Usher, Smokey Robinson and Dave Mathews latest celebs to hit Cuba

Posted: 28-Apr-16 11:14

A cultural delegation led by Usher, Smokey Robinson and Dave Mathews recently hit Cuba and spent four days interacting with a variety of local artists and performers. The 33-member delegation, which included representatives from three U.S. government agencies and members of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, rocked Cuba with jamming sessions, street performances and plenty of dancing all around. In authentic Cuban spirit, the locals welcomed the U.S. delegation by dancing on the street and standing on rooftops as their most joyous way of greeting the celebrities.

Usher, Smokey Robinson and Dave Mathews latest celebs to hit Cuba

Usher is back in Havana, this time in good company as he brought over a large cultural delegation of 33 members, a dozen of which were leading musicians, writers and artists accompanying art officials from various U.S. organisations. This large crew also included famous singers and songwriters Smokey Robinson and Dave Matthews as well as the artistic director of the Miami city Ballet, Lourdes Lopez.

This is the latest in a long list of Congressional and business delegations that have visited Cuba in recent times as a direct result of the normalising of relations between the island and its closest northern neighbour, during which time several Cabinet members have also ventured to the island. But this marked the first time a U.S. government cultural team headed there since the rapprochement began to unfold.

It was Usher's second visit to the island in less than nine months after having first arrived in the island last September during which time he got secretly married there and honeymooned in the island. Revealing his joy to be back in Cuba and his excitement at being welcomed back with such a fuss he wrote on his Tweeter account:

"People climbing in trees, on the rooftops, and flooding the streets running. Love Cuba so much! Energy is insane!"

Shortly after landing in the island he got a crowd of Cubans following his and his cultural crew's every step and he could barely rein in his enthusiasm at being greeted with such elation wherever he went. He kept Tweeting as he toured Havana and said during a stop in the Regla municipality (which he referred to as the "Regla hood".

"The scenery is so dope!" In Regla, took part in a hip-hop block party."

But the best treats the delegation could give to a Cuban audience came later at a primary school in Centro Habana, where Usher sang "La Guantanamera" and "Cuba que linda es Cuba" while RandB legend Smokey Robinson posed with the uniform-clad pupils after declaring that he loves Cuban music and grew up listening to Cuba jazz.

One-off cultural pairings included Dave Matthews singing to the accompaniment of local musician Carlos Varela's guitar (a video of which ended up on social media thanks to actor Kal Penn, who was also part of the delegation) and a jamming session on the rooftop of a trendy paladar. Other unique pairings included the delegation dancing to a horn section played by young Cuban musicians while violinist Joshua Bell played Bach for primary school students.

Other sites perused by the cultural delegation included Havana's Museum of Fine Arts (Museo de las Bellas Artes) and Hemmingway's abode in Havana at Finca Vigia. The group also met with the directors of the Cuban Institute of Music (Insitituto Cubano de la Musica) as well as filmmakers and actors from the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC). A variety of workshops, seminars, panels and discussions with Cuban culture officials was also thrown in the mix.

The end result? A number of new bilateral agreements for further U.S.-Cuba exchanges in the arts and culture as the screening of two films in Cuba next year by the Sundance Film Festival, which will also be bringing in actors and directors to hold panel discussions. The counterpart of this will be six Cuban feature films produced by the ICAIC to be shown in 10 U.S. cities.

Member of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, Ricky Arriola said:

"There's a real willingness to see more cultural exchanges between the two countries, I think everyone knows things are changing and culture can be one of the drivers of this. It can have a profound effect on people's opinions."

Including representatives from three federal agencies and the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, during their stay in the island this large group agreed on a number of deals to create mutual arts and cultural collaboration ties between Cuban and American scholars. In the words of U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama these new agreements will:

"...highlight the commonalities that unite all people."

Adding his surprise at seeing how much some Cuban artists were trying to push the boundaries of expression, Arriola added funding will be provided to send a wide range of U.S. performing and visual artists to Cuba:

"Each U.S. agency is committing resources and people to Cuba projects, I believe that everything is opening up and this trip will contribute to that."

Furthermore it was also announced that the National Endowment for the Humanities has given a $30,000 grant to the Department of Art Conservation at the University of Delaware to send a team of cultural preservationists and students to the island to meet with their Cuban counterparts and hold meetings on conservation challenges and techniques for preserving photographs, manuscripts and collections.

Thanks to the further relaxation of the rules regarding travel to Cuba for American citizens since the announcement of normalising relations between the two counties, people can now go to the island to attend cultural performances while public performances by U.S. performers no longer need to receive prior approval from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control nor do the earnings from such events have to be donated to non-profit groups anymore.


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