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Know Cuba Like Us

Cuban Culture in general terms


Alejo Carpentier has been recognized not only as the biggest representative of the Cuban literature, but also as the most spread Cuban contemporary writer all over the world.
His books, like The Harp and the Shadow, Baroque Concert, just to mention two of them, reflect his gift as a writer and give the readers a wonderful choice to get in touch with the different features that help define the Cuban nationality and culture.


Precisely, Carpentier was the writer that has best described Havana city in his works. Havana, the city of pillars, as he called it, plenty of baroque architecture, among other styles, catches the visitor's attention since the first time he meets her and makes it almost impossible to visit Cuba in holidays without visiting this amazing city.
Havana becomes a place where the visitors can learn about the origins of the Cuban people, that is to say, the origins of the Cuban culture. When asked about the origins of the Cuban people, Carpentier answered: "We all descended from the ships."
It seems easy to understand the writer if we recall Cuba is an island "discovered" by Columbus in the XV century.

If we were to explained to the readers the previous statement, we should begin by saying that aboard the ships arrived the colonizers, who soon started a colonization process which almost eliminated Cuba's native population, counted only in a few thousands inhabitants. Odd diseases, brought to these lands by the Spanish, and the inhuman exploitation the indigenous population was submitted to by Spanish settlers, looking for a gold that was barely found in Cuba, made soon necessary a new manpower: the African slaves.
The slaves were brought from the coasts of Africa, aboard the slave-trading ships, but fortunately for the Cuban culture, they came down with their traditions, religions, dances, that finally interacted with other nationalities who later came to Cuba and gave birth to what we know today as the Cuban culture.
African slaves help the development of a sugar-plantation based economy. Nevertheless, there were other nationalities, which also descended from the ships, whose descendants the visitor can identify when visiting any Cuban city in holidays. Among them:
  • French settlers who came running away from the Haitian revolution, led by Toussaint L'ouverture in the XVIII century, and established mainly in the South East of the country.
  • Spanish and Canarian farmers who fostered the Cuban growing tobacco industry
  • Arabs and Jews who engaged in trade in urban populated areas
  • Americans, Swedish, Chinese, Japanese, who settled in small farm communities
All these people, their traditions, dances, religions, mixed up in a process that the Cuban scholar Don Fernando Ortiz named Transculturation: a process that brought about a concept of nation and nationality.
Transculturation makes Cuba a one and diverse country at the same time, and of course, a unique land that once the foreigner is here, either for business or pleasure, he can feel at home and leads him/her to arrange time for a future Cuba holidays.
The first decades of the XIX century marked the beginning of the Cuban culture and nationality.

During the first decades of the XIX century, José María Heredia, a Cuban exponent of Romanticism, reflected in his poetry the palm trees, the Cuban national tree, and a key element in the native landscape. However, Heredia was capable of singing not only to the Cuban beauties, but also to the pre-Colombian Aztec architecture and the amazing Niagara Falls.
José Martí, the most universal Cuban figure, recognized and praised Heredia's poetry and nationalism.
Known for having devoted his entire life to organize the fight for the independence of the Spanish colonial yoke, José Martí is also recognized for his prolific literary life. Regarding this, critics from different tendencies consider Martí's prose and poetry among the most representative of the Spanish literature and he is identified as a forerunner of the Latin-American Modernism, which had in the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío, the highest exponent of Modernism in Latin-American literature.
All the topics Marti wrote about, his commitment to the improvement of mankind, along with his tenderness, represent nothing but a clear example of both his universality and Cuban identity, and the gift of knowing how to reflect the foreign and the native, assimilating the best of each side.
Martí's natal home in Havana city is nowadays a museum, and a wonderful choice to visit when in Cuba for holidays, either in a city tour or on your own.
Certainly, there are other Cuban poets, who enjoy the recognition of the readers, such as:
  • Nicolás Guillén, the Cuban National Poet, who could insert the Cuban vernacular language in the Spanish refined metrics, moving from lyrical to folk poetry without diminishing the artistic value of his works.
  • Dulce María Loynaz, her poetry is full of beauty, though she did not write an easy-to-understand poetry. Winner of the prestigious Cervantes annual Award in 1992.
When in Rome, do as Romans do, reads the saying. When in Cuba, do as Cubans do: dance popular music.
Son, a Cuban musical genre that comprises the legacy of the Spanish and the African rhythms, has captivated many people from every corner of the globe. Nowadays, there is a version of this genre, known as salsa, which puts to dance either natives or foreigners, to demonstrate the universal language that music represents.
Van Van, Adalberto Álvarez, Issac Delgado, Paulo FG, and others, are just a small sample of Cuban orchestras that can be found in any tourist resort or an open public space, making dancers to move to the rhythm of this music, which will make you feel excited if you try it in your Cuba holidays.
Nonetheless, Cuba is more than popular music; there are traditional musical ensembles, who represent the Cuban musical traditions and who receive a tremendous welcoming abroad. The late Compay Segundo, Aragón, Casino, is just a few representation of it.
Chamber music has also a place in the Cuban musical spectrum. Alejandro García Caturla, Amadeo Roldán, Ernesto Lecuona, Frank Fernández, belong to the avant gardist musicians praised both in Cuba and abroad.
The Latin jazz is very well represented by Chucho Valdés and Irakere, one of the epicenters of the Latin jazz, as well as Roberto, Bobby Carcacés.
Last but not least, there are the Cuban minstrels, with Pablo Milanés and Silvio Rodríguez, adding heart and duty to their songs and reflecting the real Cuba through their lyrics.
The fact is that both chamber and popular music can live without problems, and they have even mixed in the best of some creations, where the so called cult and popular music appear together to delight everybody.

Some of the most representative Cuban painters cannot avoid reflecting the transculturation process, present in their works:
  • Wifredo Lam: A surrealist painter, Picasso's friend. He knew very well how to conciliate the European, the Asian and the African in his famous painting "The Jungle," exposed in the Museum of Modern Arts, in New York.
  • Raúl Martínez: He made pop, his way of expression to present the real Cuba of these times.
  • Amelia Peláez: Famous for her stained-glass windows, which reveal the different influences she had as a painter.
  • Víctor Manuel, René Portocarrero, Flora Fong, Mariano Rodríguez, all of them wonderful painters, whose works can be enjoyed in some of the most famous art galleries and private collections of the world.
Both artistic expressions are closely related and result a recurrent pretext to set a time for Cuba holidays. Festivals and contests distinguish the Cuban cultural life during the year. People from different places converge here every year to enjoy these cultural expressions.
As to ballet, Alicia Alonso, prima ballerina assoluta of the Cuban National Ballet, had the talent to bring together the Cuban creative universe with the best of the world ballet, resulting in today's famous Cuban School of Ballet.
Modern and folk dance find also a fertile ground in Cuba.
As to theater, José Lezama Lima, well known around the world by his famous novel "Paradiso," could add Góngora's mistery to the secrets of Havana city, plenty of discreet inner spaces to hide away from streets ebullition.

Definitely, the Cuban culture and the Cuban people as such owe an important part of their history to ships. Of course, you may agree or not with Carpentier's words about the origin of Cuban people, but consider that, being an island, ships become an important part of the Cuban life.
Anyway, the important issue here is that you know a little more about Cuban culture and its people, and certainly, if you want to feel what you have read here, take a time free and get ready for your Cuba holidays.

The Cuba Experience is an independent ground handling agent, especialized in organizing your Cuba holidays and dedicated to provide quality service in order to make the utmost of your holidays in Cuba

Original painting decorations by cuban artist Sandra Dooley
graphic design Otto Pantoja