Thursday, January 22, 2009
Havana Cultura Overview
Go north from anywhere in Havana and you arrive at the Malecón, the ocean boulevard that stretches from Habana Vieja to the mouth of the Almendares river. The Malecón's great attraction is the wide stone seawall that shields the city from the Caribbean and provides a prime resting place for Havana's restless population. Night or day, couples kiss, kids play on the rocks below, men fish from inner tubes bobbing on the surf - unless, of course, Yemaya's in a contrary mood.
Yemaya is the goddess who rules the ocean, as any Cuban practitioner of Santeria can tell you, and when she starts sending waves up and over the seawall, look out. Even a low-level storm can leave the Malecón flooded across all six lanes of highway. Seawater pours in, geysers erupt through cracks in the pavement, storm-drain covers rocket skyward....
Head back inland and you encounter a tempest of a different sort. Artistic expression, surging from every corner of Havana, shows no sign of letting up. Our Santeria friends point again to Yemaya, whose goddess duties include making creation happen. It's not difficult to see how busy she's been.
In Havana's art galleries and museums but also in open-air markets, schools, abandoned factories and tiny one-room flats, visual artists are showing what they do, and much of it is astonishingly good. Some artists hope for a quick sale to a passing tourist, but many more, like most artists in the world, dream of an exhibition abroad. And with ever greater numbers of the world's art patrons paying attention, as they've been doing since the Havana Biennial began to showcase Cuban art in 1984, such dreams are looking more like a sensible career path.
Over at La Tropical and La Casa de la Musica, all of young Havana is dancing to the Afro-Caribbean rhythms of son, salsa, cha-cha and rumba that started in Cuba and never stopped, not to mention reggaeton and, of course, timba (warning: stay clear of the dance floor unless you're equipped for the challenge of Cuban timba rhythms.) Someone once remarked that all Cuban music is dance music, but that doesn't prepare you for the virtuosity of the musicians performing at these dance clubs or in just about any of Havana's cafes, concert halls, cabarets, or bodegas.
You get the point. You don't have to look far in Havana to find evidence of creativity. But you have to look carefully. You have to listen for those few notes of Afro-Cuban jazz coming from a piano somewhere as you stroll along the Paseo del Prado. You have to read the poem scribbled on a tiny piece of paper and left at an Orisha shrine.
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. It's an international effort, originating in Havana and made possible by Havana Club. We hope you enjoy the show.
Havana Club International S.A
Calle A No. 309 entre 13 y 15
Ciudad de La Habana,