Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean, and you can fly from Miami, Florida, to Cuba’s capital Havana in less than an hour (about the same as flying between Washington, D.C., and New York City).
Welcome to ARTES DE CUBA, a one-of-a-kind festival with more than 50 events celebrating the arts and culture of Cuba and where you’ll find music, dance, theater, visual art (such as paintings and sculpture), film, fashion, and even food. It’s your special chance to learn more about this diverse and vibrant Caribbean island. You see... even though Cuba is only 100 miles from Florida… it’s still a world away and full of surprises.
To help you get started exploring, let’s take a quick look at Cuba’s musical style and the two musical performances designed especially for young people.
A Musical Tradition Comes to Life
Do you like Latin jazz? Salsa music? If so, you have innovative musicians in Cuba to thank. But first, some history.
Cuba developed strong and unique music traditions early on, shaped by Spanish colonists and African slaves who arrived in the 1500s. Spanish colonists carried their guitars and other instruments to the island along with European styles of melody, harmony, and composition. The slaves, who came mostly from West Africa, brought with them a love of drums and intricate musical rhythms and patterns. Over time, these traditions blended into a distinctly Afro-Cuban style that would go on to influence music—including salsa and jazz—all around the world.
Although Cuba’s music today varies widely, here are a few typical characteristics to listen for at the festival’s musical performances:
- complex rhythms and patterns
- syncopation (stressing a note in an unexpected place between beats or on a weak beat)
- anticipated bass (a bass tone that comes right before the downbeat)
- classical guitar or the Cuban tres (a guitar-like instrument with three groups of two strings for a total of six strings)
You’ll likely experience these sounds when you attend performances by the Havana Lyceum Orchestra and Orquesta Miguel Faílde (from Matanzas).
Havana Lyceum Orchestra
Conducted by José Antonio Méndez Padrón
with Ulises Hernández (piano soloist)
Terrace Theater, May 9, 2018, 11 a.m.
Photo courtesy of Havana Lyceum Orchestra
From Cuba’s capital city of Havana comes an award-winning youth orchestra of student and recently graduated musicians. They perform all kinds of classical music, but at the performance, you’ll hear pieces exclusively by Cuban composers. One such composer is Leo Brouwer, a conductor, composer, and guitarist who greatly influenced Cuban guitar technique—which is on display in Brouwer’s Concierto Elegíaco at the performance.
Think about how Brouwer’s music compares with European classical music you may know. How would you describe the differences?
Take a Look & Listen: Hear Brouwer’s Concierto Elegíaco here.
Orquesta Miguel Faílde (from Matanzas)
Led by flutist Ethiel Fernandez Faílde
Millennium Stage, May 11, 2018, 11 a.m.
Photo courtesy of Orquesta Miguel Faílde
Ready to dance?
With Orquesta Miguel Faílde, we move from the concert hall to the dance hall. At the performance, this small band led by Ethiel Fernandez Faílde will play traditional and modern versions of Cuban music called danzón—which was created by Ethiel’s grandfather and the band’s namesake back in the late 1800s. Danzón started as a dance for couples and went on to become Cuba’s national music and dance. Later, musicians adapted the sound to create new and even more widely popular genres and dances, such as mambo and cha-cha-chá (known in the United States as cha-cha).
Think about how the complex and sometimes surprising rhythms make you want to move. How would you describe Cuban dance music?
Take a Look & Listen: In this video, watch a couple dancing amid some famous sites around Havana, Cuba, while Orquesta Miguel Faílde performs danzón.
Explore the Festival
WAIT! There’s More!
Please come back with your family and friends to enjoy more of Cuba’s rich art and culture at the festival, which runs May 8–20. Besides the many performances, don’t miss these free activities especially for families:
- ¡Cuba! Exhibit and Activities. Visit the Kennedy Center's Hall of Nations Gallery throughout the festival for a display and activities on Cuban culture and history. Color your own animal art; learn about Cuba’s geology, birds, snails, and butterflies; play wildlife games; explore maps; gather around tables to play dominos (a favorite Cuban pastime); and discover Cuba’s love of baseball and its many baseball teams.
- Cuba’s Natural Wonders. Learn about plant and animal life in Cuba’s forests, caves, wetlands, and reefs in this discussion with Dr. Ana Luz Porzecanski. May 12, 2018 at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., or 1:30 p.m. Cubano Club/Terrace Gallery; seating is first-come, first-served.
- Drum Beat Parade. Really get into the energy and rhythm of Cuba with this parade from the Millennium Stage right through the Grand Foyer of the Kennedy Center. Featuring Orquesta Miguel Faílde, the First Panamanian Marching Band of Maryland, and the Brooklyn United Marching Band. May 12, 2018, 2–3:30 p.m.
Click here for a full schedule of ARTES DE CUBA: From the Island to the World festival events