Where the són always shines | Word of mouth

Donna Yawching on the Festival de la Trova in Santiago de Cuba

  • Musicians playing in Casa de la Trova, Santiago de Cuba. Photo by FotosDCuba/Alamy Stock Photo

Lovers of Cuban music should not miss the celebrated Festival de la Trova that takes place annually (16–20 March) in Santiago de Cuba.

Santiago city — and the surrounding Oriente Province — are the birthplace of són and its various offshoots, and remain at the heart of this joyous, infectious music.

Trova (I always think of a treasure trove) refers to the body of music produced over the last hundred years or so — originally by roaming musicians, the Trovadores (Troubadours), who later became more rooted.

During the festival, musicians gather from across the country to perform at a dizzying array of venues that range from dance halls to bars to the tiny Trovita — an intimate space whose walls are plastered with photos of the greats who have played there since its inception.

There are even events in a juvenile prison, and in the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery (where Fidel Castro is buried) in homage to the deceased Trovadores.

Dancing is welcome at all venues — except, perhaps the cemetery. Though who knows? In Cuba, dance could almost be considered a religion.

Don’t expect much in the way of organisation: Cuban government offices are notoriously bad at this. Consider yourself lucky if you see a programme or schedule of any sort. And if you do, it will be laden with inaccuracies.

But these are minor frustrations, once the music gets underway. Cuban musicians are some of the best anywhere, and Trova is the blood in their veins. It’s an unforgettable experience.

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