Music is everywhere in Cuba. There are street performers, bands that perform in the restaurants and paladars, entertainment in the hotel lobby, and great clubs.
Our group was treated to a demonstration of a Cuban son in the lobby of our hotel, accompanied by two talented dancers. We also heard a band consisting of students and faculty from the Cuban Institute of Music. We even caught a talented acapella group, not something we were expecting!
Pretty much every band has a CD which they hope you will buy as a tip for enjoying the performance. These make nice souvenirs as well as well as supporting the performers, so it’s a good investment.
We also saw an outstanding demonstration from Habana Compas Dance, a troupe that combines traditional Spanish dance with Afro-Cuban rhythms and modern dance to create a sexy, exciting, pulse-pounding show. The program began when artist and musician Eduardo Cordova suggested to choreographer Lisset Fleitas that combining Spanish Flamenco with Afro-Cuban drumming would be a unique take on dance. Compas Dance has performed throughout Cuba, and also in Turkey and France.
Jazz-wise, the Jazz Cafe is probably the best known venue, but when I asked the concierge at our hotel where he thought we should go, he recommended La Zorra y El Cuervo (The Fox and The Crow). And man, was he right! We heard a very hip trumpeter named Yasek Manzano. Yasek told me in between sets that he was headed to New York this soon to record with Rudresh Mahanthappa. Mahanthappa will be playing at the 2015 Iowa City Jazz Festival, so if we’re lucky, we may get an update this summer.
La Zorra y El Cuervo is a basement club, accessed by a phone booth at the top of the stairs, delighting this Doctor Who fan.
An Australian singer named Nilusha also took the stage, accompanied by guitarist Alex Pertout. Their CD has a variety of big name guests, including Mike Stern and Edsel Gomez.
As excellent as the traditional Cuban bands we’d been hearing all week were, hearing some straight-ahead jazz was a nice change.
Speaking of traditional Cuban bands, we heard one of the best, in their natural habitat. At the invitation of singer Miguel Cuni, we journeyed to El Palacio de la Rhumba to hear his band, Conjunto Chappattin (pronounced Cone-HOON-toe Chah-pa-TEEN).
The Rhumba Palace is not in a neighborhood where tourists go. In fact, our cab driver was a little reluctant to let us out, but Miguel met us at the door with a big smile.
The show that night featured several different bands, with some vocalists singing to tracks in between. But when Chappattin took the stage, the place lit up. Before long, nearly everyone in the place was up and dancing, including one little old lady who must have been celebrating a birthday or something, because various performers called her out during the show.
Yeah, and two gringos got up to cut the rug, too. Everyone was very polite in not making fun of us.
My Spanish is minimal, but it appeared the night we were there, the club was promoting an upcoming big event, as the manager took the mic several times to plug something coming up “proxima Sabado” (next Saturday).
Despite our cab driver’s nervousness, we felt perfectly safe in the neighborhood, named San Miguel, as we did wherever we went in Havana (more on this in Cuba – The People).
Miguel was a charming and affable host, despite the language barrier. He speaks little English, and as I mentioned, my Spanish is something less than basic. Miguel will be in the U.S. this summer, touring a documentary about his father, also a famous Cuban musician.
KCCK is hosting a screening of the film on July 18.