After almost three years, one would expect that, for many reasons, this year's Havana World Music Festival would be atypical. It was. But, it was also better.
Havana World Music Festival Stage
Havana World Music Festival, 2019. Photo: havanaworldmusic.com

The last Havana World Music was scheduled for  March 2020 and it would have been its seventh edition. In 2020, performances by Silvio Rodríguez, Lin Cortés, Brenda Navarrete, Waahli, Nomadic Music, Havana Meets Kingston, Nengón Kiribá, Toques del Río and many more were planned. But five days before its start, the Covid alarm was sounded in Cuba.

Almost three years have passed since we have – been able to enjoy this magnificent festival due to the – conditions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the same reasons, the festival could not be held in March and had to be postponed until this May.

It is a festival of colors, diversities and a meeting of cultures, also to learn, which has required complex preparation in a slower and more uncertain scenario, with fear that it can’t be done.

Eme Alfonso, Director, Havana World Music Festival

In the words of the artistic director of Havana World Music, Eme Alfonso: “It is a festival of colors, diversities and a meeting of cultures, also to learn, which has required complex preparation in a slower and more uncertain scenario, with fear that it can’t be done”.

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Unfortunately, rainfall and electrical storms were n very frequent throughout the month of May. This has been a true catastrophe for the event, since the baseball field of Club 500 José Antonio Echeverría was the planned venue for the Havana World Music festival.

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Havana World Music Festival Henry Cole & Villa Locura
Havana World Music Festival, 2019. Photo: havanaworldmusic.com

A Great Display of Assertiveness

Days prior to -the event, the weather situation did not bode well or the successful start of the festival. The alternative was to cancel the activities planned or try to accommodate them in the alternative venue of Fabrica de Arte (FAC). The problem was that FAC does not have the capacity to welcome – the size of the public that was anxiously awaiting this event.

The event was planned for Thursday May 26, Friday May 27 and Saturday May 28. The organizers had to make a quick decision that raised-controversy on social networks: move the venue and dates in order to guarantee that the event could take place.

Havana World Music Festival
Havana World Music Festival, 2019. Photo: havanaworldmusic.com

Instead of starting on Thursday and ending on Saturday, on Friday it was officially announced that the festival would move to the Coliseum of Ciudad Deportiva and the concerts would take place on Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th, while the winning bands of the First Base contest (2020-2021) would play at Fabrica de Arte Cubano.

We are going to recharge ourselves with good energy to face everything. Despite all the adversities, we have music to ease the burdens and enjoy the best moments in life.

Eme Alfonso, Director, Havana World Music Festival

The event’s detractors criticized the organization at first. But there are situations of fate that no one can foresee. No one had a crystal ball to know that the rain was going to prevent the assembly of the necessary -infrastructure in the Club 500 José Antonio Echevarría, outdoors and with dirt floors.

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What both the organizers of the event and its sponsors deserve is a big round of applause for their ability to respond to difficulties. It is not often  that you can arrangea sports facility with a roof, heated and with a capacity for 15,000 spectators, from one day to the next. Not to mention the logistical effort necessary to carry out the entire assembly, to prepare a room that is not designed for concerts; or the gastronomic offering that were available during the weekend.

Those who had already bought tickets for the festival were not left behind: they were accepted as valid for either of the two days of the event. And those who had not booked yet could buy their ticket at the Ciudad Deportiva itself and at other points of sale throughout the capital.

HWMF
Havana World Music Festival, 2019. Photo: havanaworldmusic.com

Nothing Could Take Away Our Joy on Saturday

Thus, literally against the wind and the rain, alternative music filled the Ciudad Deportiva from Saturday at 4:30 pm until the wee hours of the morning.

The first to break the ice was Tóke, a musician born in Jakarta but raised in the suburbs of Hamburg, who fuses reggae and folk with Caribbean airs. He was followed by Haydée Milanés and her group, who we Cubans know for reinventing our music and fusing the romantic with jazz, in the purest style of the largest of the Antilles.

Later it was time for Bim Bum Balatón, from Italy, to shine on the stage of the Coliseum of Ciudad Deportiva. They gave way to Nube Roja, led by Anthuan Perugorría Lafuente and Lázaro Peña Rodríguez, with the contagious energy that characterizes them.

