Photo from Inmagine

The following was written by Carol Steele, Global Exchange Director of Cuba Customized Reality Tours. She is an accomplished percussionist who has played with an eclectic range of musical acts, everything from Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, Joan Baez and Steve Winwood to Diana Ross and Tears for Fears.

The 27th Annual International Jazz Festival in Havana is coming up– you wonder, should you go?  And I say to you emphatically, ABSOLUTELY SI !!!!!!

It is a great time to be in Havana!  Usually right on the heels of the International Film Festival, Havana is buzzing with energy.  There are so many concerts in different venues all over town, lots of Cuban Jazz, as well as invited guests from around the world, and BEST of all (says the musician) the late night jam sessions!  You never know who might stop by and sit in on one of these nightly jams.  Once you have your pass for the festival, you can get into all of the shows, afternoon lecture demonstrations, and although I think there may be a small fee to go to the jam sessions – it’s a fee that’s well worth it as far as I’m concerned.

I started going to Cuba in 1987, during a time when I was working as a professional recording musician/percussionist, and wanted to go to the root – or “la mata” as my Cuban friends in New York used to say. (The root of my technique as a percussionist)  I was recording and working with Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, Bette Midler and Tears for Fears, to name a few, and going to Cuba during my time off.  I went to study, see, learn, absorb, breathe, play, dance, and see what it feels like to be in   “la mata” and what I can tell you is that it changed my life!

Carol Steele in action!

I am not a formally trained musician, I play by “ear” (and I would add, heart and soul.)  So for me, whether I get to play or not, just going to Cuba, and getting to be in the presence of the masters that are constantly taking modern Cuban music to new levels, or having the privilege of experiencing Afro-Cuban Folkloric music that is being played in the same way that it was handed down from Mother Africa – it inspires.  Whether I have ever put my hands on a drum or not, during any given visit over the past 25 years, I always come home playing something different, taking a different solo, and feeling my place in the music in just a very subtle and different way – inspired.

So, I have to say that the Jazz Festival is an incredibly unique time to be in Havana, with so much music happening in so many different places daily. Whether you are a musician or dancer, expert or novice, music aficionado or music critic………. You will come back changed in some way that you might not be able to put your finger on at first –  is it the music, the culture, the people, the food, the painting, the architecture, the history……………or is it just ALL of it!  Come with us and see – and by the way, let me know!


The 27th International Jazz Festival of Havana is taking place on December 11, 2011 – December 21, 2011. Find out how to travel there with Global Exchange.

You can see Carol in action & on percussion in this video!