Musicabana Festival Offers Travel Packages, Including Cuban Visas, to Americans

Michael Weintrob
Pedrito Martinez

Musicabana, a festival planned for May 5-8 that will bring together over 25 Cuban and international artists, is now offering travel packages to Havana for U.S. citizens.

The travel packages, the first to be offered online through a U.S.-based Cuba concert promoter, meet United States government regulations that allow Americans to visit Cuba for cultural and educational purposes, but not as tourists.

The travel packages also include Cuban visas.

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"We hope Americans will attend Musicabana in record numbers to experience Cuba's thriving music scene and to help us build an unprecedented new cultural bridge between Cuba, the United States and the rest of the world," Musicabana founder and festival director Fabien Pisani said in an announcement about the travel packages.

Musicabana is also behind the Major Lazer concert set to take place in Havana on March 6. Like the Musicabana festival, that concert is being organized with the Cuban government.

Travel packages are not available for the Major Lazer show, which will be a free outdoor concert staged near the American Embassy.

The May festival will showcase contemporary Cuban music, with performances by Pablo Milanes, Carlos Varela, Los Van Van and other Cuban stars, as well as Cubans living abroad, like the New York-based percussionist and singer Pedrito Martinez and Ibeyi, French-Cuban twins from Paris whose debut album has become a tastemakers' favorite.

Sean Paul and Brazil’s Carlinhos Brown are the first international acts to be announced. At least one major American artist is expected to join the lineup.

All of the Musicabana packages include tickets to the May 5-8 festival, access to an after party, a private concert and other VIP perks, plus airfare from Miami.

The basic travel package, at $1595, does not include accommodations, but the premium travel package at $4,495 offers five nights at a five-star hotel, plus cultural tours of Havana, salsa dancing and other activities. A top-tier luxury plan is also available.

“The itinerary for this cultural trip is designed to provide plentiful opportunities for participants to engage in meaningful interactions with the Cuban people using music as the foundation for these cultural exchanges,” the travel package page on Musicabana’s site states.

The definition of what constitutes tourism has become increasingly blurred over the past decade as Americans have been offered more and more travel opportunities by specialized travel agencies, organizations and universities authorized to organize travel to Cuba. According to reports, the number of U.S. citizens visiting Cuba has increased by as much as fifty percent since December 2014, when President Obama announced the return of diplomatic relations with the island.

Itineraries that focus on Cuban music, including trips to the annual Havana Jazz Festival and other Cuban music events, are commonly offered by U.S.-Cuba travel agencies. In this case, Musicabana has partnered with a company called Cuba Educational Travel for the travel festival packages, but, according to the site, payments for Musicabana’s branded travel packages go directly to “Musicabana Travel Services.”

The Musicabana travel packages come just after the U.S. Treasury Department announced updated regulations that allow for American citizens to profit from musical events produced in Cuba.

Previously, under the U.S. embargo against Cuba, Americans could perform on the island, but only if any concert profits were donated to an independent, non-governmental organization in Cuba, or a U.S. charity. Artists were also required to hold workshops and clinics for Cubans during their time on the island.

Under the new rules, an organizer can keep money from musical events if they make a profit after production and logistical costs are met.