CUBAN CULTURAL LIFE

Cuban culture has undergone a major transformation since the revolution, and the government has come to play a leading role in it. Since the creation of the Ministry of Culture in 1976, this role has expanded to include a network of professional and amateur cultural organizations throughout the country. Cultural institutions before 1959 were generally limited to Havana, (and to a lesser extent, the provincial capitals) and were almost entirely privately run. Before 1959 Cuba had some 100 libraries and half a dozen museums; today it has approximately 2,000 libraries and 250 museums located throughout the country. The Ministry of Culture directs a program of education in music, visual arts, ballet, dramatic arts, and modern dance, culminating in the university-level Higher Institute of Art. More than 200 neighbourhood cultural centres (casas de cultura) offer workshops in all branches of the arts.

For family and personal entertainment, the cinema remains extremely popular, and Havana hosts one of the largest film festivals in Latin America each year. In Havana and Santiago drama groups have regular performances. Music and dance remain an important part of Cuban life. A variety of classical and popular musical groups offer weekend performances, and many kinds of music are heard on the streets, especially along the Malecón, Havana’s seaside promenade that remains a magnet for youths, especially in the evenings and on weekends. Music is also an integral part of the Afro-Cuban religion Santería, which can be found on the island.

Cultural Institutions

Havana is Cuba’s cultural hub and the home of most of its museums, libraries, professional associations, and performing troupes. The Cuban Academy of Sciences (1962) and the Cuban Academy of Language (1926) are among the leading learned societies. The José Martí National Library (1901) and the National Archive of Cuba (1840) have significant holdings. Among the major institutions supporting the performing arts are the National Theatre, the National Ballet of Cuba, the House of the Americas, and the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry. The National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists has a large membership that promotes literature and the arts. In 1959 the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore was created within the Academy of Sciences of Cuba, with the aim of collecting and classifying the Cuban cultural heritage. It formed the National Folklore Group, which performs Afro-Cuban dances throughout Cuba and abroad and gives international folklore laboratories each year. The activities of the folklore group are complemented by the Institute of Literature and Linguistics of the Academy of Sciences. The revolutionary government has made a special effort to promote the study of the African roots of Cuban culture. The Guanabacoa and Regla museums are the main repositories of Afro-Cuban artifacts.

Music and Dance

Music and dance are the heart and soul of Cuba, with many people visiting the island to experience and learn Cuban music and dance styles.

Music

The African slaves who were taken to Cuba, introduced new rhythms and ritual dances These were incorporated into Cuban culture and blended with traditional Spanish melodies and guitars. As this fusion developed, new music styles and rhythms grew and spread such as the Danzón, the Rumba, the Habanera, Jazz, the Guaracha, the Bolero, the Conga, the Mambo, Cha Cha Cha and the Salsa The most popular type of music in Cuba is Son. The musical styles born in Cuba continue to be incredibly popular and influential across the world.

The Nueva Trova (“New Song”) movement, has also had great influence across much of the Latin America. The Cuban folk anthem “Guantanamera,” which derives from a nostalgic poem by José Martí, is frequently heard throughout Latin America, as are the popular love songs “Habanera Tú” and “Siboney.” Composer-singers Pablo Milanés and Silvio Rodríguez, among the founders of the Nueva Trova movement, are acclaimed throughout Latin America for their lyric social criticism.

Festivals of Cuban music and song are held throughout the year, encompassing works of every genre from every period, including the internationally popular Afro-Cuban jazz. The worldwide success of the Buena Vista Social Club album (1997) and concert series, as well as the subsequent film documentary (1999), introduced listeners throughout the world to those genres and revived the careers of artists such as Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, and Omara Portuondo. Cuba also has a National Symphony Orchestra as well as chamber orchestras and instrumental ensembles.

Dance

Dance in Cuba was also influenced by ritual dances taken there by African slaves. Cuba is of course famous for the many dance styles that accompanied the rhythmic and musical styles developed on the island. Today, Salsa is extremely popular, with many people visiting Cuba taking Salsa lessons or going to Salsa clubs.