HMWF Logo 2022
Courtesy: havanaworldmusic.com

For the penultimate performance of the night, we had the pleasure of having X Alfonso- who – presented his album “Inside”, a project he carried out together with Bonus Track. For the closing of the first night of the Havana World Music Reload 2022 Festival, guitarist Wesli came from Canada. He was the winner of the Juno Award in 2019 in the category of Best World Music Album with the album Rapadou Kreyol, which he  presented on this Havana stage.

Sunday’s lineup had five hours of music scheduled for the festival audience.

It began with the Brazilian singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer, Rommel, mixing elements of Brazilian music with Afro-beat, funk, jazz and reggae. After him, Real Project took the stage, and filled its billing hour with the experimentation and mix that is his hallmark.

Havana World Music Festival
Havana World Music Festival, 2019. Photo: havanaworldmusic.com

They were followed by Colombian Mateo, with the sound of the Latin New Wave genre, based on salsa, rock and Afro-Colombian rhythms. Another Cuban artist came to interact with the foreign guests and that was Héctor Tellez Jr, a guitarist with a pop-rock style that is surprising for his versatility. He wasn’t alone either: he was accompanied on stage by his father, Héctor Tellez, a classic Cuban musician from the 70s and 80s.

After midnight, the golden seal came to close a great festival. Carlos Varela, one of the heirs of the Nueva Trova movement, performed a repertoire made up of anthological pieces that have touched the core of several generations of Cubans. Carlos Varela regaled – the audience with his songs “Como los peces”, “Muros y puertas”, “Nubes” o “Siete”.

HWM: First Base

But the Coliseum was not the only stage for the enjoyment of good music. The ships of the Fabrica de Arte, the festival’s alternative venue -, gave their space to the winners of the First Base contest from Friday.

Sponsored by the Recording and Musical Editions Company (EGREM), the British Council and the Hermanos Saíz Association (AHS); Primera Base promotes the career of new talents in Cuban music and provides spaces for collaboration and mutual learning. Among its previous winners, young artists such as Jorgito Kamankola, La Reyna y la Real or Cimafunk stand out.

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Its call this year was open from March 28 to April 28, 2022, but the winners of the 2020 and 2021 editions were also presented on stage, which was held online due to the limitations imposed by the pandemic.

Misifuz and Raulito Prieto performed at the Fabrica de Arte Cubano on Friday and Canadian guitarist Wesli closed the night. On Saturday, “Los Monos Lácteos”, “Isla Escarlata” and “Kill the party” performed, ty with a performance by Manuel Bas closing out Sunday’s event.

Havana World Music Festival in Hindsight

This is how Havana World Music Reload 2022 closes, in the words of its organizer, “it is a blank page for the creation of something unique”. This year, like the previous ones, it was sponsored by the Musical Recording and Editions Company (EGREM), with the support of the Ministry of Culture and the Cuban Institute of Music.

Cimafunk at the Havana World Music Festival, 2019. Photo: havanaworldmusic.com

Eme Alfonso is, in addition to the artistic director of the festival, a composer and performer. She herself was the face on social networks when the planning had to be changed. Since the festival’s origins in 2013, -, she has always been dedicated to attracting the largest number of styles, languages and expressions of fusion music in general. Throughout its history, the event has brought together more than 130 artists from forty countries and all alternative rhythms.

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This seventh edition could  have been different. Setbacks could have threatened to tarnish the promise of such a long-overdue event. But, in my opinion, it -demonstrated the ability of Cuban musicians to face difficulties, adapt to circumstances and not only succeed, but express the pride of having fulfilled the promise that Eme Alfonso made us when creating  this edition:

“We are going to recharge ourselves with good energy to face everything. Despite all the adversities, we have music to ease the burdens and enjoy the best moments in life.”

And sure they did! 

Havana World Music Reload 2022 was different, but -better. Hopefully in the next edition there will be fewer  shadows and more lights, because the team of champions at the helm of this luxury alternative festival well deserve it.

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Miguel Freijo Buendia is the founder of the Havana Music School, an independent project that provides music lessons to anyone interested in Cuban music. After working in the stock market for more than twelve years, Miguel decided to take a break for three months and went to Cuba to study bass guitar. He began his journey in Pinar del Río, the town where his grandfather was born, but soon moved to Havana where he took bass lessons with Fernando Tort. The experience and lessons changed his life completely and after graduating from bass guitar, he decided to stay longer in the island playing Cuban music and attending many live concerts every week. He is married to Claudia and they proudly welcomed the birth of their child, Luna in 2019.

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