits Havana’s urban landscapes, with a blurred vision between the real, the surreal and the mystical.
Casa de las Tejas Verdes reopens to public access
For years shrouded in mystery, crumbling into disrepair and generating all sorts of rumours, legends and spooky tales, the grand house that was once at the centre of gossip in hushed voices, received a major restoration in 2010 and after undergoing periodical maintenance in recent months, will reopen to the public as a centre promoting modern and contemporary architecture, urbanism and interior design. You can check it out and separate the myths from the truths by arranging a guided visit by phone (+53 7212 52 89). It’s on the elegant Miramar residential neighbourhood but you can’t simply walk in unescorted, only through prior phone reservation you can discover its interiors with a full tour.
Belgian Culture Week (5 – 16th November)
With a line-up of cinema showings, art exhibitions and live music concerts scheduled to take place at the heart of Old Havana, the city celebrates Belgian Culture Week for the sixth consecutive year. Organised by the Belgian Embassy in Cuba, in conjunction with the Ministry of Culture and the Office of the Historian of the City, along with a few other contributors, the special events will circle around four main projects: Melvile, Red Art Nouveau, Historietas (Short Stories) and Monumentos y Sitios (Monuments and Places).
Activities will be mostly aimed at a young audience of children and teenagers looking to learn or perfect drawing techniques through special workshops overseen by Belgian art teachers, and where they will also get a glimpse into Belgian culture and its connections to Cuba. For a more generic audience, the exhibition “Viaje imaginario a la Casa Horta” (Imaginary trip to Casa Horta) will be inaugurated on 11th November at the Vitrina de Valonia museum. Comprising a series of photographs by Paul Louis, curated by Thierry Mondelaers, the exhibition will also include drawings and art pieces made by children and art students at the museum. In addition to this, a collective album, entitled “Habana” and compiled by Etienne Schreder, Alexandra Rolland and Lysbeth Daumont will present a series of images presented as comic strips with the French and Dutch version of a selection of Cuban stories, like “Cronicas Urbanas” (2010) and “Sonar la Habana” (2014).
One of the final events of Belgian Week in Havana will be the 14th November launch of a new book, "The 500 Hidden Secrets of Havana", written by Belgian author, Magalie Raman. An interesting guide for visitors as well as Havana’s own inhabitants, the book has been hailed as a good read whether you already know Havana well, or you think you do.
Italian Culture Week (21 – 26th November)
After the curtain is drawn on Belgian Week, another European culture takes over Havana for six more days as the 19th Italian Culture Week gets underway on 21st November. Jointly organised by the Italian Embassy in Cuba, the Cuban Ministry of Culture and the Office of the Historian of the City, Havana’s Italian extravaganza will include a series of exhibitions, seminars and conferences as well as live entertainment in the form of classical music and jazz concerts.
To kick things off the Carmen Montilla gallery will present the works of Italian photographer, Paolo Simonazzi under a collection entitled “De Mantova a Mantua” (translating as “From Mantova to Mantua”; which happen to be two cities with the same name, one in Italy and another in the Cuban province of Pinar del Rio).
On the same day, but later on in the afternoon Italian Culture Week will be officially inaugurated with a concert at the Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis. A rendition of “Vivalde ed alter Follie. Visioni fugitive fra classica e jazz” will be enchanting audiences from 6 p.m. Performed by two talented Italian musicians, Maurizio D’Alessandro on the clarinet and Massimiliano Caporale on the piano, under the direction of Zenaida Romeu and the conduction of maestro Caporale.
The following day at 3 p.m. Italo-Cuban artist, Anita Guerra will be presenting her personal exhibition of works at the Casa de la Obrapia gallery. Using memories from her childhood in Italy and her years living in Cuba, “Mi Cuba, la mia Italia: rivivere il passato, vivere il presente” is a very intimate collection where she tries to reconcile her nostalgia with her reality.
The next couples of days, between 24th and 26th November, a series of presentations, seminars, historical visitations, lectures and book presentations will take place around the city, from Casa Garibaldi to Castillo San Salvador de la Punta and Colegio Universitario San Geronimo de La Habana, you’ll have more than one place to explore the historical and present-day links between Italy and Cuba.
