Cigar Aficionado

Music Bridges Cuba and America

In 1999, the Cuban government and the U.S. Treasury Department reached a musical harmony of sorts. A weeklong goodwill trip allowed more than 100 musical artists and staff to fly into Cuba from the United States. In Havana, the visiting musicians met with some of Cuba's finest musicians. The meeting of two cultures remote in lifestyle, if not actual distance, resulted in Bridge to Havana, a 12-track CD of songs composed and recorded in both English and Spanish that was released earlier this year.

Gladys Knight, Bonnie Raitt, Mick Fleetwood, Joan Osborne, Peter Frampton and Montell Jordan performed with the likes of such Cuban luminaries as Pablo Menendez, Ray Guerra and Edesio Alejandro. The collaboration of new recordings brings together jazz, salsa, son and pop. It's a mixed bag of songs—some catchy, others skippable.

Osborne's sultry crooning works perfectly with the grooves on "Just To Be Alone With You," arguably the best track among the set. "Hey, Hey" with Frampton is folksy and fun, and Raitt brings a country feel to "La Brisa Azul," a slower melody that ebbs and flows beautifully. Conversely, the track "Que Importa" is a clunker that tries too hard to preach intercultural appreciation. D'Nea Davenport counterraps with a Cuban singer about what each artist likes about their respective society. (When Davenport chants that she likes good music like the Spice Girls, the listener realizes that yes, it must be 1999.)

On their final night in Cuba, the visiting musicians played with their Cuban collaborators at the National Theater. This concert was filmed and is also out on DVD. The Bridge to Havana CD, released in June by Pyramid Records, is available at music stores or can be purchased at A CD/DVD package is also available.

Photo by Jean Schwarzwalder