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Digital Subscriptions > Lonely Planet Traveller (UK) > March 2019 > SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE


From virtual conducting in Mozart’s Vienna to fleeting moments of duende in Seville, and all-singing, all-dancing Havana nights, tune into soulful experiences in the world’s most musical cities


Thanks to centuries of cross-cultural fermentation Cuba’s capital is a round-the-clock jam session of staggering diversity. Rumba, jazz, son cubano, metal – it’s all resonating here

Cuba may have endured shortages and sacriice over the past 50 years, but the arts – and music, in particular – have prospered, spurred by government patronage, ample local talent and a remarkably fertile culture. Creativity is particularly strong in Havana, a city of faded grandeur and animated street life that is starting to rediscover its entrepreneurial spirit.

The Cuban capital virtually bleeds music, a simmering stew of Spanish, African, French, North American and indigenous influences that combine in a beautifully syncopated whole. The city bubbles over in a maelstrom of sounds that swing, dance and rock out of every nook and cranny. There’s the jazz trombonist standing on the sea wall practising his scales; rumba drummers engrossed in an all-day Santería ritual; the troubadour seducing tourists with songs about Che Guevara; an octogenarian crooner belting out a plaintive Bésame Mucho; and thrash metallers screaming something in Spanish about revolution. The music never stops. Even better, it’s nearly always live. In Havana, guitars are as common as mobile phones, and singing and dancing as natural as walking and breathing.

Popular exports son cubano and mambo are merely a warm-up act. You can walk through the city and plot the path from Beny Moré to hip hop via jazz, charanga, rumba, salsa, timba and cha-cha-chá. Take a deep breath and dive in.

1 El Guajirito

During the mid-1990s, American slide guitarist Ry Cooder resurrected a group of half-forgotten Cuban musicians and funnelled them into an extraordinary collective called the Buena Vista Social Club. The band made a self-titled record, sold out a tour and won a Grammy. Many of them were so elderly at the time that they’ve since passed away, but the salsa-ing spirit of Buena Vista Social Club lives on in El Guajirito, a cosy restaurant and live-music venue in a grotty-on-the-outside tenement in the district of Centro Habana. Sure, the place is popular with tourists but, once the chatter dies down, it’s hard not to be seduced by the energy of the veteran singers and musicians during 90-minute sets of Cuban classics.

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About Lonely Planet Traveller (UK)

March 2019In the March issue… discover Hawaii in the language of the islands; pick and mix the best of Malta's capital; find 12 more wonderfully different island escapes; follow a classic car rally in Italy; move to West African rhythms in Dakar; explore the music cultures of Havana, Vienna and Seville; and much more