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Why You Need to Start Listening to Cuban Music Right Now

We sat down with François Renie, Communications Director for Havana Club International, to get a deeper sense of why we can’t help but start swaying whenever a Cuban strikes a chord. Here's why part of what makes Cuba move is the music

Part of what makes Cuba move is the music.


A Havana Club in your hand, a salsa beat in the air, and you just can’t stop your hips from moving. 

So we sat down with François Renie, Communications Director for Havana Club International, to get a deeper sense of why we can’t help but start swaying whenever a Cuban strikes a chord…

First off, how did you come to be so passionate about Cuban music and dancing?
In the mid 80s, after a punk rock period, I began to travel and become interested in music outside of my world. International music – music that makes the people move.

Cuba is the cradle of Latin music so I travelled through the country with a friend to find the very root of the music. We went from one side to the other simply asking people, “Where can we listen to music?”

There was little tourism at the time and most music travelled by the exchange of albums – many people were still listening to the Beatles. There wasn’t much influence from the outside world, which meant that the Cuban musical identity that had developed was truly original. 

What are a few words that could define the likes of son, salsa, cha-cha, rumba, reggaeton, and timba for anyone who’s unfamiliar with them?
The best Cuban music is a mixture of the joyful and positive combined with elements of seduction and sensuality. It definitely has a tropical touch – the kind of music that puts a smile on your face.

It’s said that Cuban music is dance music. What is it about Cuban music that makes peoples hips start swaying almost immediately?
It’s the kind of music that’s contagious. It makes you want to be there, to be a part of it. Anyone from the age of five to 80 will dance in Cuba when the music is good.

It has to do with the percussion and rhythm, neither of which is binary. The sound is more about curves and movement. Also, Cuban musicians play a large role. The singer is always the star and they’re often flamboyant, with a desire to both seduce and impress the audience. 

It’s truly an extrovert’s music.

Can anyone learn to dance like they do in Cuba?
I’ve only ever met a few Cubans that couldn’t dance. They all have such a sexy and natural way of moving. It’s an instinct for them. The best of them often appear to be improvising even when their moves are highly choreographed.

You might be able to manage the choreography but you’ll probably end up looking more organized – less cool.

How has Cuban music evolved in more recent years?
With heavy tourism beginning in the early 90s, more music was brought into the country. And the instinct in Cuban culture to share music has always been strong, so new music began to spread throughout the country, creating new influences and sounds.

There’s now a strong reggaeton scene – a mix of hip-hop/ dancehall culture and popular dance – which brought more of a gangster vibe, but Cuba has developed its own style of reggaeton that’s less gangster.

What are some of the trends you’re seeing in Cuban culture that have influenced the music scene?
Reggaeton is the popular music of today with perhaps some Latin pop as well. For instance, the Enrique Iglesias song Bailando was composed by Cuban Descemer and it currently has nearly half a billion views on YouTube.

Havana Club is obviously a huge supporter of the Cuban music scene and the Havana Cultura Mix Contest is proof of this. What was the inspiration for this amazing idea and how did it come to fruition? 
The idea was to give a bigger voice to the Cuban music scene. So we asked renowned British producer Gilles Peterson to come to Havana to discover and produce Cuban sounds.

We wanted a real musical tastemaker to connect to Havana Club’s personality. We wanted to make music that was a collection of soul, jazz, world music, hip-hop, and all the local influences taking place in Cuba. So we brought 10 non-professional “bedroom” producers down to Havana to work with Gilles on an album. They were selected on Facebook based on a remix they made and invited to Havana for 10 days to produce their own music while crossing it with Cuban talents.

The result was so strong that Gilles decided to produce it on his own record label! 

And finally, where is your favourite place to dance when you’re in Cuba?
The best places to find music are always where the Cubans are. I like to go to the early concerts at La Casa de la Música Centro Habana. The later concerts are more touristy, but if you go early, to the show between 7-9pm, it’s fairly inexpensive; there are lots of Cubans there to watch, and it’s always a great time.


All music images in article body by: Youri Lenquette for Havana Club

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