Traveling to Cuba to play music

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    Default Traveling to Cuba to play music

    I close a show the weekend of May 20th and have booked a flight to Havana on May 24 through 29.

    My plan is to drink rum, smoke cigars and play music (I'm going with a friend who is Cuban)...with my US approval a person-to-person cultural exchange, bringing (for sake of portability) a soprano and a piccolo to play salsa, afro-cuban jazz and charanga.

    I'm interested in heari8ng from anyone who has been: suggestions on where and how to find musicians and feedback on their experience. Please keep conjecture to a minimum.

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    Default Re: Traveling to Cuba to play music

    I'm in Louisville also and work as a Spanish translator. It's estimated there's around 7000 Cubans living here. Send me a PM and I'll give you a couple of names of some Cuban musicians living and playing here. You may already know them.
    They could give you an idea of where to look and what to do as far as music and other things you may be interested in.

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    Default Re: Traveling to Cuba to play music

    I was in Cuba last year for 3 weeks and spend most of my time there on holiday in a resort in Varadero but I also went to Havana and other places. Unfortunately I didn’t bring any instrument with me, but if I had done so I would have been able to play many times and in many places. Every band I met offered to play together.

    Music is really everywhere in Cuba and aside from the many bars where bands play for the a tourist audience , it is not unusual to find in every cities small groups basking or even simply playing for the sake of playing. They will certainly make friends with a fellow musician!

    Lots of different styles and in places like Matanzas they have their own dance subculture.

    Old Havana has of course many places where to play but all the other cities will be interesting too. Some musicians also have sort of state organized jobs working in the tourist industry and rotate among the many resorts. There are schools for musicians and I am sure that you will be most welcome to visit and play there.

    Enjoy Cuba! The place is great despite it is obviously run down. The people are poor but extremely dignified and proud.

    Stay in a “ casa” ( as your friend to find one with friendly people and air conditioning ). Some of the old and glorious hotels have only a nice front but the rooms are terrible, be very picky.


    Prepare for incredible heat and often NO air conditioning in some places where you will play or be.

    Bring your loo paper when you are moving around town, since it isn’t everywhere. I know it sounds crazy, but it is so. Another thing that you don’t always find is a sink stopper. Don’t buy contraband cigars, they offer them everywhere, there is no way to tell if you are not an expert what you are really buying. The price of tobacco items is state controlled and it is the same everywhere in official shops. Rum, go directly for the good stuff, that one can be a little more expensive, the cheap stuff is incredibly cheap!

    Don’t bother with the shows like the “ Buena Vista Social Club” or the “ Tropicana" , it is not what you think it will be!



    People ask you to donate pens and pencils because aren’t easy to find. If you bring an instrument that you can leave there and donate, please do so, there are many students which will be incredibly appreciative of your donation. Medicines are scarse and expensive, bring your own and leave them there when you leave.
    Life is just a bowl... some have cherries in it, some don’t. Those who have the cherries aren’t likely to share them though.

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    Default Re: Traveling to Cuba to play music

    Great stuff, Milandro....just what I was looking for.

    I'll probably be staying in my friends' father's apartment....before I leave I'm going to find out what gifts to bring and leave.

    Anthony

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    Default Re: Traveling to Cuba to play music

    Cheers Anthony,

    Best possible thing to do, stay at someone’s place! Enjoy it, I envy you thet opportunity that you will have to share real Cuban life.

    Cubans are great people, very friendly and as I said, very dignified.

    The poverty of the place is palpable but you also feel that they carry on with great self respect and happiness.

    Regardless.

    Don’t expect anyone to ask you for any specific “ present” but be advised that almost anything is scarce over there.



    You will find that even if you have lots of money to spend, it isn’t really easy to find places where to indulge in the typical tourist activity, shopping, that you would expect for a holiday destination.


    The only way for Cubans to acquire certain otherwise scarce goods is to have convertible pesos, everything else has a strict rationing regime. But Cubans get paid in Cuban pesos ( not the convertible pesos different currency for local) and with that currency you cannot buy the things that are very difficult to find.

    The only way for a Cuban to acquire CUC ( convertible peso) is to work in the tourist industry or be in touch with tourists.

    One very important thing is that you make an health insurance before you enter the country ( they won’t let you enter otherwise) , this is fundamental because they cannot afford to give you the assistance you may need for free (or risk that you don’t pay afterwards).

    On the positive side Cuba has one of the best medical service in the world but they lack medical drugs although they are at the forefront of herbal medicine in the whole world.
    Life is just a bowl... some have cherries in it, some don’t. Those who have the cherries aren’t likely to share them though.

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    Default Re: Traveling to Cuba to play music

    Like I said: rum, cigars and music. I'm not really a shopper....

    But, anyway I can help the locals, I'd like to do so. I was thinking of maybe buying boxes of clarinet and sax reeds, or a lot of guitar strings before going to hand out to musicians.

