PHOTOS: These Historic Music Festivals Heralded Much-Needed Cultural Exchange Between the US and Cuba

Festival attendees document a spontaneous magic act on the street

As the United States and Cuba begin re-opening diplomatic relations, music continues to play an urgent role in fostering powerful and long-lasting ties. Take Manana and Musicabana, two historic music festivals that made their debuts in Santiago de Cuba and Havana between May 5 and 8. Both events heralded a new age of US exposure for Cuban musicians, and vice versa; the embargo has sheltered US-based artists from many of these sonic traditions. In Manana’s case, the festival’s focus on preserving folkloric traditions through electronic reinterpretation breathed fresh life into both dance and roots-oriented music. The lineup included US acts like Nicolas Jaar and Calentura, and local artists like DJ Jigüe and Ariwo. As festival organizer Harry Follett told us back in October 2015, “MANANA is about learning from folkloric music as much as it is about sharing electronic music and collaboration. We are trying to create a space for an equal exchange of ideas and culture.”

For Musicabana, launched in partnership with the Musicabana Foundation and the Cuban Institute of Music, elevating Cuban legends and emerging artists to the international stage was paramount. Though bureaucratic delays forced the festival to scale down significantly, organizers managed to lock in headliners Ibeyi and a slew of electronic DJs performing at Havana’s Fábrica de Arte Cubano. Even without the expanded lineup, the festival marked a historic moment for the Caribbean island, as the first festival organized between US and Cuban parties in 30 years.

We had the rare opportunity to witness these moments firsthand, and document some of the life and vibrancy these festivals brought to Cuba. Check out some of the moments we captured during the weekend above.