Discover Cuba’s culture

KCCK invites listeners to visit the Caribbean island

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March 29, 2014 | 4:57 am

For more than 50 years, the island of Cuba has been off-limits to American tourists. That changed in 2011, when the U.S. government began issuing “people-to-people” travel licenses to select tour operators. Cedar Rapids jazz radio station KCCK-FM is partnering with one such operator to give its members and listeners a unique opportunity to experience the music and culture of Cuba.

KCCK and friends will be “Jazzing in Cuba” beginning with one night in Miami on Oct. 31, followed by six nights in Havana, Cuba.

“We don’t know how long Cuba will be open,” says Lisa Baum, KCCK development director. “And if it ever does fully open, it will become just another Caribbean island. This is a great opportunity to see it as it is now.”

Baum, who is one of the relatively few Americans to have legally traveled to Cuba in recent years, said traveling the short distance between the United States and Cuba (Cuba is about 90 miles from Key West, Fla.) is like stepping back into time.

“It’s almost like being in a play.”

After the Cuban revolution brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959, relations with the United States deteriorated rapidly, leading to severe travel and trade restrictions. Decades of embargo-fueled shortages mean Cubans do not have many of the modern amenities to which Americans are accustomed.

But the absence of modernization lends a distinct air of colonial charm.

The streets of Havana are filled with 1950s-era vehicles, leaving visitors feeling like they are on the set of a movie, and the city’s grand Spanish architecture does not have to compete for space with incongruous contemporary structures.

What Cubans may lack in the latest gadgets, they make up for with a rich tradition of cultural and artistic expression. Travelers on the KCCK trip will find themselves fully immersed in that culture.

A trip to Cuba under a people-to-people license isn’t the typical beach-lounging, daiquiri-swilling tropical vacation. Instead, authorized programs must provide a full itinerary of educational activities with meaningful interaction between American travelers and the people of Cuba.

Experiences on the KCCK trip will include meeting with local artists, dancers and musicians, visiting a family farm in the stunning Vinales Valley, touring rum and cigar factories, and visiting historical sites and museums. One evening will be spent at the legendary Tropicana Cabaret for a glamour-filled nightclub show reminiscent of pre-revolution Cuba. Another evening will include a private session with some of Havana’s finest jazz musicians in an intimate club setting before the doors open to the public.

Baum said the jazz club experience will set the KCCK trip apart from other tours.

“This is an opportunity for people to experience a subset of jazz that is indigenous to Cuba,” she says. “Cuban musicians are so full of joy.”

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For those interested in learning more about the KCCK trip to Cuba scheduled this fall, KCCK is holding an informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at The Café in Iowa Hall on the Kirkwood Community College Campus, 6301 Kirkwood Blvd. SW, Cedar Rapids.

For more information, visit www.kcck.org 

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