One of Cuba’s foremost artistic figures is Alicia Alonso—a dancer of international acclaim, the prima ballerina and founder (1948) of the company that would become the National Ballet of Cuba, and the head of its school. The Ballet of Camagüey, under the direction of Fernando Alonso, was established in 1971, and a second Havana company was founded in the mid-1980s.

Besides classical ballet, there is the Modern Dance Company in Havana, the Tumba Francesa (a black folk group) in Santiago de Cuba, and dozens of smaller troupes.

Visual Arts

Cuba has galleries, art museums, and community cultural centres that regularly display the works of Cuban painters. The most important (all in Havana) are the National Museum of Fine Arts, the Haydée Santamaría Gallery of the House of the Americas, the Gallery of Havana, and the Fortress Castle where Cuba’s foremost contemporary artists - Wifredo Lam, René Portocarrero, Mariano Rodríguez, Servando Cabrera Moreno, Raúl Martínez - share space with younger artists. The Ministry of Culture provides most of the materials needed by artists and also guarantees jobs to graduates of the Higher Institute of Art. Painters in Cuba tend to work in many genres: they design fabrics (called by the trade name Telarte), sets for movies and theatre, and posters for films, books, cultural events, and community campaigns. Posters are one of Cuba’s best-known cultural exports. The Ministry of Culture promotes numerous art exchanges and sends exhibits of Cuban art throughout the world. The government works to promote art from the countries of the developing world, primarily through the Havana Biennial, which started in 1984.

Theatre

Cuban theatre has been state-supported since 1959, mostly under the direction of the Ministry of Culture. There are several national dramatic groups, such as the Studio Theatre, whose directing councils create their own repertoire. Provincial theatre groups are also well established. Cuban theatre reached a new maturity in the 1980s, producing plays focusing on contemporary social problems as well as developing efforts to integrate music and dance. The National Theatre has an excellent library, and House of the Americas (Casa de las Américas), an international cultural institution, sponsors regular encuentros (meetings) with theatre professionals. Increasingly, Cuban theatre troupes travel abroad as part of festivals and an active exchange program.

Cuban National Circus

With the revolution, a circus school was created that has graduated high-level professionals, recognized today throughout the world. Their rigor, quality and prestige have placed them in the most demanding international circuits. Ranked alongside some of the top performers, the National Circus of Cuba is considered one of the top five circus troupes in the world. More recently, it has been an active participant in Havana's XVII International Festival Circuba 2018, which unites artists from 19 countries.

World-Renowned Cuban Circus Celebrates 50 Years

Film

Cuban filmmaking since 1959 has been supported by the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry, which has produced feature and documentary films. The institute also has an extensive film library, and its movie house, the Charles Chaplin Theatre, regularly shows the best of both world and Cuban cinema. The institute provides a variety of support services throughout the hemisphere and sponsors the prestigious annual International Festival of New Latin American Cinema. The Foundation for New Latin American Cinema was established in Havana under the direction of the Colombian writer and Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez. Long popular in Latin America, Cuban films have enjoyed wider international audiences since the 1990s, especially after the critical and commercial success of Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío’s film ‘Fresa y Chocolate’ (1994; Strawberry and Chocolate), which won the 1994 Berlin International Film Festival’s Special Jury Prize and was nominated for an Academy Award as best foreign language film.

