Every year there are two major events celebrating important moments in the Cuban history with great fanfare. The first one coincides with the New Year’s Day, and it commemorates the triumph of the Cuban Revolution on 1 January 1959, when the Sierra Maestra guerillas arrived in Havana, forcing Batista to leave Cuba. The second event is celebrated on 26 July, the date on which Fidel and his fellow revolutionaries attacked the Moncada barracks in 1953, which marked the beginning of the Cuban Revolutionary movement. At the same time the annual “carnivals” in both Santiago and Havana are celebrated. Carnivals used to be celebrated long before the Revolution and are still very popular nowadays. Typically they imply song and dance parades, flashy costumes and a great feast.
The carnival of Santiago de Cuba is the largest and most famous carnival in Cuba, and, traditionally includes the country’s best orchestras, contagious rhythms, dancers dressed in colourful costumes and rivers of beer and rum. The mixture of different cultures fostered in Santiago is reflected in the richness of the music and dance styles, many of which, such as the Conga, Rumba, and Son (which later developed into the dance people call salsa today), originated from Santiago de Cuba.
Salsa, rumba, son and cha-cha-cha
Cuban musical varieties arise from the transcultural interplay between African slaves working on sugarcane plantations and Spanish & Canary settlers. There is a predominant influence of African rites and practices in Cuban traditional music. Polyrhythmic percussion, an inherent part of African music, and melodies inherited from popular European music styles brought to the island by the Spanish have created typical rhythmic fusions, today known as the son, the habanera, the danzón, the rumba, the bolero, the chachachá, the mambo, the guaracha, and newer variations on these themes, such as salsa, bachata and reggaeton. Salsa and other Cuban music have been immensely popular in other countries too. Their influence was extended to and contributed to the development of jazz, Argentinian tango and other world music.
Baseball – the national sport
Like in many Caribbean and some of Central American countries, baseball is the most popular sport in Cuba. Introduced in the 19th century by American dockworkers residing in Havana, this game has played a significant role in Cuban independence from Spain: banned in 1895 by the Spanish, secret games funded José Martí’s revolt. Baseball became a symbol of freedom and egalitarianism to the Cuban people. Although the political system favoured amateur leagues over professional sport, and many of the best players in the Cuban national team have defected to the United States due to deteriorating economic conditions, no other sport receives such public attention on the national level.