Music Playlist: Songs You Need to Hear While on the Airplane to Cuba  


Now that the travel ban has been softened, Americans are flocking to Cuba. I get it. The prohibition of 50 years and the enigma of an island that has barely changed visually since the 1950s is alluring.

However, some questions I ask myself when I read the news of a major increase in American travel to Cuba are: Do people know and understand the history of Cuba and the Cuban Revolution? Do they appreciate the culture and in turn respect it? Or are people going simply because they want to see Havana before it becomes gentrified? Is anybody interested in other towns such as Baracoa or Cienfuegos?

This article is dedicated to all those who are not aware of the importance of trying to understand a country, its history and culture before visiting. I want to start talking about music, a very important element of national identity. Music is one way the people of a culture express themselves (or express the way their government controls them).

Music has been the quintessential essence of Cuba and why tour companies have focused so much of their people-to-people tours on Cuban music. I do understand the complexity of Cuban music and its history. It’s much more than what I can write in 600 words but I’ll focus on some of the music that inspires me to explore Cuba further—I hope they inspire you as well.

Since the beginning, West African and Spanish music were the heavy influencers in Cuban music. Much of this impact came from the massive importation of African slaves (up until the 1880s) who carried their complex rhythms with them. Over time, France, the United States and Jamaica have played major roles in the development of rich Cuban musical styles. In turn, Cuba has provided leading musical forms, influencing all of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Here is a brief overview of Cuba’s many musical genres:

Danzón and Charanga: Cuba’s official national dance and musical genre since 1879. The danzón matured from Cuban habanera, also contradanza. Charanga, associated with danzón, is a word given to traditional ensembles of Cuban dance music such as Orquesta Aragon.

Cuban són: Around 1917, when the danzón was at its height, a new musical form appeared in Havana known as Cuban són gaining worldwide popularity in the 1930s. It originated in Oriente Provence in the countryside historically influenced by the African slaves who migrated from Hispañola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) after their emancipation. Són is the soul and heartbeat of the country. Bands such as Sierra Maestra and Buena Vista Social Club played this style of music. 

Guaracha: Has a fast lyrical tempo. It’s bufo theatre-style was usually played in musical theaters and low-class dance salons. Celia Cruz was known to be a guarachera, able to handle the fast lyrics.

Bolero: the opposite of guaracha, bolero is a slow-tempo style of music originating from Santiago de Cuba in the last quarter of the 19th century. Beny Moré was a great bolero singer.

Cuban hip hop: At first received with suspicion by the Cuban people and government, Cuban hip hop grew to be accepted due to different movements initiated on the island. The rap group, Orishas, is known to be the most successful out of Cuba.

I selected the songs specifically to accompany you from the gate until you land:

  1. Waiting at the gate, boarding: 1-3
  2. Sitting, waiting for plane to take off: 4
  3. Take Off: 5
  4. Thinking: 6-8
  5. Drinks & Snacks: 9-10
  6. Nap/Read: 11-13
  7. Drinks & Snacks: 14-16
  8. One hour before landing: 17
  9. Prepare for landing: 18-19
  10. Land: 20

 Enjoy the music and your airplane ride!

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