Drawing Italian Week in Havana to a successful conclusion on 26th November, yet another classic concert will wrap things up. This time the chosen location is the Oratorio San Felipe Neri and the starting time 4 p.m. The concert programme includes Fantasiestucke, Op.73 from Robert Schumann, Sonata for violin and piano No.3, Op.45 from Edvard Grieg, Dance Drawing by Alessandro Appignani and Cesar Frank’s Sonata for violin and piano. All pieces will be headlined by Italian musicians, Alessandro Deljavan on the pieano and violinist Daniela Cammarano.
Music for all tastes
Cuba is the quintessential music destination of the tropics, with endemic sounds, intoxicating autochthonous rhythms but also contemporary fusion jazz and talented classic music performers.
Classical and Orchestral Music
If you’re a fan of classical melodies you’ll have quite a pick of performances to catch in Havana this November. Beyond the ones I already mentioned in the above section about Italian Culture Week in Havana, there’s quite a few more to select from. Just glance at the list below and choose for yourself.
Oratorio San Felipe Neri
This former colonial church converted into music hall will be hosting quite a few classical music concerts this November. On 19th November, as part of the Taller Orquestal Internacional (held at the auditorium from 13th to 19th November – best to check locally for details of daily performances) there will be a special concert directed by Austrian maestro Hans Graf at 4 p.m. Then on Saturday 26th November, also at 4 p.m. there’s the Italian classical music extravaganza that I mentioned earlier, as part of Italian Culture Week.
Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis
A former convent, also transformed into concert hall, this beautiful and central basilica at the heart of the popular San Francisco de Asis Square in Old Havana, will host quite a few performances this month. On Thursday 17th November, to mark the 75th birthday of local composer Magaly Ruiz, a special concert will be held with interpretations of pieces by Alfredo Diez Nieto, Gabriel Bouche, Guido Lopez-Gavilan and Juan Pinera. Rosario Franco will be on the piano, Roberto (a.k.a. Pepo) on the clarinet, Anolan Gonzalez on the viola and Alberto Rosas on the flute. It’s on at 6 p.m.
Then, as main host of the 29th Festival de La Habana de Musica Contemporaneaa (Havana Festival of Contemporary Music), from 12th to 19th November the basilica will stage numerous concerts ever day at 6 p.m. with a huge spectacle planned for 15th November with the participation of the Sonatas Habaneras orchestra, who will be performing various pieces from a number of contemporary composers like Theo Loevendie, Willem Jeths, Yalil Guerra, Keyla Orozco, Bernd Redmann, James Lee III and Jorg Widmann, among others.
Iglesia de Paula
This beautiful church will host three very special concerts. The first will be an interpretation of “Sonatas da Chiesa” on the organ and a wind quintet. Going under the name “Alientos” (meaning “Breaths”) the concert will be jointly performed by La Sinfonica Nacional, soloist Karen Hernandez and a duo of musicians from the Conjunto de Musica Antigua Ars Longa – David Perez and Gabriela Mulen.
Honouring Santa Cecilia, the patron saint of music, another concert going under the name “Salve Cecilia, virgine romana” will be held at Iglesia de Paula on 25th November at 7 p.m. Grouping a selection of sonatas, dances and fantasies in different instrumental formats, the concert will be headlined by Gabriela Mulen from the Conjunto de Musica Antigua Ars Longa.
Closing off the month in style, Iglesia de Paula’s music hall will be hosting the “Metamorfosis” concert on 26th November, dedicated to the evolution and development of European organ music from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Starting time is 7 p.m. and this rare concert can fill up quite soon, so enquire in advance if you can.
You can book tickets for all of these performances right on the day or in advance at the venues’ tickets office.
Contemporary Sounds – Salsa, Jazz and Fusion music
If quality live salsa performances is what you’re after this November, then you’ll have a few dates to mark on the calendar. The first is 9th November and the place to head to is Casa de la Musica de Centro Habana where Jose Luis Cortes y NG La Banda will be giving one of their spectacularly sweaty and energetic salsa performances. If you can’t make it there that day, then you’ll have a chance the following day, on 10th November at El Diablo Tun Tun, where they’ll be giving another salsatastic show come 10 p.m.
If you fancy of fusion contemporary music then you best bet is heading to the Café Cantante Mi Habana on 9th November at 5 p.m. for a late afternoon performance by Qva Llibre, one of the island’s most popular emerging groups, fusing salsa beats with funk, pop and rock.
