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Celtic culture in Cuba


Probably one of the last things you would expect while vacationing in Cuba is to run into a group of Cuban bagpipers playing Celtic music. This is what exactly what happened to Irish piper Cillín Ó Cinneide while on a long vacation in Cuba and could easily happen to you when you happen to be in Havana between April 15th and 25th 2011. During these days the 2nd edition of CeltFest Cuba will take place.  more...


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Probably one of the last things you would expect while vacationing in Cuba is to run into a group of Cuban bagpipers playing Celtic music. This is what exactly what happened to Irish piper Cillín Ó Cinneide while on a long vacation in Cuba and could easily happen to you when you happen to be in Havana between April 15th and 25th 2011. During these days the 2nd edition of CeltFest Cuba will take place.

Cillín decided to bring his uilleann pipes with him on vacation since for a “piper” being 5 weeks without practice is a long time. While playing outdoors in one of the wonderful small Havana parks he got a tap on his shoulder from a complete stranger who invited Cillín and his instrument to attend a Cuban piping concert where he discovered “a rich, hidden vein of Celtic music in Cuba.” He met Marcel Nazabal with whom he became friends played music and travelled all over Cuba.

Celtic music arrived to Cuba together with the Spanish immigrants, in particular those who arrived from Galicia and Asturias, the Celtic provinces of northern Spain. After Cuba’s independence from Spain the Galician and Asturian societies played an important role in keeping the Celtic culture alive by organizing Celtic Music workshops.

As Cillín discovered, Cubans, especially those whose ancestors originate from Galicia and Asturias have a great interest in all things Celtic. In 2008, a group of Cuban musicians where invited to the Celtic Colours International Festival in Cape Breton, an island in northern Nova Scotia, Canada where they played with the world famous Galician piper Carlos Nuñez.

Not much later a friend of Marcel, Lisa Butchart from Canada, asked Marcel if he and Cillín could help her organize a small Celtic music event that should take place around her birthday in April 2010. This idea quickly evolved into something more ambitious, hence the first Celtfest Cuba, planned to last 3 days. Using their extensive networks in Canada, Cuba and Ireland they managed to secure the support from a group of international musicians and organizations including the “Officina de Historiador de la Habana”, the Spanish Societies of Cuba and Culture Ireland, which played an essential role in supporting the festival, as they funded artists from Ireland to come to Havana to perform. The event was an enormous success. Cillín told me: “ our 3-day event became a 9-day celebration”.

Among the many Cuban bands that perform Celtic influenced music are Banda de Eduardo of the Galician Society, Banda de Gaitas de La Habana from the Asturian society, folk group "Resurrectio" of Pinar Del Rio, the Band and Dancers of Monterroso y Antas de Ulla, the group Aires Galegos De La Habana, the Havana Fiddle Club and Grupo de baile de la Sociedad Agrupación Artística Gallega.

Some of the artist that came to Cuba to participate in the first edition of Celtfest Cuba will be back this year along with many new faces. Traditional Irish dancing workshops play an important role in this year’s festival, as well as a full program of concerts and music sessions in famous locations around Old Havana.

Celtfest Cuba 2011 is billed as “a Caribbean celebration of music and dance, originally from the Celtic Nations of Europe, which has migrated to the New World”. For a full list of artists and a detailed event schedule please visit the official website of the event: http://www.celtfestcuba.org.

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