A New Cuba Mix

Curated by Adam Kvasnica, some of the songs on this mix features tracks by Gilles Peterson’s Havana Cultura Band & Danay Suarez, Obsesión, Harold Lopez Nussa, Cuban Jazz Combo, Danay and more…

One of the producers of this Gilles Peterson album is Edgar Gonzalez, who recently appeared on the Sugar Barons show and brought some of his own remixes to play on air. Danay Suarez, another singer who appears on this mix is the voice behind the closing credits song on East of Havana (an acapella doowop track played against a sunset kissed Malecon drive).

Edgar’s podcast from his visit on The Sugar Barons Show will soon be posted to this site. In the meantime, enjoy these tracks below.

Havana Cultura by Adam Kvasnica on Mixcloud

Eliecer 5 Years Later

Remember Eliécer Ávila Sicilia, who we wrote about in 2008? He was the ballsy Cuban student who stood up at a computer science school and confronted a top government official, Ricardo Alarcon, on why young residents couldn’t travel and get on the internet.

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(Eliécer in 2008)

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(Eliécer in 2013)

This was way before the Cuban government knew the power of YouTube. The official’s answers were absurd and the words reverberated worldwide, thereby putting egg on the face of the administration. For more details on that day, read my original blog post.

This new TV interview (seen below) was published this Spring, just five years after the controversial David & Goliath stand-off which turned Eliecer into a national hero due to his intellectual curiosity and rebellious nature. Still an internet junkie, Eliecer brought his friend, Alexis, to the talk show to discuss his new Cuban social network which just launched. The platform, nicknamed “The Cuban Facebook”, has already garnered 20,000 curious digital souls on the island.

Keep on eye on Eliecer. He’s an eloquent speaker and a clear leader, and more importantly, one of the first young minds I’ve seen poised to enter political office for the day Cubans are allowed to vote in the [hopefully] not so distant future.

John Kerry Mentions Cuban Rapper on Human Rights Day

US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke out on December 10, 2013, commemorating Human Rights Day and nodded his head to 30 year old Cuban Rapper, Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga, who was arrested on March 21, 2013 for criticizing the Cuban government through rhymes. After a year and six months of detention, Angel went on a 27 day hunger strike and was subject to beatings, and developed cholera, and is considered in intensive care. Nicknamed “El Critico de Arte” (The Art Critic), Angel refused IV feeding, and was close to death when his wife was called to visit him. All she managed to hear him mumble were the words “freedom or death”. The blog Pedazos de la Isla blog as closely been documenting Angel’s struggle. The global campaign to raise awareness is hashtagged #FreeElCritico.

(Left: Ángel Yunier. Right: Yadier Blanco. Both are in the hip hop band Los Hijos Que Nadie Quiso, translated means “The Sons Nobody Wanted”)

Kerry stated that “Across the world, the struggle is not over; the march of human dignity is not complete. More than six decades after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we are still working to ensure that the rights set forth in it become a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”

Kerry then goes on to say, “Nothing can match the power of grassroots movements… Around the world today, some of today’s greatest advocates for change – from Gao Zhisheng of China to Ales Byalyatski of Belarus to Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga of Cuba – sit in prison simply because they fought for the rule of law and the right of human beings to express themselves.” To read the full John Kerry statement, read The US Dept of State blog.

It’s important to know that Angel is not the only rapper speaking up. Nicknamed “El Primario”, rapper Rodolfo Ramirez was also beaten on July 21, 2013 on the Malecon wall (where he visited with his wife) by Sate Security men who threw him to the ground and began kicking him in the head repeatedly. The beating resulted in serious head injury and severe memory loss. Read more on Rodolfo’s incident at the Cuban Exile Quarter blog.

(Rodolfo Ramirez, before and after attack)

Kerry closes his statement: “There are many whose names we will never know, whose courage goes unremarked but is all the more remarkable because they put their lives on the line in the face of beatings, imprisonment, and even death in the near certainty that their sacrifice will be anonymous.”

Video for “Reality of Bayamo”.
(Note: Angel is the musician who begins rapping at 1:57)

“Welcome to Bayamo…criticizing has become suicide, I get burned and I don’t ask for help, I will criticize without mercy, I fight and I know the consequences. Bayamo this is my trench, I don’t look outside, my family is here inside, a seed which continues active and keeps producing, I will keep writing for you, a real Bayamo native, lyrics without salary is how I live, this is protest and let it be known.” – “Bayamo” by Los Hijos Que Nadie Quiso

Danay Suarez is Fly

In our never ending thirst to consume “the new” in Cuba, here’s a video from artist Danay Suarez, a brilliant songwriter I met during our shooting for East of Havana in 2004. In addition to the “Tengo Remix” — our uplifting last scene of the film — Danay’s voice also soothes the screen during her acapella finger snapping ditty on the closing credits, set alongside a visually striking mellow sunset drive down the Malecon wall. Gilles Peterson scouted out some new Cuban voices through his travels to the island in 2009/2010 and recorded Danay Suarez also for his compilation Havana Cultura.

She’s finally breaking out on her own with this seductive single called “Fly” set to an animation landscape depicting Cuban youth in all their isolation and dreaming while following the outcasts — skaters, dj’s, gamers, graffiti heads — in a nation that doesn’t really sell these toys. Nonetheless, the counter culture exists and it’s a growing population ready to face the world.

“Fly” is a fantasy journey through the mind of a young local. Enjoy! Props to the team who conceived and captured the mindsets of most young cubans today.

Dirección – Yolanda Durán & Ermits Blanco
Dirección de Fotografía: Suraima Pérez
Producción: Mechy Sánchez & Tatiana Bravo
Dirección de Arte: Arassay Hilario & Vituke
Edition: Abel Alvarez Varona
Música: Danay Suárez & Claudio Pairot

New Business Owners Figuring it Out

photos and text by Hannah Berkeley Cohen

On a formerly unassuming block of Vedado, dramatic social changes are now more
obvious than ever, thanks to the relatively fresh “Guidelines” (AKA Lineamientos) put in place by the Cuban government in September 2010. Less than three years ago, this sleepy residential area was comprised of only houses, but pedestrians now can’t walk one block without running into dozens of new, privately owned paladares or cafeterias.

In a country that has limited access to any inkling of variety in terms of food options, chef Javier Martinez Martinez has used these constraints to his benefit. “I had a restaurant, a restaurant that made normal Cuban food, but then I got to thinking, ‘Something’s missing in this city,’ and one of my Mexican friends encouraged me to create a fusion, a Cuban-Mexican fusion, and voila! El Burrito Habanero was born.”

Burrito Habanero has to be just that — a Havanan-style burrito — because there are many ingredients that don’t exist in Cuba. Martinez has made the burrito his own, creating a Cuban version of baleadas, ceviches, and tacos al pastor. “This isn’t just a Mexican restaurant,” he explained, “it’s a fusion of all Latin American foods, right here in Havana.”

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El Burrito Habanero, just one of these thriving new privately owned restaurants, has made a name for itself not just in the local community but in the ex-pat community as well. Foreign journalists as well as medical students from the island’s internationally renowned ELAM are just some of the usual patrons. An American medical student claimed she travels more than ten miles on a regular basis just so she could have some of what Martinez calls, his “de puta madre” salsa, a spicy salsa that Cubans aren’t used to, and normally shiver at the mere thought of. With each and every new private enterprise developing in Cuba, the business owners are learning the value of competition, customer service, wholesale price, as well as fine-tuning a niche market to attract new customers.

“This is what we’re about; everyday creating something new,” said the Martinez. “There are peppers I don’t have, and hot chilies that I can’t get my hands on either, but regardless, this is Cuba. One always invents.”


El Burrito Habanero is located on Calle H e/ 21 y 23, Vedado, Havana Cuba.

A contributor for The New Cuba Journal, Hannah Berkeley Cohen travels to Cuba frequently under a US State Department People-to-People license for various arts & culture projects. Her visit to El Burrito Habanero took place in April 2013.

