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Ramón Silverio’s first passion was seeing the rather poor, but magical, travelling circus that visited the rural communities where he lived. His fascination and nostalgia for the idea of the circus show with its magician, its rumba dancer and its fire-eater never left him. Silverio then worked for many years as a teacher in these rural areas and gradually became involved in community theatre as both actor and director.
Back in 1984, a group of friends led by Ramón Silverio got together at the lobby of Santa Clara’s Puppet Theatre for a little cultural peña. The following year, this get-together officially became El Mejunje. Twenty-nine years later, it is no longer there nor is it an intimate place for a handful of friends to meet.
In 1991 he was offered a ruin in the center of town which today provides a space for theatre performances, film, contemporary trova, rock bands, a salsa/son dancing night, a kids’ morning and older citizens’ afternoons. It is most famous for its Saturday night LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer!), its transvestite parties and being home to the glorious Divas Cubanas.
I spoke to Silverio in his charming, but classically dilapidated town house in the center of Santa Clara. Huge paintings and etchings adorned all walls. He originally had pretty modest intentions for the ruins of El Mejunje but, over the years, and with the devoted help of many artists, institutions and townspeople alike, he has converted the building into what can only be described as an utterly magic space. It still lacks a roof, and the walls of bare bricks are decorated with witty graffiti while overhanging trees provide shelter.
Initially, Mejunje was known primarily as a place for gay men. Over time, it has become known more broadly for its plurality and diverse activities, which has won over the average Santaclareño.
Indeed for me it is a model of the way that things could and should be in a community. There’s no day for straights or gays—it’s open to all seven days a week. It’s a model of inclusion, not exclusion. It works, it’s self-regulating, it’s varied, it’s exciting but safe, it changes hearts and minds, it’s at the center of the community’s cultural life, it’s physically and financially accessible to all and it caters for all. The admission fee is only 2 or 5 Cuban pesos, depending on the day—even for non-Cuban visitors.
Today, both Cubans and non-Cubans are drawn to El Mejunje. The former are regulars here and consider it almost like home; the latter come and discover a new side that they never suspected could exist in Cuba. Thanks to its popularity and to the support provided by the Ministry of Culture and the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, the center has been expanded to include an art gallery, a theatre for both plays and films, classical music, jazz and a café. Ramón Silverio is convinced that Cuba needs to become what El Mejunje has been and continues to be almost three decades later: “A world where everyone lives in harmony and respects individualities…no matter if they’re Marxist, Christian or gay.”
El Mejunje is located on a little street called Marta Abreu, very near to where flowers are sold. There’s an open door with a sign above it that simply says El Mejunje. Do not pass by…
“Weekly Program” (Shows start at 5pm and 10pm) * Mondays it’s bolero and jukebox night with music from the 50`s and 60`s. * Tuesdays is Cuban traditional music with a touch of modern and Rockoteca, with recorded and live music, and attracts a mainly young, student crowd. * Wednesdays offer alternates between Mexican music, house music and “When We Were Young“ with music from the 70`s 80`s and early 90`s, * Thursdays alternates with timba and salsa to fusion based on rock, but the high point of the day is the hugely popular Trovuntivitis—a night of live trova (guitar playing singer-songwriters) and showcasing the crème de la crème of Cuba`s very best young trova musicians. Most notable here is the wild and wonderful Roly Barrio. * Fridays showcases rap twice in the month plus La Noche de Buena Suerte (Good Luck Night) when a mainly young crowd enjoy live, traditional Cuban music (Son) and later dance the night away. Still got energy for the weekend? * Saturday starts early at 10am with Afro-Cuban music and dance—Toque de Tambor—and is followed at 6pm by a live music peña called Tarde de los filimbusteros, in the romantic bolero/jazz tradition and attracting a mainly older public. Then at 10pm—it’s either the wonderful Diva show or the LGBTQ (though mainly gay men) disco. * Sundays sees often no less than 100 kids whizzing and whirring madly around with clowns, listening to stories or playing games and dancing. Then at 5pm a son, danzón or Cuban country music evening—again mainly an older crowd. Then at 10pm, it’s time for Friky Cabaret with rappers, trovadors, bolero singers, actor, dancers, rock musicians, transvestites shows, you name it. This alternates with Noche con María, a one-of-a-kind show organized and conducted by María, who works at El Mejunje.
May 2014 This article formed part of the may 2014 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.
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