U.S.-Backed Music Festival Headed to Cuba


Alan Gomez reports for USA Today.

The United States and Cuba have forged all kinds of new ties over the past year, from re-establishing diplomatic relations to new business deals. Now, a New York-based group is about to export another U.S. specialty to the communist nation: the music festival.

The Musicabana Foundation announced Tuesday that it will host a four-day festival in Havana in May. The event, spread over three different venues in Cuba’s capital city, will bring together musicians from Cuba, Jamaica, Brazil, France, Cape Verde and the United States. That will include Jamaican rapper Sean Paul, Cuban singer Pablo Milanés, Cuban band Los Van Van and other artists.

The group will also host a preview concert in March featuring Major Lazer, an electronic music group that would become the biggest U.S. act to perform on the island since the two countries renewed their relationship.

Musicabana’s founder, Cuban-born producer Fabien Pisani, said he got the idea from concerts he went to while growing up in Havana. He said those stopped after the collapse of the Soviet Union plunged Cuba into an economic depression, which left the island’s finances in tatters and Cubans unable to put together such elaborate shows.

Pisani hopes the concert will revive the idea of the music festival in Cuba and re-establish Havana as the cultural center of the Caribbean.

“Having the location it has historically and geographically, there’s enormous potential for it to be the cultural attraction of the region,” said Pisani, 44, a film producer who splits his time between New York and Havana. “We are responsible for connecting those threads and building those bridges that had been broken down.”

The festival is the latest development following President Obama’s decision in December 2014 to rekindle diplomatic relations with the Cold War foes. Since then, embassies have reopened in Washington and Havana; the two governments have agreed to resume direct mail service, commercial flights and other modes of communication; and people are traveling back and forth in record numbers.

Hollywood hasn’t been far behind. Conan O’Brien and Paris Hilton were among the first Americans to fly to Cuba following the opening, and artists have flooded Cuba to learn about the music, art and food of the long-forbidden island.

Diplo, a DJ, record producer and rapper who helped create Major Lazer, said the invitation was an easy one to accept, given that he grew up in Florida and has long been familiar with the unique music that has come from Cuba.

“It became one of the biggest cultural centers for music to evolve from,” he said in a statement. “I was lucky enough to visit Cuba a few years back with my friends Calle 13, and during my four days there, my mind was blown by the people, depth of culture and their way of life.”

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