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    Few foreigners get to enjoy the music of Cuba

    Few foreigners get to enjoy the music of Cuba
    That's hardly surprising, given the lack of any easily accessible,
    comprehensive guide
    Celeste Mackenzie, Canadian Press
    Published: Saturday, January 20, 2007

    HAVANA — Electric guitarist Elmer Ferrer gave a sizzling performance
    recently at Havana's upscale Sala Atril nightclub. Ferrer, who heads up
    his own band and is also a sought-after studio musician in Cuba, had
    just added a couple of new members to the group. Their high energy and
    smiles all round showed the musicians were clearly pleased with their
    concert — a mix of blues, rock and jazz.

    But there were few foreigners in the club — and that seemed a shame.
    These were some of Cuba's most outstanding young musicians in a country
    with one of the strongest music cultures in the world.

    Outsiders can be forgiven for not taking advantage of Cuban's great live
    music opportunities. Being in the know isn't easy, given the lack of any
    easily accessible, comprehensive guide to musical goings-on.

    According to Yaniel de la Concepcion, a communications official with the
    Cuban Music Institute, Cuban culture is first and foremost for Cubans.

    "That's the priority. Targeting foreigners is not something we've really
    tried to do," de la Concepcion said.

    Most shows cost much less than the $6 US charged by Atril — just a few
    pennies, in fact. Often concerts are free, as was top singer-songwriter
    Carlos Varela's outdoor tribute to John Lennon in December. Notices
    about these free events are what usually make the papers, including the
    institute's monthly La Corcha. De la Concepcion points out though, that
    the institute plans to launch a website this spring with a good listing
    of upcoming concerts throughout Cuba.

    Ferrer's Canadian manager and record producer, Billy Johnston, who
    travels frequently to Havana from Ottawa, says it's worth the effort to
    find out what's happening. Usually this means enlisting the help of a
    Spanish speaker to make a few phone calls. Johnston describes Cuba as
    "the jazz capital of the world."

    "In Havana you can go to a jazz club and find people there in their 20s.
    It's vibrant, organic and inspiring," he said. "Many jazz clubs in North
    America are struggling, the audiences aging. But worldwide, it's Latin
    jazz [that] is on the upswing, and here you can go to a small venue and
    enjoy some of the greatest musicians in the world."

    His favourite jazz club is La Zorra y El Cuervo (the Fox and the Crow),
    an intimate, underground setting in Havana's Vedado neighbourhood. The
    shows get underway at 10 p.m. every night (pianist Roberto Fonseca, not
    to be missed, plays Thursdays). Cover of almost $13 includes a couple of
    drinks.

    For close to the same cover, Jazz Cafe, also in Vedado but near the
    Melia Cohiba and Riveria hotels along the famed Malecon seawall, is
    another good option, says Johnston, although the atmosphere is not so cosy.

    He also recommends an evening of salsa music at a Casa de la Musica
    (House of Music), where music goes hand in hand with salsa dancing.
    There are two casas in Havana — both great places to mix with locals.

    "It's a real treat to be there on a sultry Saturday night," says
    Johnston. "Be prepared for loud but great music, and great dancing."

    Just keep in mind that some of the locals are bound to be "jineteras" —
    Cuban prostitutes.

    For a taste of more Afro-Cuban music, try the Sunday morning outdoor
    performances at the Callejon de Hamel, or the Wednesday 4 p.m. show at
    the Vedado's Huron Azul. The latter comes alive at 9 p.m. Saturday as
    well for a night of ballads (cover, about $6).

    If your timing is right, you may hit one of the city's many musical
    festivals, such as Havana's annual December jazz fest
    (www.festivaljazzplaza.icm.cu). In addition to a performance by Ferrer's
    band, this year's four-day event included Toronto's Hilario Duran
    playing to his hometown crowd for the first time in nine years. On the
    horizon is the International Choir Festival, March 30 to April 7
    (www.americacantatv.cu).

    And there's good news for visitors to Varadero Beach unable to make the
    140-kilometre trip to Havana: a former cinema was converted into a Casa
    de la Musica in November, says jazz festival director Alexis Vasquez.
    The locale, which served as a satellite stage for the December fest,
    offers live music every night, including a couple of jazz and percussion
    shows per week.

    Finally, don't forget to buy music before you leave Cuba.

    CD prices and selection are far better than anything you'll find online.

    The Artex stores offer a good variety.

    IF YOU GO …

    One of the best websites for Cuban nightlife and concerts:

    www.canalcubano.com.

    Addresses of some Havana clubs:

    – Sala Atril

    Ave. 1ra. e/8 y 10 Playa

    tel: 2067596 & 2063816

    – Jazz Cafe

    1ra esq. Paseo, Galerias Paseo

    tel. 553170

    – La Zorra y El Cuervo

    Calle 23 entre – y O

    tel 662402

    – Casa de la Musica (Miramar)

    Avenida 35 esq. a 20, Miramar, Playa

    tel. 2040447

    – Casa de La Musica (Centro Habana)

    – Calle Galiano e/ Concordia y Neptuno, Centro Habana

    tel. 8624165 & 8608296

    – Bar el Huron Azul

    Calles 17 y H, Vedado

    tel. 8324551

    http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/travel/story.html?id=39e1b3d4-c3f2-4e8b-ac52-959469667c67

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