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Currently the Festival strengthens on digital scenarios, waiting to re-offer the best outdoor music

The year 2020 was beginning and it seemed life would continue with its usual pace, when a sudden pandemic outbreak rushed in Cuba, as early as March 11.

During those days, silence took over every Antillean corner, having its finest in the busy capital city, where one of the most representative cultural events in La-tin America was paused: The Havana World Music Festival (HWM).

The circumstances led to another of the many challenges overcome by the organizers of the event, which this year is also redesigned in defense of its founding goals: to offer quality shows and promote the emerging young Cuban art.

“Havana World Music was founded in 2014, back then; the initial project was much simpler than the current one. It has grown organically thanks to the pu-blic interest and requests. We have never considered a project that we could not cover, and we have been learning from our mistakes to make it increasingly be-tter”, said to MSK Guide Eme Alfonso, director of HWM.

For the performers of a professional career with a diversity of styles, the success of this “ajiaco” (mix) of sonorities lies in keeping that dynamics and remaining faithful to the audience demands.

“We have always been in accordance with the suggestions of our public. We also play wisely when it comes to programming. We don’t introduce musicians who are not in line with the festival because we have a specialized audience, who expect a quality from us that we always try to preserve”.

HWM was one of the first festivals in Cuba to give design a leading role, as a hallmark, different from the rest.

“If you close your eyes and think about HWM, you see a spectacular poster at the graphic level and interesting artists you don’t know, but whom you want to see.

“Our designs have been exhibited in both national and international arenas, and have won important awards by the hand of designers like Edel Rodríguez (Mola), one of the professionals who has collaborated with us the longest”.

According to HWM artistic director, for an event that usually brings together –during three days every March– different cultures in Havana, it is very difficult to prevent the spread of COVID-19. So, “We decided not to hold the festival because it would mean a huge change its structure. It’s not a show that can be performed in a theater, that’s not its dynamic. We always defend outdoor performances, the movement of people. We try to make it like a promenade, where you can watch the artists´ performances on simultaneous locations. It’s a whole experience that we didn’t want to transgress”.

Beyond its appeal for high-level stage performances, HWM stands out for its side events and the constant commitment to promote new artists.

In this sense, Primera Base contest highlights; aimed at bands, soloists and/or producers, which keeps its freshness and creative proposals in times of pandemic.

From 2020 on, the participant’s works reach the hands of the group of professionals who make up the jury of this initiative, through social networks.

Eme said that the migration to cyberspace was a difficult challenge for the team, but it allowed them to continue with the project in extreme situations, such as the current ones.

Primera Base went from a live format to a digital one, being the latest well understood by the group. Young people handle social media language very well and the contest is aimed exclusively at them.

“In these two online editions we have gained wider scope, breaking space barriers that prevented us from managing materials beyond those in Havana. For the future we will try to keep that mix between live and digital”, she said.


This year’s winners were the projects of TóPop, in the Youth category; AndyKa & HTO, in the DJ Producer section; Manuel Bas, in Seniors; and the Popularity Award, which has been awarded since the 2020 edition, went this time to Isla Escarlata.

In 2019, the independent proposals of Andy Mendoza and Mario Ernesto Arteaga, members of Andy Ka & HTO, joined forces. Their project uses electronic production software to blend rhythms, mainly from Latin America, such as Samba, Brazilian Funk and Trap.

On the other hand, the productions of singer-songwriter Manuel Bas are influenced by Rock, Trova, Jazz and Cuban music, among others.

“This year I took to Primera Base part of the musical endeavor I am doing for my next album. It was amazing to be among the nine classified projects and to have won in my category”, commented Bas.

“The contest guarantees very rewarding opportunities to the ranked ones, like the workshops with musical industry personalities, presentations at the festival, and the recording of a single.

“I’m working on my first video clip to promote the CD I’m about to finish, I also work towards presenting an album, propose it to record companies and make a lot of noise on social networks”, he added.

An Indie concept about the music is presented by the artistic layout of TóPoP, a four-member band from Holguin province that fuses alternative sonorities with styles such as Classic Rock, Funk, Electronic and Country.

For some, the third time is the charm. However, this group´s success came in their second attempt, winning the Primera Base award, in the Youth category.

“In 2020 we were ranked among the finalists of the contest; we did not win that year but we did not give it up and we came back in 2021, with a new material”, explained Adrián (An) García, composer and producer of TóPoP.

Among the group’s plans for the near future is to present, on DVD, a concert held at the Eddy Suñol Theater in Holguin province, where they had, among other guests, the Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Master Orestes Saavedra.

“Isla Escarlata is a musical project that is just commencing. We are trying to make clean music, full of images able to convey pure feelings in this turbulent world (...)”, that was the social media cover letter of Samuel Delgado and Javier San Pedro, members of the duet, founded in late 2020.

Their proposal is based on rap, but explores genres such as Son Jarocho, traditional Cuban music, Afrobeat and Soul.

“For us HWM is the best festival that takes place in Cuba for the kind of sonorities we do. That our music be heard by the toplevel jury of this festival, was one of our greatest ambitions”, said San Pedro.

Isla Escarlata is working on two tunes: one with the cooperation of Jorge Luis (Yoyi) Lagarza, an alliance that emerged thanks to HWM; and another with the Cuban rapper Elephanto. Later on they will present their second Extended Play and will make a live video for which they prepare conditions.


HWM goes beyond the premises of novel propositions. Eme Alfonso reinforces what several editions and thousands of contestants have demonstrated: “This cultural exchange festival has been a reference for other events of that significance in Cuba and Latin America”.

“When the proposal reaches people”, she said, “doors open in a positive sense so that other artists can also successfully develop this kind of approach”.

In times of pandemic, HWM’s communication team is strengthening and gaining proficiency to follow the dynamics imposed by the work in the virtual scenario.

“I believe that worldwide, live music plays an important role in people’s lives. Now, the idea of going to a concert post-COVID-19 does not mean the same as it did before the pandemic. For many, going to such an event is at the present, an almost unattainable desire.

“When those events can be retaken, the managers of HWM will work with the people´s desire of enjoying, once again, a show that lives up to their standards”.