Cuba for Music Lovers
A good percentage of travelers to Cuba visit primarily to savor the music and dance. Whether your interests are primarily in son (the old-time music form brought to world fame by the Buena Vista Social Club), sizzling salsa, or even classical music and ballet, few destinations in the world quite so satisfy the soul.
You can stitch your own tour program together, although far better might be to sign up for a specialized music and dance tour offered by organizations in Canada, the United States, or Europe, with additional time to strike out on your own. Here are the key venues to know:
The crème de la crème of youthful musicians train at the Instituto Superior de Arte, located in Havana’s Cubanacán district. Visits by appointment.
An Afro-Cuban rumba is held every Sunday at noon in “Salvador’s Alley” (Callejón de Hamel e/ Aramburo y Hospital) in Havana’s Centro district.
Asociación Cultural Yoruba de Cuba, in Habana Vieja, hosts traditional Afro-Cuban music and dance every Sunday evening.
Conjunto Folklórico Nacional, in Havana’s Vedado district, has a Saturday afternoon rumba year-round.
The city of Matanzas is a center for Afro-Cuban music (Cuba’s premier rumba band, Los Muñequitos, hails from here). The city’s two casas de las trovas are the principal venues.
Santiago de Cuba has its own music and dance forms (such as columbia and tumba francesa) that have formed an inspiration for the rest of the isle. Several Afro-Cuban dance troupes have studios which you can visit, including Ballet Folklórico Cutumba and La Tumba Francesa, which hosts a traditional rumba nightly.
Classical Music and Ballet
Havana’s Escuela Nacional de Ballet (National School of Ballet, Prado #207, e/ Colón y Trocadero, tel. 07/862-7053; call 07/803-0817 for permission to visit), in Habana Vieja. Visits by appointment.
Gran Teatro, in Habana Vieja, is Havana’s premier venue for ballet and classical concerts.
Iglesia de San Francisco de Asís, in Habana Vieja, hosts classical concerts nightly in the nave of this former basilica.
On Fridays evenings, the delightful little Iglesia de San Francisco de Paula, in Habana Vieja, is the place to come for ecclesiastical and baroque chamber music.
Teatro Amadeo Roldán, in Havana’s Miramar district, features classical concerts year-round.
La Zorra y el Cuervo is a dedicated jazz club on La Rampa in Havana’s Vedado.
Jazz Café, in Vedado, regularly features Cuban jazz maestro Chucho Valdés.
Gato Tuerto nightclub, also in Vedado, has jazz, bolero, and filin music.
Sizzling Salsa (aka timba)
One of the best places to cook the pork is Casa de la Música, in Havana’s Miramar district. Cuba’s top bands regularly perform here, but don’t think of arriving before midnight.
Attracting a vast yet mostly impecunious crowd of Cubans, the Salón Rosado Benny Moré, colloquially called “El Tropical,” also features top salsa bands.
The Afrocuban Allstars perform weekly at several venues throughout Havana, including the Copa Room (Hotel Havana Riviera, tel. 07/834-4228, CUC20) and Habana Café (Paseo, e/ 1ra y 3ra, tel. 07/833-3636, ext. 147; nightly 8 p.m.– 2:30 a.m.).
Son was birthed in Santiago de Cuba, where the casa de la trova is still the island’s foremost house of son.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition