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A Guide to Cuban Music and Salsa Dancing

Cuba is often romanticised, with white sand beaches and the infamously vibrant and historical capital of Havana. Its resistance to modernisation makes travellers feel like they’ve entered a time portal… the magic of it is just undeniable. But what draws a lot of foreigners in is the spirit of the country and its people, both of which are heavily influenced by their love of music and dance.

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There are many genres of music popular in Cuba, but all are rooted in Son, an amalgamation of Spanish verse and chorus and African vocals and drumming. Salsa is perhaps the most famous genre to originate from Cuba and takes inspiration from a number of other genres including Son, Rumba and American Jazz. Jazz is increasingly popular throughout the whole island, and some of the best Jazz musicians in the world are from Cuba. Then there is the Bolero, a romantic genre from Santiago de Cuba which, like many other Cuban music, has an accompanying dance.

The salsa dance is a hybrid of mambo, cha-cha-cha and son movements, and has spread throughout latin America and the world, each country forming different styles. Cuban salsa is much more loose than other interpretations, with more body rolling and bent knees, making it excellent fun even for more amateur dancers! It is all about how it feels, not how it looks.

Best Places For Live Music

You’re bound to encounter fantastic live music on street corners, but if you’re looking for a bar or venue to properly appreciate Cuba’s talented musicians here is are a couple suggestions of where you might go!

Tropicana Nightclub

This open-air cabaret dazzles travellers with energetic live music and magnificently costumed salsa dancers, the perfect spot if what you're looking for is a show!

El Patio Bar Restaurant

Take a seat outside in the Cathedral Square and enjoy a relaxed cocktail to the sound of local bands and traditional Cuban music. Ideal if you’re looking for background ambience while you chat.

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Best Places To Dance

Are you travelling alone to Cuba, or just with a group of girls? That doesn’t mean you have to miss out on dancing! Don’t be shy, salsa bars are super social places and you’ll likely be asked to dance, even by a complete stranger. Or you can hire a ‘taxi dancer’ from one of the local dance schools to accompany you, teach you some moves and show you the best bars!

Casa de la Trova

A highlight of many when diverging from the capital of Havana to Santiago de Cuba or Trinidad, with excellent live music to dance along to.

Jardines del 1830

Without a doubt the most stunning location to enjoy some salsa in Havana, with an open-air dance-floor tucked away in the garden of a beachfront mansion.

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Want to bring the charm and energy of Cuban music into your own home? I highly recommend the Buena Vista Social Club album. Recorded in Havana in just 6 days, it explores a variety of Cuban styles and genres and thanks to the intimacy of the tracks has become a worldwide phenomenon.

Written by Jade Touron, follow her adventures on Instagram.