Lonely Planet Writer

SXSW festival kicks off in Austin celebrating Cuba

South by Southwest (SXSW) the annual festival of independent film, music, and technology launches this weekend in Austin, Texas with a historic Cuban programme.

SXSW's historic Cuban music lineup
SXSW’s historic Cuban music lineup Image by SXSW

The festival is doing a special Cuban section entitled Sounds of Cuba that will take place on 18 March, which reflects the renewed political ties between the US and Cuba. “This is not the first time we have bands from Cuba showcasing at SXSW, SXAméricas organizer Alicia Zertuche said in a statement. “But it is the first time we have a Sounds from Cuba showcase, and an entire night dedicated to bands that currently reside and don’t plan to leave Cuba.”

The showcase will take place at Speakeasy in Austin and will feature the likes of Telmary, a seven-piece band lead by rapper and composter Telmary Diaz, as well as Yissy & Bandancha, and 23 year-old Latin jazz singer Dayme Arocena.

There will also be talks and discussions about the future of Cuban sound and music now that it’s opening up to the rest of the world.

The Obamas will be making SXSW history by speaking at the festival this year
The Obamas will be making SXSW history by speaking at the festival this year Image by SXSW

SXSW’s other big announcement is the presence of the Obamas who are this year’s keynote speakers. Michelle and Barack are both due to speak at the festival, marking the first time a US president and first lady have ever spoken at it in its 30 year history. Barack will be taking the stage on 11 March to discuss civic engagement and how to encourage people to participate in the political process. Michelle will be talking about the Let Girls Learn initiative which aims to bring education to the 62 million girls around the world.

City lights of Austin, Texas.
City lights of Austin, Texas. Image by Stuart Seeger / CC BY 2.0

SXSW takes place in Austin from 11 – 20 March.