Mayari’s “Festival del Son” post-COVID-19

a mediocre celebration in every sense

From the Mayari municipal government’s official website.

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

HAVANA TIMES – A new edition of the Festival del Son, as we know it -, although it was officially called the XXII Gathering of Son Bands – was celebrated in Mayari, in eastern Holguin, from November 10-13. It was held again after two years of being suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It made its comeback amidst the severe economic crisis that has rocked the country, which could be felt with a low turnout, very poor and expensive food options, and few casino dancers, which is what you dance to son.

What was missing:

Nobody can say they found a single flour-based product at the son festival. Roasted pork sandwiches are famous at any carnival or popular celebration in Cuba and it wasn’t there. Sandwiches of any kind couldn’t be found, not even pizza.

It seems they were banned because private business owners would search for the flour under the earth to find it if they needed to and would find it. There just isn’t enough flour available and to prevent the pressure of higher prices that ration store workers might accept as their “side hustle”, flour products were banned.

Nor was there the emblematic keg beer (pipa). Without keg beer, which is the most affordable for the majority of Cubans, a party just isn’t a party. Only private business owners were reselling cans of beer for 250 pesos each.

Five beers are the equivalent of a minimum wage in Cuba, so just imagine how many people were drinking beer and how many beers they’d need on average to try and have a good time. A can of soda, which was the only thing available for kids, cost the same.

In the day-time, workers from the Cultural Board served as an audience in the face of most people’s indifference.


What was being sold:

A lot of pelly, which is what we call crunchy corn puffs. Finally, private food businesses have learned how to make chicoticos (corn puffs), after disappearing for years because they weren’t imported anymore, but they are everywhere now because we can buy corn from our fields. Some are poor quality, others are better, but they’re available. As it was the most abundant product at the festival, lots of Mayari locals baptized the celebration as the “Festival del Pelly”. A packet cost 80 pesos.

A small packet of wafer biscuits cost 100 pesos, which is what a retail employee earns in 8 hours of work, for example. Similarly, a lolly pop, known as a “chupa-chupa”, cost the same. Two small biscuits with a vanilla or chocolate filling, the size of a coin, cost 70 pesos. Every toy cost over 500 pesos. And so on.

A cassava fritter, small like a jack’s ball, cost 15 pesos each, and was the most popular product. Very few people bought a whole meal for 500 pesos, with a tiny portion, but I mean really tiny portion!, of roast pork. You couldn’t find fried chicken, or fish, or sausages and roast pork, like you normally would, there was very little. Cassava and corn were the stars, like a Taino Areito in the middle of the 21st century.

Was son the star of the festival?

The Festival de Son was only this in name. Son bands went up to the stage for a little while, artists that nobody had ever seen before and couldn’t remember a minute later. Not even that because there wasn’t a presenter to announce them, nobody was saying the name of the group and there wasn’t a digital screen to announce them.

Honestly though, it must be really hard to sing for an audience that figured in the thousands, but only two or three alcoholics or the mentally challenged went up to the stage, who everyone knows, and they didn’t stop dancing the entire time while asking for handouts. They were in the front row.

Behind them, a distinguished group of casino dancers would always show off their moves, but there wasn’t a large group, it was quite sparse. Off in the distance, the largest group of people ignored the band completely. The real spotlight on dancers was in the distance, around private kiosks, which played recorded music which young people like, mainly obscene reggaeton.

In short, it was a festival in crisis, in tune with the horrible situation the country finds itself in. It shows the decadence of society and the loss of so many material, spiritual and even behavioral things that are marking Cuba today. An event that isn’t really motivating, just like it isn’t to still live in a country without hope or opportunities. It’s really depressing.

Read more from the diary of Osmel Ramirez here.

Osmel Ramirez

I'm from Mayari, a little village in Holguín. I was born on the same day that the Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975. A good omen, since I identify myself as a pacifist. I am a biologist but I am passionate about politics, history and political philosophy. Writing about these topics, I got to journalism, precisely here on Havana Times. I consider myself a democratic socialist and my main motivation is to try to be useful to the positive change that Cuba needs.