Discover Cuba's African roots a priority for African American travellers

Posted: 12-Feb-16 09:54

Having always featured on a lot of African-American tourists' bucket lists, now's the time to explore Cuba's wide and diverse cultural history. With plenty of Afro-heritage tour firms offering their services, visitors to the island will learn lots, too.

Discover Cuba's African roots a priority for African American travellers

Cuba is a country that has long since been intrinsically linked with the United States' African-American population, with that deep-seeded connection spanning music, race, religion and politics.

For instance, in the early 1940s composer and trumpeter Mario Bauza traded Havana for Harlem to form a big band with his brother in law, Frank "Machito" Grillo. Known as Machito and the Afro-Cubans, they would go on to be the forefathers of both Afro-Cuban music and American jazz, with their work having a profound influence on the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Celia Cruz and Ella Fitzgerald.

While Bauza and Machito's legacy lives on in New York and the rest of the States, older African-Americans are also likely to remember reading about Fidel Castro's revolution in black newspapers during their youth. Indeed, the country's efforts to address issues of race among its diverse population certainly had some resonance with the civil rights movement in America at the time.

The vibrant Cuba

With this in mind, African-American tourists wishing to reconnect with their roots would do well to visit Cuba for an eye-opening experience. With more than one million Africans being imported to the country to work as slaves in the 1500s, many African expats had already gained their freedom by the time slavery was abolished in 1886 and went on to leave an indelible mark on the island's culture.

According to some reports, black and mixed-raced individuals now make up two-thirds of Cuba's population, with Jamaican and Haitian descendants also adding to its rich cultural heritage today. As such visitors can expect to experience everything from salsa dancing in one of Havana's numerous clubs to witnessing a tambor – a Santeria drum ceremony rooted in West Africa's Yoruba religion.

Those wishing to enjoy this cultural melting pot first hand can visit Cuba through a number of Afro-heritage tour services, though they are being urged to do so sooner rather than later. There are fears among some that the country's Afro-Cuban flavour may become diluted as the tourism pipeline expands, so now is a great time to see Cuba as it embraces development without losing its character.


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