The global identity of the Cuban people has long been sequestered and judged within the confines of its lucrative cigar industry, pristine white beaches, and its communist government. But today, the aficionado is returning to Cuba for brave new attractions.
Cuba’s Havana Carnival is arguably the island’s most popular event. Originally celebrated each February till the year 1998, the gala has since been celebrated in the month of August in Santiago de Cuba during the last two weeks of July and the first week of August to coincide with the holidays around July 26. Carnival marks the end of the sugar harvest and originated as a period in which the slaves were allowed to celebrate.
With glittering parades along Havana’s coastal road, the Malecon, and the gaudy ‘faroleros’, the whirling, decorated lamp posts carried aloft by dancers, the carnival is a raucous and raunchy street party with dancers from virtually every neighbourhood and Cuba’s finest bands from all over the archipelago. Muñecones, the huge satirical figures of politicians and other famous faces are a prelude to the conga lines that extend the length of the Malencon. Groups of dancers such as La Jardinera, La Giraldilla de La Habana, Los Guaracheros de Regla, Los Marqueses de Atares and El Alacran add their refrain to the cultural versatility of Cuba’s city of music, dance and celebration.
In the heart of Havana and Santiago de Cuba, Afro-Cuban traditions mingle freely with the true American art form to proclaim a fresh new music, unlocking dreams and transcending boundaries. Scheduled for every second year in February and born in 1978 at the Casa de la Cultura de Plaza, The Havana International Jazz Festival is a melting pot for jazz musicians from Canada, England, France, South Africa, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and the United States. Cuba’s beloved Chucho Valdés anchors the festival, held at the pristine Hotel Riviera which often spills into impromptu street jam sessions winding up to its chief venue and place of birth. Renowned artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Charlie Haden, have been part of the Havana scene on a regular basis. Excellent Latin Jazz, rich musical heritage and unique atmosphere combine to make the festival the ultimate musical experience.
The Habanos Cigar Festival in Havana is a grand cultural and commercial event, held every year in July inviting aficionados from around the world. Patrons spend five days visiting cigar shops and spending time with cigar merchants and fellow aficionados from around the world. Over six hundred cigar lovers from forty countries make their way each year to the Mecca of Cigars, La Habana. Not all come for pleasure though; plantation and cigar factory visits, cocktail parties, sampling rare and celebrated tobaccos and discussing the world’s most lucrative and rewarding cigar economy are the top draws of the event. The final day of the festival is concluded an elegant dinner reception, attended by el Comandante, Fidel Castro himself.
The Havana International Book Fair held at Havana and Santiago, attracts over half a million people with about three and a half million books being sold. The fair is not only a place for the buying and selling of books, but also an open space for debate and discussion about a plethora of topics ranging from literary icons to current affairs. The fair is held in conjunction with launches, signings, and an award ceremony honouring Latin America’s finest. The mega-event is held early in the year (January or February) staring off with a rally that heralds the world’s largest celebration of Latin American literature.