New York Gov. Cuomo Announces Harlem/Havana Music & Cultural Festival

Linh Pham
Jorge Luis Pacheco

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Representative Charles Rangel, a longtime Cuban Embargo opponent, have announced the debut of the Harlem/Havana Music & Cultural Festival, which will bring Cuban artists to New York in August for a week of performances and other events. A contingent of American artists with Harlem connections, including Smokey Robinson, are slated to travel to Havana for a similar showcase of cultural exchange in February 2017.

The festival is designed to “celebrate the rich artistic connection” between Harlem and Havana, with the idea of re-igniting the historic relationship that existed between Cuban and New York jazz musicians before relations between the U.S. and Cuba were suspended in the 1960s.

Cuban musicians, visual artists, dancers, filmmakers, chefs and educators will be highlighted during this years Harlem Week from Aug. 15-21. They include saxophonist César López and his Habana Ensemble, and pianist Jorge Luis Pacheco, a young lion who was selected by Wynton Marsalis to perform with the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra during the New York big band’s trip to Havana in 2010.

Gov. Cuomo led a state trade mission to Cuba in April of 2015. In March of this year, Congressman Rangel traveled to Havana with a delegation representing The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce.

Smokey Robinson is also a Cuba travel veteran, having made the trip on behalf of the President's Committee for the Arts and Humanities United States this past April.

"Havana was a Wonderful Life Experience for me,” Robinson said in a statement. “I hope this relationship with Harlem [and] Havana opens up to the point of free travel between Cuba and the United States. I look forward to returning to Havana."

Plans for Havana/Harlem have been in development for over two years. The festival was spearheaded by Rangel and The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks and the Cuban Ministry of Culture.