The Trump administration is expected to announce changes in U.S.-Cuban policy in June, so the time to take that musical trip to Havana is now.
Press reports in recent days have revealed that the Trump administration is expected to announce a shift on Cuba policy in June, and it looks like changes will be made to President Obama’s historic loosening of regulations governing business and travel on the island, which paved the way for cruises and commercial airline flights from the U.S.
At this point, there is speculation, but no confirmation, that Trump’s anticipated rollback of Obama’s policies could in some way alter 2016 rules that have allowed Americans to visit the island for music-related tours (which the U.S. government classifies as “educational activities”) and concerts (“public performances”). Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators reintroduced the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act on May 26 to repeal all restrictions on travel to Cuba.
“We’ve been told that travel is going to be rolled back to an unspecified degree in June,” says Cuban music scholar and producer Ned Sublette, who leads frequent immersive music trips on the island organized by his company Postmambo Studies. “Obviously this is a concern. … On the other hand, there are 55 senators in favor of the free travel to Cuba bill.” Sixty votes are needed to advance the legislation, which was first introduced in 2015.
While there is no evidence yet that the party is over for Americans in Cuba, music lovers who have still not traveled to Cuba might want to move that experience up on their bucket list.
Over the past year-and-a-half, record labels and promoters have been among those quick to stake a claim in Cuba with diverse attractions that include visits to recording studios, meet and greets with musicians and of course, concerts and club nights. Here are some notable music-related trips to Cuba to explore:
Blue Note Travel
In 2015, Blue Note Entertainment Group — which operates the Blue Note jazz club, the Highline Ballroom and other international venues — created its Blue Note Travel division. The company currently offers five different music-themed Cuba trips, from a “Weekend in Havana” package to a seven-day “Cuban Music and Art Tour.”
Ned Sublette, the cowboy dean of Cuban music scholarship and celebration (and a Billboard contributor) has been traveling to Cuba since its contemporary music scene was a myth and a mystery to most Americans. Since January 2016, the founder of the storied Qbadisc label has led four 10-day seminars in Cuba. (“While they’re not classes, I make it clear that this isn’t just tourism,” Sublette notes). “El Rumbazo,” coming up in October, will include encounters with famed Afro-Cuban musicians Afro Cuba de Matanzas, Los Papines and Yoruba Andabo, among many other musicians and musicologists. To top it off, the group wil attend the 65th anniversary of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. And Sublette has more trips planned for 2018. For more information, email [email protected]
Backstage Cuba Tours
The team that brought Major Lazer to Havana and organized last year’s Musicabana festival is now offering “Backstage Cuba Tours.” The bespoke travel experiences put together by producer and film director Fabien Pisani and his staff allow a king of all-access pass to the Cuban music scene, with private performances, club crawling and “meetings with musicians, dancers and fascinating people from Cuba’s creative class”.
Putumayo Cuba! Cuba! Tour
World Music label Putumayo has just announced a November “Cuba! Cuba!” trip hosted by Putumayo CEO Dan Storper and ethnomusicologist and Cumbancha label owner Jacob Edgar. The six-day Havana tour, produced in partnership with the Insight Cuba travel company, looks perfect for Cuba newcomers. It includes performances, lectures and demonstrations with an emphasis on Afro-Cuban music, as well as other cultural activities and concerts.
Jazz Cuba has opened booking for its annual “Official Havana International Jazz Festival Tour.” Two different versions of the trip to attend the 33rd Havana Jazz Plaza Festival are available, as well as custom itineraries.
Judy Cantor-Navas, billboard
May 31, 2017