Most people around here know me as Traveler’s business manager, but those who know me well know that I'm fascinated by Afro-Cuban music and dance and spend all my free time outside of work studying it. Yet – I must admit sheepishly – I’ve never actually been to Cuba. With the U.S. travel ban to Cuba still in effect, where’s a law-abiding Cuba-phile to travel to when it's time to hit the road and play?
Fortunately, every summer Humboldt State University in Northern California holds an annual week-long workshop called “Explorations in Afro-Cuban Dance and Drum,” and this year I attended for the second time. With my days filled with dance and drumming classes, and nights with impromptu jam sessions, I was in heaven. Not only does the program boast an impressive roster of instructors (with the likes of living legends Francisco Aguabella and Lazaro Galarraga), it’s a chance to meet and connect with other Afro-Cuban music enthusiasts, for whom this is also their idea of a perfect vacation.
In a nutshell, it’s band camp for grown-up drum geeks.
With towering redwood forests on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, the setting for this unlikely pocket of Cuban culture is hard to beat. The highlight of the week is a party at nearby Moonstone Beach, when students and instructors bring drums and warm blankets to huddle around a bonfire and play rumba into the night, Cuban-style. This year I brought a camcorder along--the video above is a glimpse, in sight and sound, of what it felt like to be there that night.