As the weather cools down in much of the northern hemisphere, Cuba continues enjoying balmy weather, with temperatures oscillating in the mid to high 20s and sunshine almost guaranteed on most days of the week. Never mind that this slight drop in temperatures is considered “winter” by Cubans (and tropical spring by tourists as it coincides with peak tourism season) and despite a few locals donning long-sleeved T-shirts and sometimes even scarves (when else are they going to have an excuse to wear them?) they definitely do not go into hibernation mode. Far from it, December brings much activity to many of Cuba´s cultural centres, partly due the celebratory mood of this time of year and partly because of the general merriment with which Cubans envision the end of one year to welcome another.
As December kicks off, Cuba´s calendar gets busy with a variety of entertainment offers – from music concerts to dance performances, artisanal art and Latin cinema action. There´s plenty for all tastes and if you don´t find what you´re looking for this time, keep checking in a few days as we update this blog throughout the month to include the latest events as they are announced.
There's a lot going on in Cuba's cultural calendar this month. Here are my overall top picks.
Ballet de Camaguey celebrates 50 years on stage (1st to 31st December)
A new season with a full programme of productions (some of which will debut for the first time) will be unveiled by the Ballet de Camaguey throughout this month as they continue to celebrate 50 years on stage. The programme, with the exceptions of a few additions, will be exactly the same one with which the company debuted half-a-century ago.
Paying homage to company founder Vicentina de la Torre and choreographer Francisco Lang, the celebratory events will include a visit to their final resting place on 1st December with a floral tribute, followed by the performance of a trio of ballet productions: “La Sylphide”, “Swan Lake” and “La fille mal gardee”, accompanied by Camagueys’ Symphonic Orchestra (Orquesta Sinfonica de Camaguey).
From 2nd to 9th November the Ballet de Camaguey will be joined by other dance companies to put on more stellar shows. Even more productions will follow throughout the month, amounting to a total of over 100 hours of ballet entertainment. As more details are unveiled throughout the course of the month, we’ll keep updating details to bring you closer to the ballet action. Alternatively, if you’re lucky enough to be in Camaguey right now, you can check the full programme at Teatro Principal de Camaguey (the local ballet company’s official headquarters) and obtain tickets from the ticket office before they quickly sell out.
If you’re in Camaguey this month, you really have no excuse not to attend a quality ballet performance and experience local art in its finest form with a legendary company!
Salsa Mega Concert with Los Van Van and Elio Reve – 9th December
Two legends of Cuban salsa music which could be described as the original founders of popular Cuban salsa as we know it today will join forces to offer a spectacular one-night-only concert this coming 9th December. Los Van Van, the epic salsa band that emerged in the late 60s and dominated the salsa scene in the 70s and most of the 80s and 90s hasn’t lost an ounce of its appeal and not only among the older generations as their salsa songs are considered timeless classics that all ages are keen to dance to. The other band, “Elito Reve y su Charangon” was founded in the late 50s and has since enjoyed unique prestige in the island and beyond, captivating audiences from all over the world after performing in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Holland and the U.S. to widely acclaimed success. Elio Reve was also known as the “Father of Changui” because of his incursion in this autochthonous Cuban music genre and his amazing contribution to it.
“Del son Al Changui” is the name of the concert and it aptly evokes a few of the rhythms that will be present in this mega performance and which are sure to engage the audience from the very first notes. An authentic Cuban feast where locals celebrate the roots of their music and the nostalgic feelings some of these iconic songs (that have shaped generations of Cuban dancers) evoke - this is one Cuban mega party you won’t want to miss. It’s on at La Ciudad Deportiva (the same stage where The Rolling Stones gave their ground-breaking concert in March 2016) and it starts at 9 p.m. Who in Cuba hasn’t danced to Elio Reve or Los Van Van? The answer is simple – practically no one.
Tribute to Compay Segundo with concert at Hotel Nacional (9th December)
The famous composer and interpreter of songs like "Chan Chan" and one of the most charismatic members of the Buena Vista Social Club will be remembered on the occasion of what would have been his 110th birthday with a tribute concert at the Salon 1930 of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. This special commemorative concert will draw to a close a whole year of celebration to honour the memory of the inventor of the armónico or trilina (a seven-chord instrument that is a hybrid between the Spanish guitar and the Cuban tres) and popular founder of Buena Vista Social Club.
