“Cuba Music Holiday: The Trip of a Lifetime!”

Caledonia recently revived its Cuba Music Holiday in Santiago with great success! Read our guest blog post by Bob who, together with his wife Patty, joined the Music Holiday in March 2018. Here, he recounts their unforgettable cultural and musical experience in Santiago…


“Eight good-looking guys stand on the stage. They range in color from fair-skinned with sandy brown hair to ebony black. Each is holding at least one musical instrument. They wear matching shirts, and they all look ready. In an instant, on an apparently invisible and inaudible signal, they explode into a wall of sound. Every musician is in motion and every instrument engaged. Sounds layer onto sounds, rhythm entwines with rhythm, and soon vocals soar over the entire mix. People in the audience begin to dance, and smiles are ubiquitous. This is Septeto Tipico Tivoli beginning another evening of musical entertainment in Santiago de Cuba — remarkable in itself but made more remarkable by the fact that in only four days Patty and I (along with our friend Walt) will be joining this group on this very stage, performing for a live international audience. Wow!

Two men sitting with guitars learning music

Bob learning a song with tutor Andres in music class. Photo credit: Bob & Patty Tatum

We spent two incredible weeks in Cuba, but perhaps the highlight of our time there was our opportunity to learn from and play with one of the finest musical groups in Santiago de Cuba – Septeto Tipico Tivoli. For at least an hour and a half each day, Patty, Walt, and I were each personally tutored by one of the members of the group. Eduardo, the group leader, worked with Walt on singing Cuban boleros; Ernesto, one of the finest trumpet players on earth, worked with Patty on creating distinctive Cuban trumpet lines; and Andres, an excellent Cuban tres and guitar player, worked with me on reproducing challenging Cuban rhythms on both guitar and tres. After our private sessions each day, we gathered together for another hour or so of large-group practice.

For each of us, the experience proved both humbling and exhilarating. First of all, we had to immerse ourselves in a completely different set of rhythms than those with which we were accustomed. Counting to four was not enough. There were beats hidden between beats, rests lurking where one might expect a strong downbeat, and melodies that flowed over everything like honey on a biscuit. Though our tasks seemed quite challenging at first, the patience of our mentors began to pay off, and gradually we began to feel, hear, and finally reproduce the magic of Cuban music. Not perfectly, of course, but authentically.

Saturday night arrives. Now there are ten guys and one lady on the stage. They range in color from snowy white to ebony black. Eduardo counts, and we burst into a wall of sound. Twin trumpets sweep us into “Pintate Los Labios, Maria” as congas, bongos, guitars, bass, tres, maracas and an array of voices fill the venue. A finely-tuned, well-coordinated avalanche of rhythm, melody and lyric envelop all who attend tonight’s performance.

Cuban musicians on stage

Bob, Patty and Walt performing live with Septeto Tipico Tivoli at Patio de los Abuelos, Santiago de Cuba. Photo credit: Bob and Patty Tatum

Yep, we’re in the band, and the band is rolling! Impossible? Apparently not!”

Like the sound of this? What are you waiting for! If would like to join one of our Cuba Music Holidays, please contact us on our enquiry form or call +44 131 621 7721 to speak with one of our experienced Cuba experts.  www.caledoniaworldwide.com

About the Author:

Bob Tatum is a career educator, songwriter and musician whose first appearance on stage came at age seven as the leader of McNamara’s Band in a school recital in Savannah, GA. Bob currently performs with his wife, Patty Kunze Tatum, in the acoustic musical duo Sound Traveler.  The group regularly performs in the Southeast United States, but they have also performed abroad in Japan and Costa Rica.  Bob’s first instrument is guitar, but his interests include everything this fascinating world has to offer. To follow Bob and Patty’s musical journey, visit the Sound Traveler Band website and Facebook page.


Have you recently been on a trip with us and would like to feature on our blogs? We love hearing all about how your trips went and seeing your wonderful photos – that’s the best bit of our jobs! If you would like to contribute a blog please get in touch. We look forward to hearing from you!