Good news and bad news about the new travel policy for Cuba. (As of November 10, 2017)
I’m going to quote the Washington Post on the changes. As is often the case, you have to read the fine print to know what the real deal is.
Make sure you read the second paragraph carefully.
The most significant change under the new regulations is the elimination of the individual “people-to-people” category of educational travel. As before the Obama opening, most visitors to Cuba will again have to travel in licensed groups.
One remaining exception appears to be the “support for the Cuban people” category, which requires travelers to “engage in a full-time schedule” of unspecified “meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba” and activities that support civil society.
I don’t like the weasel word “appears” in the phrase “one remaining exception appears to be…”
However, if this is the case, then citizens of the “Land of the Free” can still freely travel to Cuba if they fulfill the following two conditions:
1) They check off “support for the Cuban people” as their reason for traveling
2) They engage in a full-time schedule of “meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba” and activities that support civil society.
What the heck does that mean?
Your guess is as good any anybody’s. That said, here are some ideas.
First, you can’t go to the beach and loll around all day drinking Cuba Libres. That’s only for Canadians – and the citizens of literally every other country in the world.
You have to do things like attend cultural events, go out for music, spend money in privately owned business like guest houses and restaurants, talk with Cubans about life and art and love, visit museums and learn about Cuban history and culture. In other words, be a respectful student of Cuban life and be a good will ambassador for the United States.
You also must avoid engaging in any transactions with the State Department’s list of evil Cuban companies. Print it out and bring it with you on your trip. You can find the list at State.gov under “List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated With Cuba”
It was previously recommended – and I imagine it’s still the case – that you keep a daily diary that documents that you did these kinds of “approved” things while there and retain those records for five years in case a US government agent wants to “zee your papers.”
Is this ideal? No, but it’s more than good enough for us to work with.
Note: Am I a lawyer? No. Am I giving you legal advice? No. I’m a music writer and these are my thoughts. Use them at your own risk.
Should you go to Cuba?
If you love jazz and all the ingredients that have gone into its making, seeing Cuba is essential.
All your musical life you’ve heard “rumors” and “distant echoes” of Cuba and its music. To experience it full bore with no filter is a life-changing experience.
It sure was for me.
If you can manage it, do it before our beloved government takes away even this thread of a right.
For perspective, back in 1977 Jimmy Carter opened travel to Cuba. Reagan shut it down in 1980 and it stayed shut for 35 years. (Because the US is a free country, don’t you know.)
How to get there? Is it expensive?
It’s easy to get there. Just get on a plane. There are scheduled flights everyday out of places like New York City and Miami.
Is travel in Cuba expensive?
If you go with a packaged tour or use the “normal” travel industry, yes. Cuba is no bargain. Budget at least $400 a day (probably more) plus your airfare.
You could have an exponentially better time – better housing, better food, better entertainment – for about $100 a day.
We went down to Havana in March to see the Fiesta del Tambor (The Drum Festival.)
We figured a drum festival in Havana had to be amazing, but nothing prepared us for the superabundance of talent and the sheer amount of music offered.
Since Jazz on the Tube is a jazz web site, we’re going to start with the jazz we encountered, but follow the thread to the end to get a more complete picture of this Treasure Island of music, both in and outside the festival.
At the Riviera Hotel, Havana
Oliver Valdes – leader, drummer
Alejandro Delgado – trumpet
Tony Rodriquez – piano
Jorge Reyes – bass
Marcus Santos – congas
Did you recognize the tune?
It’s “Chan Chan” a 1987 composition by Compay Segundo featured in the movie “The Buena Vista Social Club.”
This is a great example of the alchemy jazz can accomplish, taking a well known melody and finding deeper magic in it. (Think John Coltrane’s version of “My Favorite Things.”)
At the Riviera Hotel
Delvis Ponce Jove – leader, alto saxophone
Carlos Vietia – saxophone, trumpet
Michael Herrera – saxophone
Miguel Garcia – piano
Victor Cambel – piano
Edwardo Silveira – congas
Karel Kindelan – drums
Gilberto Valdés is eight-eight years old this year. We had the wonderful opportunity to meet him and spend some time talking jazz.
Jazz drummer, singer, band leader, producer and educator. Gilberto’s life tells the story of post-war jazz in the United States and Cuba and bridges Cuba’s pre and post-Revolution jazz history.
Havana-born, as a five year old he was introduced to American jazz by his young uncle, Raul Zequeira, who was just nine years older than him. During his childhood Gilberto accompanied his uncle to many parties and social gatherings where American jazz and pop music was au courant.
Later as a young man, Gilberto made frequent trips to New York City where he stayed with his step-father, Humberto Gelabert, a former sideman with Benny Carter and the bandleader of his own Cuban orchestra. Humberto also owned a popular barbershop in East Harlem.
During these trips, Gilberto went to the Savoy Ballroom, Minton’s (where he sat in one night), Birdland, and the Palladium Ballroom.
What he learned, he brought back home and among other things helped pioneer bebop on the island.
In 1957, while his vocal quartet “The Cavaliers” was performing at San Souci, the preeminent nightclub in Havana, he met Roy Haynes who at the time was the drummer in Sarah Vaugh’s Trio. Haynes gave Gilberto a set of drum sticks as an encouragement to take up the drums, which he did.
He spent the first half of the sixties in Europe where he reconnected with his Uncle Raul who had moved to Paris after World War II and had his own band.
When Gilberto returned to Cuba he became the country’s jazz ambassador hosting Dizzy Gillespie’s historic 1977 visit, bringing the Cuban super group Irakere to the U.S. and representing Cuban jazz musicians internationally.
As the last picture in this series shows, he’s a beloved figure in Havana’s jazz scene where he’s been an educator and mentor to countless young jazz musicians.
Along with pianist and bandleader Bellita, he played a key role in saving Cuba’s most important jazz club El Zorra y La Cuarva from being turned into a pizzeria!
Gilberto’s step-father Humberto Gelabert (on the left) was
proprietor of a barbershop in East Harlem
Gilberto’s step-father and his Cuban jazz orchestra
He’s on the far left with a trombone
Gilberto’s step-father talking with Stan Kenton
Gilberto’s band brought modern North American jazz to Cuba.
That’s Gilberto on drums on the upper right
Gilberto started as a professional singer in high school specializing in Harmonical Vocal Quartet music and continued with singing groups his entire career. Gilberto is on the far right.
Gilberto on drum kit
A television pioneer in Cuba. Gilberto on the far right
A publicity shot from the White Elephant in Paris in the 1960s.
Gilberto on timbales
Gilberto on drums with Bebe Valdés in Sweden in the 1960s
Sammy Davis Jr. on congas and Gilberto on timbales
Gilberto (with tie) brought Irakere to New York City and the world.
Chucho Valdés on the left. The President of CBS’s Record Division Bruce Lundwald on the upper right. Conga player Oscar Valdés (no relation) on the lower right
In front of Casa de la Cultura de Plaza, the birthplace of the Havana Jazz Festival, Gilberto with youngest son of Jorge Varona, who played with Irakere during Irakere’s visit to US
Gilberto with special friends – March 2017.
Up front, to the left of the man in yellow, Waldo Nelson Cárdenas
of the Havana jazz club El Zorra y La Cuerva