The timba geek's guide to Havana
Anyone who followed my recent quest to find out where and when the fuck all or any of my favourite Cuban bands were playing will know this is needed. Let's tackle the simple things first:
These have changed - at Galiano, they are now from 5-9pm, as they are in Miramar (which changed over last year); Cafe Cantante bills almost all theirs now as "matinee larga"s, which means they go from about 5 (not sure, never got there before 6) until 10. The band will play probably around 8, depending on whether they have a support band or not. But not all the matinees here are billed as such extravaganzas, so you need to call and check, if you don't feel certain. I didn't get to a matinee upstairs at Delirio Habanera, so I'm not sure if those have changed too (probably). If someone knows, can they drop me a line?
Of course all the matinees could well revert back to their original hours: a sign at Galiano said the change was for summer, but Miramar changed last year and never went back. To catch the main act's full set I recommend going no later than 7 - and sometimes this is too late - Angel Bonne finished his matinee set well before 8 one evening so I gather he started about 6.30. It depends how desperate you are to see the band in question and how much brain-frying reggaeton you're prepared to put up with.
HOW TO FIND OUT WHO'S PLAYING WHERE
Sigh. Can I just preface this by saying that if you approach any trip to Havana as a zen exercise, you'll probably come away feeling a lot less frustrated.
Despite the proliferation of online carteleras, it seems to be more difficult than ever to know who is playing where. Being there made me realise how often they are wrong - of course the upside of that is, now that I'm thousands of miles away and can't duck into Galiano or El Cafe, if I see a kickass gig listed I can console myself with thought that it probably won't eventuate anyway...
Canal Cubano, once so reliable (though I see when I last wrote about it I said it was right about 50 per cent of the time) is almost useless. Or it was when I was there. Practically nothing on their list actually transpired. Here's hoping it reverts to its firmer glory.
The H Magazine looks very pretty but is almost impossible to access on a dialup connection (all that's available in Cuba), so I have no idea whether it is accurate or not. Also: not usually updated until midweek, so no good for those crucial Monday-Tuesday gigs.
Ditto Cuba Plus - only seems to be updated towards the end of the week. Sometimes it isn't updated weekly at all.
Egrem, also, weirdly, inaccurate - you'd think they would know who was playing in their own clubs, but it seems not. They do get a lot of stuff right - say 75 per cent. Updated usually on Tuesdays. Now they have matinees listed as well (it's a separate page to the night gigs).
Creart is a weird little page that lists all kinds of things - not many timba gigs, but it's worth checking just in case. (In your search for a timba high, everything is worth checking just in case.) Seems to be accurate.
Radio Taino's page is hopeless. They have this big long list of bands and venues with a day next to them but no date. I tried to match up their info with what I knew was on on any given day, but it was always different, so I had no way of knowing whether they don't update or they just get it wrong. No idea at all. But either way, it ain't accurate.
Last year, this was the best - though quite a time-consuming - way to find what was going on. Pretty accurate too, and good for last minute changes. The station in question is Disco Fiesta, which they say is 98.3 (I think) but I found around the 94-95 mark. Everyday they have a program from 11am until 1pm, during which they play songs from groups playing on the day and the odd interview. They will give out dribs and drabs of info during the whole show, but they actually do a list, usually between 12.30 and 1. On Fridays, when they give listings for Friday-Sunday, they do the Friday list much earlier - usually before 12; then Saturday between 12-12.30, then Sunday in the last half hour. But none of those times are set in stone. The Friday show is really very useful too, because it means you can plan your whole weekend.
Unfortunately, while I was there, I heard that a new rule came in that they woudn't announce any gigs that didn't have an entrada in moneda nacional. I don't know if this was true: certainly they stopped announcing most of the night gigs about a month after I arrived, but they still announced some: those at Cabaret Las Vegas ($5CUC - no MN) were always announced, for instance, and sometimes (but not always) those at Cabaret Nacional. There was not a peep about the Los Van Van gig at Morro-Cabaña - most Cubanos didn't know it was on either - and as far as the radio was concerned, it was as though both Casas de la Musica had closed for business at night (not true). Most gigs at La Tropical are mentioned (though Trabuco's concert with Andy Montañez wasn't). I assume free gigs are too, though I don't remember hearing anything about the Trabuco/Maravilla gig at La Tribuna - I knew about it thanks to Trabuco's David Bencomo.
Another source of info for the bigger bands are flyers at the big hotels. Well, at the Sevilla, at least. I recommend passing by reception there on a Tuesday or Wednesday. If a big band is on at La Cecilia or Habana Cafe - and some other places too - there is a chance there will be a flyer about it.
Of course the most reliable way to find out what's on the cartelera is to look at the cartelera: if you're staying near one of the clubs, pass by and make a note of who's on - or better, take your digital camera and take a pic, then you can refer to it. I stayed near Galiano and would regularly pass by to check it out (because it changes so much), as well as taking a pic on entering or leaving any of the venues when I went to see band. Beware that, particularly at Galiano, the weekend gigs listed on the cartelera at the beginning of the week will probably have changed by the time the weekend rolls around.
Sorry I can't be the bearer of better news. Finding out what's on there is a slog. I was lauded by many for my knowledge - my mate Duny even used me as a cartelera one night: he was with his uncle and some friend's of his from Mexico, and he called me about 11 on a Friday night to ask: who is on at Galiano? And Miramar? And El Cafe? And Delirio Habanero... pretty funny. (He also helped me out at times, by calling various musos mates to ask whether they were playing or not.) But let me tell you , I worked hard to become the cartelera oracle de la Habana. Lucky I'm not a morning person - drinking coffee and listening to the radio pushes the limits of my capabilities in the a.m. anyway...