A Chat with Paul Heck of Red Hot Cuba

Paul Heck visited our studios on April 11, 2012 to discuss his new work with Red Hot Cuba. If you’re unaware of the Red Hot Series, go run and buy the first one — Red Hot Blue with artists David Byrne, Annie Lennox, Tom Waits, U2, and Erasure. The album made millions of dollars to fight AIDS (which is Red Hot’s company model). That first record launched a series of 15 other themed compilations to raise money for AIDS. To discover their discography, check out Red Hot on Wiki and their official website.

Paul Heck East Village Radio Both 01_0

Paul was also my music supervision Godfather for my documentary East of Havana, where he secured music ranging from Trio Matamoros to MOP, and had Bryce of The Nationals create original music for my soundtrack. Paul’s latest compilation is Red Hot Cuba, which was genius timing because I’ve been waiting to get this passionate music-maker on the show. Ladies, and gentlemen, meet Paul!

Jauretsi: We have our guest in the studio today , Mr. Paul Heck.

Paul: Hola. Hola Sugar Barons…

Jauretsi: Paul is an American but he likes to think that he’s Latin deep down inside (laughs)

Paul: It’s the New Jersey in me… New Jesssey

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Cuban Cinema Pre-Revolution

The Havana Film Festival just swept through New York. One of the highlights was a handful of early Cuban cinema films curated by cinema historian and critic Luciano Castillo.

(Tam Tam o El Origen De la Rumba, 1938)

Writer Nadine Covert wrote a review in Cuba Art News Org explaining the high relevance of introducing these early films to a new audience today:

The founding of ICAIC (Instituto Cubano del Arte y la Industria Cinematográficos) in 1959 effectively closed the door on earlier Cuban cinema. With an emphasis on producing documentaries to “elevate the cultural level of the rank and file,” the early pioneers of Cuban cinema were considered irrelevant. But thanks to the dedication and tireless archival work of Arturo Agramonte García (1925-2003), much of Cuba’s prerevolutionary cinema history has been salvaged. Agramonte compiled a Cronología del cine cubano, published in 1966. This invaluable reference work has been revised and expanded, in collaboration with Luciano Castillo, into a three-volume history of Cuban cinema: Cronología del cine cubano I: 1897-1936 (Ediciones ICAIC, 2011); II: 1937-1944 (ICAIC, 2012); III: 1945-1959 (ICAIC, forthcoming December 2013). — Nadine Covert

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Los Carpinteros coming to New York


Robotica (detail), 2013

Cuba’s famous art collective known as Los Carpinteros began in 1991 with 3 men — Marco Antonio Castillo Valdes, Dagoberto Rodriguez Sanchez, and Alexandre Arrechea. Their name, translated into “The Carpenters” (which they made official in 1994) came from the notion of “deciding to renounce the notion of individual authorship and refer back to an older guild tradition of artisans and skilled laborers.” In 2003, Alexandre Arrechea decided to go solo, and is currently featuring his own sculptures in New York with his Park Avenue series.

The other 2 men, who currently live in Havana, are officially now considered “The Carpinteros”. They’ve traveled the world, Europe and abroad, and have been featured in the U.S. from The New Museum of Contemporary Art to Art Basel.

Los Carpinteros are coming to New York for their exhibit, Irreversible, to be showed from May 11 through June 22, 2013. Exhibition will take place at Sean Kelly gallery, at 475 Tenth Avenue
New York NY 10018

For more information, please visit www.skny.com

For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun


“CHANGE is the latest news to come out of Cuba, though for Afro-Cubans like myself, this is more dream than reality. Over the last decade, scores of ridiculous prohibitions for Cubans living on the island have been eliminated, among them sleeping at a hotel, buying a cellphone, selling a house or car and traveling abroad. These gestures have been celebrated as signs of openness and reform, though they are really nothing more than efforts to make life more normal. And the reality is that in Cuba, your experience of these changes depends on your skin color…” — Robert Zurbano for The New York Times

Read the rest of the article in The New York Times.

Photos by Alex Webb