The movement to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba is coming to Harlem this summer: from August 15-21, the first annual Harlem/Havana Music & Cultural Festival will bring Cuban musicians, artists, dancers, chefs, educators, and more to New York as part of Harlem Week 2016.
Then, in February 2017, a U.S. delegation of artists and cultural leaders, including Smokey Robinson, will go to Havana to participate in the Cuban counterpart of the festival. The exact dates of that half of the exchange have yet to be announced, but Smokey is very excited, and said that his previous trip to Havana was "a Wonderful Life Experience" for him.
The exchange is the brainchild of U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel, who represents Harlem, as well as Northern Manhattan and portions of the Bronx. He's been working on making it a reality for the past two years, and has participated in similar efforts to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations, such as allowing all Americans to travel to the island and lifting restrictions on humanitarian assistance to Cuba.
"I am elated that in my final year in Congress, I can finally see that the goal to remove the barriers between the U.S and Cuba is going to be achieved," Rangel said while announcing the exchange yesterday at Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem.
News of the festival comes as more and more airlines are starting to offer direct flights from the U.S. to Cuba after the two reached a bilateral agreement back in February. President Obama said recently that the U.S. embargo on Cuba will end soon, though he hasn't said exactly when. It's been in place since the 1960s.
Confirmed participants in August's event include saxophonist César López, pianist Jorge Luis Pachecho, artist Edward Roca Salazar, the JJ Folkloric Dance Company, the Art and Fashion Project of Cuba's National Museum of Fine Art, and chef Raul Colon. For more information and updates, check out the festival's website, and to figure out how to book your own trip to Cuba, check out our guide here.