Anacaona, Cuban All-Female Orchestra


Anacaona will be playing at Lula Lounge in Toronto today (July 17). Anacaona, considered the top “women’s orchestra” of Cuba has been playing in Toronto this summer, starting with their performance at the 2009 Art of Jazz Festival, their first concert in Canada.

The band’s name, Anacaona, honors a heroic woman who was a Taíno leader in Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic and Haiti today); she was hanged in 1549 for leading a resistance against the Spaniards.  Although currently there are several all-female bands playing salsa,son, merengue, and other types of Caribbean/Latin music, Anacaona seems to be the longest-running. The following is description from Latin Jazz Network:

Seventy-seven years after the first band was formed, the spirit of the original members of Anacaona is still alive. Today the band’s leader, sisters Georgina and Dorita Aguirre, maintain the legacy they received from the Castro Zalarriaga sisters. Anacaona was founded in Havana in 1932, by Concepción Castro and her sisters: Ada, Alicia, Algimira, Caridad, Emma, Olga, Ondina and Xiomara. At that time it was considered the first women son sextet; in 1934 they changed the format to Jazz Band and Charanga Típica. Against all the odds— being an all-female band—   they embarked on a steady and very successful musical career. They traveled all over Cuba and abroad, sharing international stages with many artists from all over the world. They recorded and appeared as special guests on radio, TV shows and movies.

Fifty years later, after finishing their studies at the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory in 1983, Georgina Aguirre and her sister Dorita joined the band, then under the leadership of Alicia Castro (who was the second director of the group). In 1987, the five remaining Castro Zalarriaga sisters decided to retire, and the leadership of the orchestra was passed on and kept in good hands. Since then, Anacaona has been renewed with young and talented girls, graduated from different art schools and with the required musical talent and charisma to maintain the legendary orchestra.

[Many thanks to James Nadal for the articles on Anacaona.]

For full reviews and more on the history of women’s orchestras in Cuba, see and

For event information and poster, see

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