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The Importance of Music & Dance in Cuban Culture


Some of the most treasured experiences I've had when traveling are musical and artistic encounters. When I was in Rwanda, a dance group of teenagers gave us a magical performance of their traditional dances and in Tanzania, a group of Maasai women taught me their traditional jump dance which ended in hugs. After 10 years of traveling all over the planet, those are still two of my fondest memories. Music and dance enable us to understand the way the artists express their culture and it can create a deep connection and understanding. Meeting musicians and dancers encourages people to share their humanity and be themselves and it can touch travelers emotionally in very unexpected ways. I have experience it myself, from encounters that have helped me to embrace things that were so distant from my normal life.

No matter which country you are visiting, music and dance are great at uniting people. In a moment, the person next to you is no longer a stranger, no longer richer or poorer, there is no pain, no lack, there is laughter, there might be tears of joy, and greater acceptance. It is no longer about how you move the body but more about feeling the soul of the culture and the human being who is sharing it with you. Dancing and music have a healing power that we should embrace more in travel. One can easily read the heart of a person by how he or she embraces music and dance, which go hand to hand.

I personally find Cuba the most lively artistic destination I've visited in my years of travel. Their music and dance are nurtured on a daily basis and as travelers you have the opportunity to come on board and be part of the magic as much as you are willing to blend in.

Once a Cuban song writer shared his lyrics with me, along with the story behind each song, which was so inspiring and heartwarming. I still have a vast recollection of choirs, dance lessons, Santeria dancing ceremonies, drumming, trumpet concerts, street dancing, women singing a cappella, sculptors, writers, architects, painters, photographers, and more. Cubans really know how to celebrate life through art and one of their stronger fields is music and movement.

Son for example, is a genre of Cuban music that was born on the eastern part of the island, in the Guantanamo Province, among Spanish-descended farmers. It's derived from changui, which was played in the sugar cane refineries and in the rural communities populated by slaves. Sugar was produced to the subtle sound of Spanish guitar and African rhythms combined with percussion instruments. The music was born out of their hard labor days, probably one of their main gratifications and sources of contentment. Much of this music is linked to traditional African religions from which Santería was developed and spread throughout Cuba, Haiti, and other nearby islands (Santería is a religion that influenced Cuba's music, as percussion is an inherent part of the religion).

Cuba has an endless array of arts to experience: visual arts, poetry, local rhythms of rumba, mambo, chachacha, son Cubano and danzon among others. Fortunately for us, Cuba has heavily influenced the history of music and has become nourishment for the world. In Cuba, it's easy to submerge yourself into the music and let yourself get carried away by its charms and the mixed cultures of Africans, Spanish and even Asians. 

It is truly necessary to experience Cuba's art scene to learn about the country's culture. Cubans from all walks of life approach art with creativity and authenticity, both highly valued qualities of performing arts. To learn more about our Art, Music and Dance of Cuba trip give us a call at 800-345-4453 or watch our video on Cuban music.

Keeping it wild,

Grettel Calderon

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