By Anthony Boadle
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba’s music industry unveiled a new venture on Tuesday to plug into London’s cigar and cocktails scene and show it has more to offer than the veterans of Buena Vista Social Club.
Cuba’s main state-owned label EGREM said top musicians will play at a festival to be sponsored in May in London by Havana Holdings Ltd, owners of the Floridita bar, cigar lounge and restaurant.
The up-market version of Hemingway’s favorite daiquiri bar in Havana opened in London’s Soho in October, offering premium Cuban cigars and rum cocktails, food by the prestigious Conran Group of restaurateurs and live Cuban music and dancing on the site of the legendary Marquee Club.
“We have associated with EGREM to promote the whole gamut of Cuban music, beyond the traditional to salsa and hip-hop,” Havana Holdings chief executive Andrew Macdonald said.
Winners of the 2005 EGREM music awards—pianist and Latin jazz king Chucho Valdes is among this year’s nominees—will travel to London for the Cuban Award Winners festival and perform at the Floridita and the Marquee, Battersea Park.
Cuban music sales soared in the late 1990s on worldwide interest generated by Buena Vista Social Club, the 1996 record that catapulted a band of old-time Cuban musicians from retirement to international fame.
EGREM has been striving since to make up for a bad business decision. It had turned down the Buena Vista Social Club project, even though it was recorded in its Havana studios. The album, produced by Texan guitarist Ry Cooder, was made and sold by British label World Circuit.
With sales of other Cuban musical talent reaching $500,000 in the last five years, Britain has become EGREM’s second largest market after Canada, where Cuba has long recorded music due to the restrictions of the U.S. trade embargo, EGREM sales manager Rafael Hernandez said.
The Cuban label, founded five years after President Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, saw bleak years during Cuba’s post-Soviet economic crisis in the 1990’s.
But last year the Cuban label revived its annual music awards and added a new category this year, the Havana Masters, sponsored by Havana Holdings for the top-selling Cuban record in Europe.