Havana Cultura flings open the doors of Cuban culture!
Like Cuban rum, the island’s artistic scene has a style and vitality that’s all its own. Havana Club is helping to showcase contemporary Cuban creativity worldwide with its Havana Cultura initiative.
As soon as you touch down in Havana you feel it: culture is as integral to Cuban life as the island’s rum. Whether it’s a hip-hop artist jamming on a street corner, piano strains floating from a first-floor rehearsal room, colour-infused canvases in a museum or street art on a barrio wall, self-expression is everywhere. The paradox is that the very history that has contributed to so much creativity has also meant too few Cuban artists are known outside the island. Havana Cultura exists to enable Havana’s artists to show the world what they do, and to let the world see and hear what they have to say about their work, their life and their city.
A global platform
Want to taste the flavour of the Cuban arts scene? First stop, Havana-Cultura.com. Since its launch in 2007, the website has become the ultimate online reference for Cuban culture. It features an ever-expanding database of artists’ profiles, including video interviews, pictures and music samples. Over 150 artists have been interviewed to date – from black-and-white photographer René Peña to one of the directors of Cuba’s best-known film, Fresa y chocolate, Juan Carlos Tabío; from Royal Ballet star Carlos Acosta to young graphic designer Giselle Monzón; and from poet and novelist Wendy Guerra to hip-hop artist Edrey Riveri and the country’s most popular orchestras like Gente de Zona, Charanga Habanera or Havana d’Primera. The more than 24 hours of interviews don’t just introduce some of Cuba’s well-known and lesser-known talents, they offer a window on the lives, loves, hopes, hardships, philosophies… even the living-room decor of contemporary Cubans! Through social media, their songs and their art are shared by you, helping to spread the word.
Enter Gilles Peterson…
The next stage in the journey happened In 2009, when Havana Club invited the world-famous DJ and tastemaker Gilles Peterson to Cuba to see what he would make of the local music scene. Peterson was blown away by what he discovered: a wealth of “great up-and-coming musicians who will have a big effect on world music”. He even heard, for the first time, Daymé Arocena, the phenomenal young jazz singer whose album he would later produce in collaboration with Havana Cultura and wo would become the new face of the initiative.
Gathering together musicians from all genres – jazz, hip-hop, timba, reggaeton – in the historic Egrem studios, he made a first album, Havana Cultura, The New Cuba Sound, featuring many of the island’s most promising artists under the musical direction of jazz pianist Robero Fonseca. The following year, DJs Carl Cox, Louie Vega, Solal and MJ Cole curated remixes for the dance music crowd as well the first edition of the Havana Cultura Sessions Eps, featuring rapper and soulstress Danay Suárez, was released.
Peterson was on a mission to “show people around the world that there is a whole new generation of great musicians in Cuba”. With Havana Cultura he has made several other albums, sometimes venturing into the experimental terrain and always capturing the electricity and synergies that occur when musicians of different genres jam in a live studio session. Most recently, he went deep into the roots of Cuban music with Havana Club Rumba Sessions – a full-length documentary film and an album featuring reworks of rumba stems by renowned electronic producers from around the world.
Support of cultural life in Cuba
And it doesn’t stop there. Havana Cultura contributes to foment a vibrant and inclusive arts scene in its home country through ongoing support of major cultural events like the Havana Art Biennial, the Latin American Film Festival, TED x Habana, or the Havana World Music Festival.