The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival began planning to feature Cuba in its Cultural Exchange Pavilion two years ago, well before then-President Barack Obama lifted the embargo against the island nation in October 2016. Since travel to and from Cuba has opened, there's a full slate of music, craft and cultural displays in the Cultural Exchange Pavilion tent, located between the Congo Square Marketplace and the major food areas.
Cultural exchange programming includes seven full days of music in the tent, plus headliners on other stages (see daily schedules). Havana-based Reggaeton group Gente de Zona performs at 3:35 p.m. Sunday on the Congo Square Stage (jazz pianist Chucho Valdes and Los Van Van visit during the festival's second weekend). Other bands perform both inside the pavilion tent and on festival stages. The first weekend lineup includes hip-hop group Telmary y Habana Sana, Afro-Latin percussionist Pedrito Martinez's group, Afro-Cuban band Groupo Caury and son group Septeto Nacional Ignacio Pineiro. Telmary Diaz, Pedrito Martinez and others will be interviewed at the Allison Minor Music Heritage Stage. There are drumming demonstrations in the Kids Tent.
Conga Los Hoyos from Santiago de Cuba will lead parades around the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots' infield starting at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and 1:05 p.m. Sunday.
Displays in the pavilion tent include images of Cuba by 30 contemporary Cuban photographers, an expo on Cuban tobacco and uniquely decorated humidors, a multimedia display on Cuban conga and Carnival celebrations and works in clay by sculptor Osmany Betancourt Falcon. Outside the tent, Roberto Guerra Hechavarria will created a 20-foot mural during the festival, and New Orleans and Cuban artists will collaborate on a mural in the Grandstand.
Cuban food including ropa vieja, tostones (fried plantains) and black beans and rice will be served by Congreso Cubano, a New Orleans pop-up, at booths near the pavilion tent.