During our visit in Santa Clara we stayed at the ICAP (Instituto Cubano de Amistad con los Pueblos, or the Cuban Friendship Institution with the People) delegation. Their goal is essentially to help tourists understand how the Cuban government works. This lodging felt more like a hotel or a hostel than the Casas Particulares where we stayed in Havana. My favorite day in Santa Clara was when we visited two local schools and interacted with the students who were our age. The first school we visited was a fine arts school where we saw three dance performances. Afterwards, we mixed in with the performing arts students and split into three groups to make dances together. From my own experience and what I heard from others, this was an amazing activity because when we couldn’t communicate with each other in words, we just danced!
Sam Plante, Class VIII
The musical encounters and performances that we saw in Cuba were some of the most incredible and enlightening parts of our trip to Cuba. We traveled to many sites where musicians put on performances and allowed us to interact and learn about Afro-Caribbean music. Three of the sites we traveled to, Hamel’s Alley, the jazz club, and Callejon de las Tradiciones had some of the most memorable and intriguing performances and encounters.
We traveled to Hamel’s Alley, a street famous for Afro-Caribbean culture in music, religion, and dance, on the second day of our trip. There, we watched a traditional Afro-Caribbean dance performance accompanied by live Afro-Caribbean music. Musicians played rhythms on African drums along with the sounds of claves, shekeres, and bongos, while singing to the beat and rhythm of the music. We were enticed by the intricacy and ear of the musicians, who were able to stray from the beats of the music and establish their own rhythms, while keeping up with the rhythms of the band as a whole. The music at Hamel’s Alley gave our group an intricate glimpse into Afro-Caribbean music.
On the third day of our trip, we went to a jazz club. The entrance was marked by a red telephone booth with “Jazz Club” in gold lettering, and we went inside the telephone booth to go underground to the club. The interior of the club was lit with fluorescent blue lights and on the stage was a Latin jazz band consisting of four people, each playing a different instrument: drums, electric guitar, saxophone, and piano. After a brief introduction by the leader of the band, they began to play. The four instruments’ music combined to form an impeccable homogeneity. Both the drum player and the piano player, who both had solos, were simply sensational and had amazing talent, skill, and precision in their performance. After the performance, when we were able to ask each of the band members’ questions, we learned that both the piano player and the drum player, ages nineteen and eighteen respectively, had been students of a music school in Cuba, where they had studied from ten-years old to eighteen. We also learned that students search for job opportunities directly after graduating from the music schools which added to our knowledge of the arts school system in Cuba.
On the fifth day of our trip, we traveled to Callejon de las Tradiciones or The Alley of the Traditions. The alley, mostly used for street theatre performances, is part of a community project called Matanzas AfroAtenas. The members of the project displayed for us a sample of Afro-Caribbean dance and music. The dancers wore colorful outfits embroidered with colorful fabric, and the musicians played claves, bongos, shekeres, and cajónes and accompanied the dancers with vibrant rhythms. At the end of the performance, the musicians offered members of our group the opportunity to play some of the rhythms. One by one each member of our group attempted to play the rhythms that the musicians showed them, proving challenging for some, but proving easier for others. Everyone enjoyed the music and each mini performance ended in laughter.
Our adventures to some of the musical hotspots of Cuba brought us great interaction with musicians as well as exposure to Afro-Caribbean music and influences. The remarkable performances we saw added excitement to our trip and made the overall Cuban experience unforgettable.
Alison Poussain, Class VI