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    Default Re: Traveling to Cuba to play music

    that will be probably very good thing to take with you.

    I am sure that strings and reeds will be a luxury that many might be not able to afford. But also, the pens and pencils that I’ve told you about ( ask some company where you live if they have any left that they want to donate) and paper to write things and so on.

    Valve oil, bass guitar strings ( more difficult to find than even guitar).

    The beaches are great ! I will certainly go again one day but will visit the cities in November when the weather isn’t that hot.
    Life is just a bowl... some have cherries in it, some don’t. Those who have the cherries aren’t likely to share them though.

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    Default Re: Traveling to Cuba to play music

    Bring several baseballs with you. You'll be such a hit that you might even be asked to autograph them.

    Really.
    The absolute real reason I continue is the free shrimp at the cocktail hour. It's the little things.--- Rich Maraday

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    Default Re: Traveling to Cuba to play music

    Toothpaste, ibuprofen and other medical stuff, children's school supplies, old jeans. Old running shoes (good condition). I gave a guy a pair of jeans that didn't fit me any more (in good condition). I thought he was going to cry.

    You will never meet such generous and appreciative people. And you will hear musicians who are simply amazing.

    Andy

    Quote Originally Posted by Bloo Dog View Post
    Bring several baseballs with you. You'll be such a hit that you might even be asked to autograph them.

    Really.

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    Default Re: Traveling to Cuba to play music

    Quote Originally Posted by minstein View Post
    I close a show the weekend of May 20th and have booked a flight to Havana on May 24 through 29.

    My plan is to drink rum, smoke cigars and play music (I'm going with a friend who is Cuban)...with my US approval a person-to-person cultural exchange, bringing (for sake of portability) a soprano and a piccolo to play salsa, afro-cuban jazz and charanga.

    I'm interested in heari8ng from anyone who has been: suggestions on where and how to find musicians and feedback on their experience. Please keep conjecture to a minimum.
    Just last week I talked with the owner of our local cigar bar, who just got back from Cuba. He had some wonderful pics of the colorful architecture and automobiles. 1950s autos are still used, and get this: they use Russian motors...which makes sense but still intriguing.
    If you can't dazzle them with brilliance...then baffle 'em with bullsh*t.

    Dude, Support this Forum.

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    Default Re: Traveling to Cuba to play music

    I'm now planning on bringing a suitcase with a box of pens, couple of reams of paper guitar strings and sax reeds.

    I like the idea of toothpaste (I give new toothbrushes and toothpaste/shampoo and conditioner to the battered women's shelter....I don't like giving cash).

    My suitcase will contain my two allowed boxes of cigars on my return.

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    Default Re: Traveling to Cuba to play music

    Thanks for all the great info in this thread. My girlfriend and I are going to Cuba for a week in mid-May as well and very much looking forward to it. She is fluent in Spanish so that is helping a lot in our planning and I'm sure will help while we are there as well. Right now we are planning to spend a few days in Havana and then a few days outside of the city in one of the coastal towns with a beach. I'd really like to do some bicycle touring there but unless you pay big $$$ to go with a tour group the logistics are very challenging.

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    Default Re: Traveling to Cuba to play music

    A couple of sets of new wheel bearings for a '50's Chevy or Ford would be an awesome gift as well.
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    Default Re: Traveling to Cuba to play music

    Quote Originally Posted by minstein View Post
    I close a show the weekend of May 20th and have booked a flight to Havana on May 24 through 29.

    My plan is to drink rum, smoke cigars and play music (I'm going with a friend who is Cuban)...with my US approval a person-to-person cultural exchange, bringing (for sake of portability) a soprano and a piccolo to play salsa, afro-cuban jazz and charanga.

    I'm interested in heari8ng from anyone who has been: suggestions on where and how to find musicians and feedback on their experience. Please keep conjecture to a minimum.
    Go to Jazz Club La Zorra Y El Cuervo this is in Calle 23, between N & O. This is Vedado(zone). It will be really easy to find it's pretty central. From there you will start meeting people. Have Fun!!!
    P.S yes clarinet, sax reeds and guitar strings would be helpful for many people. Help musicians mostly, I wouldn't worry too much about things like shampoo, etc,,. this is widely available, just different. Now simple musical accessories like reeds are impossible to find over there unless a friend or family brings them to you from an other country. Ahhhh!! The donations give them straight to people, don't waste your time with institutions.
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    Default Re: Traveling to Cuba to play music

    I was there a few years ago, with my horn, and people were pretty friendly and generally happy for me to join them. However, a lot of the bands were big afro-cuban outfits, playing for the tourists, so it's not the kind of thing you can just sit in on , but I did find a few more traditional jazz and pop outfits, and had a great time with them. There's one long street in the old city that's closed to traffic that had loads of restaurants and bars with live bands - I can't remember the name but it's a big tourist attraction, so you'll find it (maybe Calle Obispo? I seem to remember it being close to El Floridita).

