MUSIC IS EVERYWHERE in Cuba. Despite the difficulties of every-day life, Cuban people regale in their music and dance. Cuba has an incredible music history with styles ranging from the traditional folkmu born of both Spanish and African roots, the distinctive dance music of Rumba and Salsa, and Cuba’s own unique expressions of the jazz and big band era.
Cuba’s practice of selecting musicians at a very early age and supporting their intensive training in dedicated music institutions has created a cadre of fine classical musicians and a range of ensembles with a uniquely Cuban character. The quality of music education is very high. Houses of Music (Casa de la Musica) exist in all towns and offer music education, at no cost, to those interested. The Afro-Cuban community maintains its religious traditions and practices which are founded on music and dance. We had a musical presentation of Afro-Cuban religion at the Regle Museum that was fascinating. The interactive ceremony had spectators seated in the courtyard of the Museum participating as well, from small children to the elderly. And the most wonderful thing about the performance was that each and every one of the performers was a “believer” in the Afro-Cuban religion. It was not something done for tourists. They truly felt the spirit as they played traditional instruments, sang, and danced.
Other great performances I enjoyed while in Cuba were: The Cantores de Cienfuegos, an excellent professional choir that is planning a trip to the Eastern seaboard of the USA. They gave a private performance for our touring group in the Opera House of Cienfuegos. The Opera de la Calle of Havana is a group of performers founded by former opera singer, Ulises Aquino. Although it recently ran afoul of Cuban government regulations regarding private enterprise, they still perform in a ramshackle building that is their rehearsal hall. And, of course, you cannot go to Havana without experiencing Tropicana, the Lido-type extravaganza of Cuban music that has endured through the years.
Nearly every restaurant in the country brings in local musicians who perform traditional Cuban music as well as jazz greats we are all familiar with. I heard “My Way” more during my 10 days in Cuba than during the previous years of my life! Jazz is, of course, very popular. The Buena Vista Social Club may be the most well-known Cuban jazz group in the US but there are scores of other lesser known, but extremely talented jazz musicians performing in restaurants and jazz clubs across Cuba. I very much enjoyed an evening at La Zorra Y El Cuervo Jazz Club in La Rampa district of Havana.
You don’t have to pay money or enter a special hall to hear Cuban music. It literally surrounds you as you make your way through the towns and cities. You will hear people singing in the street, waiting for the bus, or waiting on tables. And every city and town has regular live evening performances at the Casa de la Musica of the town which might be in a central plaza or in a designated concert hall. Anyone can enjoy the music. Although excellent Cuban rum is available for sale, no one is obligated to partake.