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Everyone is familiar with the contagious sounds of the Buena Vista Social Club. The hot-blooded musical culture of Cuba can be encountered on virtually every street corner. Whether in the old night clubs of Havana, the swinging music cafés of Santiago de Cuba or during Carnival in Trinidad de Cuba, you will always find music and dancing throughout the entire island.
Virtually all Cuban music can be traced back to the recognisable sound of 2 basic instruments: African drums and Spanish guitars. South American claves and maracas (rumba shakers) were added to the mix later on. The music style of the late 19th century that originated from the combination of all these rhythms is called ‘son’, which can be heard in all modern Cuban music genres. It has also influenced the rumba and first and foremost, salsa, the dance music that emerged among Cuban immigrants in New York in the mid-20th century.
“The Buena Vista Social Club made Cuban music world famous in one fell swoop”
In 1997, Cuban music suddenly became world famous. American guitarist Ry Cooder brought together a handful of legendary Cuban singers/musicians to record a studio album, among them Rubén González, Ibrahim Ferrer and Compay Segundo. The Buena Vista Social Club was such a success that the singers, some whom were of quite some age, were invited to perform at international concerts. González, Ferrer and Segundo have since died but younger replacements keep the band alive.
Havana has so many fantastic old music theatres and night clubs that it’s hard to choose just one. One of the most traditional is El Gato Tuerto, a jazz club from the 50s where bolero is very popular. The barman here also makes a great mojito. Salón 1930 (also called the Compay Segundo Hall) in Hotel Nacional de Cuba has a nostalgic atmosphere. This fabled hotel was once frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Frank Sinatra. The original Buena Vista Social Club has also performed in this famous venue and performances of the same calibre can often be heard today. You’ll find yourself surrounded by panama hats and glimmering salsa dresses.
All of Cuba has local music cafés: the Casas de la Trova, where music is performed from 11:00 am to late at night and the listeners end up dancing with abandon between the tables. Those looking for a private lesson in salsa, rumba, son or cha-cha-cha can go to the La Casa del Son in Havana. This dance school is housed in a sober colonial building in the old city centre. The English-speaking teachers have a contagious passion for music.
“Musical performances in Cuba go hand in hand with exuberant dancing”