    In addition to taking musical supplies, as other people have mentioned, one thing that is in huge demand are little USB thumb-drives. They cost us bugger all, but that's still a large fraction of the average monthly salary over there, so they're out of reach for most people. I didn't plan on it, but I happened to have a few spare ones with me, and I ended up loading them up with music and giving them to people. Internet is really scarce over there (although it's getting better), and so people have a hard time accessing stuff that we take for granted.
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    Default Re: Traveling to Cuba to play music

    Internet, at least in Havana, became a lot better in the last few years and a lot of people have now smart cellphones and are standing outside hotels and obviously know the password to piggyback the hotel network.

    It is certainly true that some cars have replaced motors but some are original ( or as original as possible ) so I was in one that had a truck diesel engine and another one with the original 8 cylinder ( And a WORKING Air conditioning).

    The USB is a great idea but the digital age outside the city centers and like in many countries economically challenged it is not so much computer as it its smartphones.

    It is a bit like in Africa where these days the smartphone, and not the computer, that is becoming the carrier of all news.




    Another tip for travelers.

    Do visit all the colonial houses and museum of interest in any city. All museums are free but you will see immediately some of the people working there accompanying you, they will show and explain everything . After the trip please give them a tip.


    Remember , none of these places will be air conditioned. Take plenty of breaks, drink lots of water, in May the temperature will be fierce already. At the same time it can rain and I’ve experienced flash flood with water knee high at our resort.


    But there is so much to see!


    Another great place to visit are the 3 ( I think) classical old Pharmacies of Havana. These places are great!


    Calle Obispo is one of the most impressive places of Habana Vieja you will find there and around there several places indoors where people play.

    But there are spontaneous groups basking out in the streets, I’d rather try those.

    As for going around the island, provided that you have some maps and you are used to go on roads that are not maintained to the standard of an European country , and you bring some spares ( because there is no shop where you can buy anything in case you break down) you can really go anywhere.

    I crossed the Island to go diving in the " Bay of pigs “ and let’s say that they roads were... interesting! But you will find the most hospitable people anywhere on hearth . If you are really looking for adventure you can use the railways, but it is most recommended that you use the paid services of a trusted person, they will provide you with all the logistic support that you may require or need.

    I saw a trip reportage on Haiti ( I am planning to go on holiday to the Dominican republic ) on Belgian TV. Well, roads THERE are a real challenge.

    As for handing out cash. Please do.People depend on this kind of things.

    Seriously, do it discretely but do it when appropriate ( and not “ just like that") People whom are in the tourist industry get all too complacent about this but other people who are not would be incredibly happy, most don’t earn much ( for our standards but also for their standards).



    By the way, many play “ Tres” ( a string instrument) those need special strings , some even play the variation on the Tres invented by Compay Segundo the “ Armonico”


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RA80SuPSvEE





    Life is just a bowl... some have cherries in it, some don’t. Those who have the cherries aren’t likely to share them though.

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    Default Re: Traveling to Cuba to play music

    I recommended taking a horn to sell but that's probably too problematic. I'd take a student horn and leave it with someone.
    I used to travel to the Dominican Republic a lot and would always leave my suitcase full of clothes and I gave an alto player I met a Beechler alto mouthpiece. Those Merengue alto players love those bright mouthpieces!
    Cuba will definitely be a spot I want to go to. I work as a Spanish translator and have met a lot of Cubans. If the country is anything like the people I've met, you'll have a blast.
    I used to have a neighbor in Miami that kept trying to get me to go to Cuba with him but I was married at the time and I know why he liked to go there.

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    Default Re: Traveling to Cuba to play music

    I have a large number of reeds that are not in boxes (just in the little plastic reed holders); I think most of them are ones I tried but didn't like (but there may be some used ones in there, too). If you want to PM me your address, I will send them to you to take with - seems like a waste to throw them out. (I will try to take out the obviously used-looking ones.) Probably mostly tenor, but maybe some alto and clarinet in there, too.

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    Forum Contributor 2015-17 BH9's Avatar
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    Default Re: Traveling to Cuba to play music

    I've been talking to some friends about going next fall, to listen not play, and after reading this thread almost feel like it's my duty to go!

    Anyone going sooner, PM me and I can donate some items. Bet they could use some doublebass strings.

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    Default Re: Traveling to Cuba to play music

    I was there in the late 90's to play a few concerts and to record an album. Back then it was illegal to stay at a friends' place but we did it anyway. Just a matter of looking up and down the street every time we entered the house. I remember there was a great all girl band playing on the roof of Hotel Inglaterra 5 nights a week. We recorded with this great bongo player who had been in the big orchestra's before the revolution. He was using discarded X-ray pictures for skins on his bongo's. Many of his colleagues did the same thing. Here's a little tune that we did with him: https://soundcloud.com/shangosdance/hueso-exerpt

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