Compay Segundo, whose real name was Maximo Francisco Repilado Munoz, lived to the ripe old age of 95 and performed until his very last days, singing and sometimes dancing on stage as though he was truly ageless. Even though he couldn’t accomplish his dream of living as long as his grandmother, a freed slaved who lived to be 115 years old) he did enjoy his lifetime to the max, especially in his last year, when he achieved worldwide fame. Livelihood and enthusiasm were in his genetics, a joy de vivre that was ultimately reflected in his evocative songs. This December you have a unique chance to enjoy some of his classics for one night only, performed by his orchestra. He might not be there in the flesh, but he’ll surely be present in spirit.
FIART 2017 – Artisanal Cuban Art Fair (5th to 17th December)
Cuba’s International Artisan Fair 2017 will be celebrating its 21st edition at PABEXPO, an ample space in Havana’s Playa municipality dedicated to hosting conventions, fairs and events. This time and over the course of 12 days it will be proudly showcasing the finest in Cuban handmade crafts, along with the artisanal work of some other participating countries, in this case 17 Hispanic nations will be invited as guests to celebrate what has been declared “The Ibero-American Year of Artisanship”. This year the fair will be dedicated to the Cuban province of Santiago de Cuba and glassware.
FIART 2017 aims to promote the local arts and crafts while exposing visitors to the many techniques employed by Cuban craft-makers and artisans. A total of 67 stands will be displaying a varied array of handmade items available for purchase, ranging from leather goods to ceramics, wooden humidors, furniture, shoes, fabrics, lamps, jewellery, with a special attention to glassware and glasswork, the king element in this year’s edition. It’s completely free to attend and there’s no obligation to make a purchase, you can simply walk along the stands to admire the local creations.
Havana Film Festival (8th to 17th December)
One of the oldest and most prestigious film festivals in Latin America, the Havana Film Festival, most formally known Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano de La Habana, or as Festival of New Latin American Cinema is now in its 39th edition and comes packed with exciting new film screenings taking over the city’s many cinemas. Of course, they’re all in the vast majority in Spanish (seeing they’re Latin American and all!) or in the case of Brazil’s participating films, in Portuguese. But don’t let this put you off as a few cinemas may show them with English subtitles (it’s worth asking around) and because of the film festival’s international nature, there’ll be some non-Latin countries participating in this year’s edition, with 7 films from the UK, 8 from Germany, 12 from France and 25 from the U.S. Cuba will present a total of 43 and the remaining 265 will be from various Latin American countries.
Under the theme “Ver para Crecer” (loosely translating as “See to Grow”) a total of 94 new Latin American films are nominated for awards, known as Premios Coral. These films will compete over ten days but the films shown across Havana’s cinemas will include a much wider repertoire with over 400 different films in various formats, from documentaries, to feature films, animated films and shorts.
To attend any of the cinema screenings you’ll need a “cinema passport” which is a booklet of tickets entitling you to view a maximum of seven screenings, and which costs only 10 Cuban pesos (moneda nacional - CUP not CUC), the equivalent to around 30 pence sterling! Although it might be priced in CUC for foreigners, in which case it will cost you around £7.40. You’ll have to find out in person as I’m just sharing what’s published on the official website.
The full calendar of events isn’t published yet but details will soon be added to the film festival’s official webpage habanafilmfestival.com Keep checking back to find out more.
Festival Internacional de Coros in Santiago de Cuba – 6th to 10th December
This year’s Santiago de Cuba’s prestigious International Chorus Festival will be named “In memoriam”, to pay tribute to its recently diseased president and founder, Electo Silva, who passed away last 30th May at 88 years old and who was considered the grand dean of choral music in Cuba.
A total of 25 local and foreign vocal groups will participate in a series of concerts over the course of four days, as well as seven guest directors and composers who will help put on sublime choral presentations. From the global choral sphere, participating vocal groups include three from Argentina and one from Australia. Concerts will be given at various of the city’s venues, including the Esteban Salas conservatory, the San Basilio Magno chapel, the Museo de la Musica, the French Alliance (Alianza Francesa), the Universidad de Oriente, and the School of Vocational Art (Escuela Vocacional de Arte). If in Santiago during the festival, try and catch a performance if you can, the choral productions and adaptations of famous songs are truly hair-raisingly evocative and emotive. You will not forget it in a lifetime - I know I didn’t.