Festivals in Cuba

There are many celebration the whole year round in Cuba.  For example:

Carnivale in Havana Carnival in Havana Annually in February/March
Jornadas de la Cultura Camagüeyana Culture days of Camagüey Annually at beginning of February
Festival Internacional de Ballet de La Habana International Jazz Festival in Havana Bi-annually in February
Semana de la Cultura  Culture week in Baracoa Annually in April
Festival de la Música Electroacústica Electrofestival in Varadero Annually in April
Romería de Mayo, Holguín Christian festival of Young Art in Holguin Annually in the first week of May
Fiestas Sanjuaneras, Trinidad de Cuba Festival of St John, Trinidad de Cuba Annually at end of June
Festival de la Cultura Caribe Caribbean culture festival Annually in June or July
Festival de la Música Contemporánea Festival of contemporary music in Havana Bi-annually
Semana de la Cultura Trinitaria Culture week in Trinidad Annually in November
International Festival of Latin-American film, Havana   Annually in December

 

Literature

Cuban literature began to develop its own style in the early 19th century. The major works published in Cuba during that time dealt with issues of colonialismslavery and the mixing of races in a creole society. Notable writers of this genre include Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, and Cirilo Villaverde, whose novel Cecilia Valdés was a landmark. Following the abolition of slavery in 1886, the focus of Cuban literature shifted to themes of independence and freedom as exemplified by José Martí, who led the modernista movement in Latin American literature. The poet Nicolás Guillén's famous Motivos del son focused on the interplay between races.

the works of the American writer Ernest Hemingway are deeply admired on the island, which was his home for many years and the setting for The Old Man and the Sea (1952) and Islands in the Stream (1970).

In Cuba books travel throughout the country

Testimonial Literature

Cuba is the birthplace of the literary genre that is called testimonial literature. In 1970 Cuba's literary forum Casa de las Américas recognized testimonial literature as an official literary genre. Miguel Barnet's literary texts were foundational in launching this new genre. Specifically Barnet's 1966 Biografía de un Cimarrón (Biography of a Runaway Slave), where he recorded the oral history of former slave Esteban Montejo, is used to place testimonial literature on the literary platform of Casa de las Américas.

Testimonial literature serves the revolutionary ideology in providing a voice for the people, specifically a group of people who were underrepresented and formerly oppressed prior to the Cuban Revolution. A testimonial text is significant because it uses a direct source: A person's account of current aspects in Latin American reality. Testimonial literature is then defined within the boundaries of autobiographical accounts, documentary narratives, eyewitness reports, and oral histories that are later transcribed into a literary format.

Cultural Heritage

The cultural treasures of Cuba include the imposing buildings of the colonial era.  The following towns have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO:

  • The historic town centre of Habana Vieja and the fort (Havana)
  • The old town of Trinidad (Sancti Spíritus)
  • The sugar factories around Trinidad (Sancti Spíritus)
  • The fortifications of San Pedro de la Roca del Morro (Santiago de Cuba)
  • The ruins of the French coffee plantations of La Gran Piedra (Santiago de Cuba)
  • The National Park "Desembarco del Granma"

Commemoration Days and Public Holidays

Commemoration Days

  • 28th January: Birthday of José Martí, Cuban national hero
  • 30th July: Day of the Martyrs of the Revolution
  • 8th October: Anniversary of the death of Ernesto "Che" Guevara 1967
  • 28th October: Anniversary of the death of Commander Camilo Cienfuegos 1959

Public Holidays

  • 1st January: day of the Victory of the Revolution
  • 8th March: international Women's Day
  • 1st May: Labour Day
  • 26th July: Revolution Day, Storming of the Moncada Barracks
  • 10th October: Anniversary of the begin of the independence wars in 1868

Sports

Sports in Cuba are generally under the direction of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education, and Recreation. The government provides opportunities for most Cubans to participate in sports and recreational programs. Baseball is the national sport and is widely played throughout the country, with leagues organized at national and provincial scales. Fidel Castro himself has been passionately attracted to the sport since his youth. Baseball was introduced to Cuba in the 19th century, and until 1959 the island provided the major league clubs of the United States with a constant supply of quality players. Cuban baseball teams have consistently captured gold medals in the Pan American Games and the Summer Olympic Games. The heavyweight boxer Teófilo Stevenson is representative of another field in which Cubans have consistently excelled. Boxing is extremely popular in Cuba, as is Football (Soccer).