Beyoncé, Jay-Z in Cuba: Views From the Ground

The trip -- and their reception -- offers clues to the subtle cultural changes on the island.

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One of the few video clips of Beyoncé in Havana to be uploaded to YouTube shows the star dancing with Haila María Mompié, a popular Cuban performer and crossover star in her own right. If, in the 1990s, Haila's vocal delivery for "Andar Andando" ("Keep on Walking") helped make the song the "We Are the World" of the trying post-Soviet Cuban 1990s, lately the diva seems to be positioning herself for a wider, transnational audience. She has gone out on her own and on her latest record overlays bachata, reggaeton, pop and house beats onto her traditional Cuban timba repertoire.

At a private concert held in Beyoncé's honor, Mompié belted out "Life Is a Carnival," the uplifting anthem made popular by the late Celia Cruz, a hero in Miami and a taboo figure on the island for her long opposition to the Castro government. Such a gesture provides subtle clues into the complex cultural changes Cuban society has already experienced over the last 20 years, as well as changes to come. We need only the desire and wherewithal to look.

Michael J. Bustamante is a Ph.D. candidate in Latin American history at Yale University. He formerly served as research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C.

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