The Nutcracker (15th and 17th December)
A happy and comedic Christmas ballet like no other, The Nutcracker is a classic favourite among young and old. It returns to Havana’s theatres just in time for the festive season with a special production by Prodanza, the Laura Alonso Ballet Company. With three performances scheduled over the space of three days, this beloved ballet tale will take over the Teatro Marti in Havana at 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday 15th and 16th December and at 5 p.m. on Sunday 17th December. Tickets will be on sale at the theatre’s ticket office - time is of the essence though, these will literally fly in a matter of days!
“Jornada de Jazz” at Teatro Mella (15th to 17th December)
Gearing up to January’s annual Jazz Plaza festival (to be celebrated from 17th to 21st January), Cuba wants to make a special preamble to the prestigious international event with a series of jazz concerts to be held in Havana over four days, putting the last few musical notes to 2017. An initiative promoted by the Centro Nacional de Musical Popular (National Centre of Popular Music) the “Jornada de Jazz” kicks off on 15th December with a concert titled “10 Anos en el Aire” by Janio Abreu and his group Aires de Concierto, performing the most famous pieces of their ten-year-long career.
Then on 16th December, Dayme Arocena will perform songs from her third and most recent album “Cubafonia” presenting a seamless blend of jazz with afro-Cuban roots. The golden brooch to this series of events will be at the hands of jazz veteran and maestro, Joaquin Betancourt and his Joven Jazz Band, who will debut their second phonogram, “Mambazo”, where they delve between the classic and the contemporary. Invited guests to this final concert include the Conjunto Folklorico Nacional, Jorge Reyes, Alain Daniel and pianist Emilio Morales, among others.
The venue is the gardens of the Teatro Mella and as a warming up preamble to the jazz concerts, rumba and jamming sessions go from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Danza Contemporanea de Cuba debuts Carmina Burana in Havana (15th to 17th December)
For the first time in its long history, the Danza Contemporanea de Cuba dance company will be presenting the scenic cantata “Carmina Burana” to a Cuban audience, after a warm reception in Mexico where it was performed for 20,000 spectators over two nights at the Auditorio Nacional de Pais and where it received the Premio Luna as a result.
Coming to the Gran Teatro de la Habana “Alicia Alonso” for a three-night special, this super-production will be accompanied by the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional and the National and Children’s choruses (Coro Nacional e Infantil) for the first time ever. To this we add the participation of soprano Milagros de los Angeles, baritone Ulises Aquino and tneor Harold Lopez Roche and we have the recipe for a hair-raising moving spectacle that will, at the very least, give you goosebumps (and not of the scary kind). Tickets can be purchased at the theatre’s ticket office, so don’t delay getting your hands on one!
Weekly Nightlife Calendar
To be updated as the month progresses, the list of events in this section is in continued expansion.
The first week in December brings some top salsa acts, for the best in authentic Cuban timba music my top two not to miss are:
Pedrito Calvo y La Justicia, also on at the Casa de la Musica de Miramar on Friday 5th December, at 11 p.m.
My top picks in the Cuban jazz scene this December include:
Jam Abierta with Miguel de Armas Jr and Camino de Santiago – go for the perfect introduction to a young and talented pianist who won JoJazz 2011 and enjoy his unique blend of curated sounds. Catch him this Friday 1st December at FAC’s Nave 1 at 12 a.m.
Alejandro Falcon y Cubadentro at the Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) – one of the best pianists and Cuban composers of his generations, Falcon continues the legacy of award-winning predecessors like Bebo or Chucho Valdes. He’ll give a special performance on 3rd December at FAC’s Nave 4 from the onset of 11 p.m.
Alternative and Fusion music
Cuba’s fusion music is sultry, provocative, sometimes lively and always hot! Here are my top picks this December:
Roberto Carcasses & Interactivo – on Wednesday 6th December, the Centro Cultural Bertolt Brecht will welcome one of Cuba’s favourite fusion music groups, on stage alongside a jazzist as talented and renowned as Roberto Carcasses, a multiple award-winner with a unique style. Come for the 11 pl.m. performance.