For a touch of rock n’ roll nostalgia you can follow this up with a visit to El Submarino Amarillo later on in the same day, as local cover rock band, Los Tackson, performs some of the most famous and loved rock hits of all times at 9 p.m.
For an immersion into Cuban folk singing, then you best be headed to Sarao’s Bar at 10 p.m. on the very same night (9th November) where local legend Kelvis Ochoa (and member of award-winning group Habana Abierta as well as main composer for the original soundtrack of Cuban film Habana Blues) will treat the audience to his intoxication melodies, full of rhythm and soul.
If you want contemporary sounds with a twist, then prepare for a rare treat. Popular music genres like rock, pop and salsa will be performed both in Spanish and Chinese as part of a unique show by “Ariel Mok y su grupo Vocal Descendiente e invitados”. It’s on at Casa de Artes y Tradiciones Chinas in Havana’s Chinatown (or Barrio Chino) on 19th November at 3 p.m.
Perhaps Cuba’s most famous and most internationally acclaimed afro-fusion group, Sintesis, will be performing their international hit “Chekete”, at Casa de Africa on 12th November – a date to definitely highlight on the calendar if you’re in Havana!
For fusion music with strong African roots, Roberto Carcasses & Interactivo (Google them to see what you’re in for) will be performing at Centro Cultural Bertolt Brecht at 10 p.m. on 9th November. Led by Cuban pianist, singer and composer, Roberto Carcasses and a collaborative group of outstanding Cuban musicians and singers like William Vivanco and Telmary, this is one show you’ll be glad you didn’t miss.
The kings of Cuban conga, Sur Caribe, will be giving one of their regular weekly performances at Casa de la Musica de Miramar on Monday 10th November at 11 p.m. If you like joining in on conga lines, this is one not to miss.
It’s true that most the time our Cuba cultural calendar centres about Havana, but that’s simply because it’s the one place where most cultural events happen in the country, and also, partly due to the fact that what goes on in other Cuban provinces and cities is not very publicised and thus harder to find out about. Nevertheless, we’ve worked hard to scoop up some other events islandwide that you might be interested on if you happen to find yourself in these other parts of the country.
Circo Nacional de Cuba in Matanzas
If you happen to make Matanzas your destination during the first half of November, there’s one circus performance to add to your itinerary for added fun and local immersion. Whether you want a break from all that sun-tanning, swimming and snorkelling in Varadero’s crystalline waters or you simply seek a touch of local entertainment, Cuba’s national circus company will be on tour in Matanzas until 13th November, offering you a great chance to join in the local crowds and be delighted with the magic tricks, acrobatic feats and justling numbers. The venue will be Plaza Publica, a short taxi ride away from any of Varadero’s popular all-inclusive resorts.
Festival Benny More in Cienfuegos
Benny More is arguably, Cuba’s most famous singers of all time. He’s also the most warmly remembered and loved, especially so by the aging generation of Cuba’s danzon and mambo dancing queens and kings of the 1940s and 1950s. Hailed as “El Barbaro del Ritmo” (with a translation close to “The Rhythm Master”) and also dubbed “El Sonero Mayor”, given his unique talent and melodic voice for performing son while giving his own twist and flavour to it, he’s revered and loved by all Cubans, young and old.
He’s remembered with a special festival in his natal town of Santa Isabel de Las Lajas, in Cienfuegos held every year, where his best and most famous hits are played, performed and danced to. This year, the small, sleepy town that gave birth to the greatest of all Cuban singers gets in full swing to honour its most illustrious son. From Thursday 24th to Sunday 27th November, Las Lajas pays homage to “El Benny” with a series of special live performances, choreographies and theatre shows. It’s a great time to explore this part of Cienfuegos and delve deeper into Cuban folklore, music and dancing.
Japan comes to the Isle of Youth
From 20th to 26th November, the second edition of “Jornada de la Cultura Japonesa”, or Japanese Culture Week is to be celebrated in Cuba’s second largest island, La Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth). Packing an array of special activities, art exhibitions, music and dance, the Museo Municipal de Nueva Gerona will be the main venue staging most of the events. If you were to venture to this part of Cuba during this time, it might be interesting to pop in and enjoy a show, a dance, a live music performance or some Japanese art.