Trombone Shorty & All-Star Musicians Bring Funk to Cuba in Cultural Exchange with Cimafunk and Cuba Educational Travel

Article Contributed by Shore Fire Media | Published on Monday, January 22, 2024

Trombone Shorty took over Havana last weekend, leading a group of all-star American artists and teen musicians from the Trombone Shorty Foundation to the schools, clubs and streets of Cuba to celebrate the New Orleans – Cuba connection and unite around music. The five-day cultural exchange trip took place from January 11-15, 2024, marking the third edition of the “Getting Funky in Havana” festival. Since 2018, the Trombone Shorty Foundation has been building a relationship with Cuban musicians and students as a part of the “Getting Funky In Havana” program, in partnership with Afro-Cuban rockstar Cimafunk.

Shorty led a who’s who of New Orleans musical luminaries—Ivan Neville, Anders Osborne, PJ Morton, Tarriona “Tank” Ball (of Tank and the Bangas), Mannie Fresh, Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph, Big Chief Juan Pardo and Big Freedia. Ten students from the Trombone Shorty Academy also joined the group, along with Cuban powerhouse musicians— percussionist Pedrito Martinez and drummer Yissy Garcia, both of whom now live in the States, and funksters Keyon Harrold and Nik West.

Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue joined forces with Cuban legends Los Van Van, the premier Cuban salsa group of the last half-century, and Cuba’s 20-year-old reparto sensation Wampi to throw a mega concert on Saturday, January 13th at Club 500, drawing a crowd of over 15,000 people, the largest concert to be held in Cuba in the last four years. Several Cuban and American artists joined Trombone Shorty on stage throughout the night, including bounce artist Big Freedia, making it the largest crowd in Cuba to see an openly gay person perform. Trombone Shorty bussed in hundreds of Cuban music students, some of whom joined him on stage and performed a second line in the crowd together with American students from the Trombone Shorty Foundation.

Trombone Shorty also played cohost to the largest and most high-profile U.S-Cuba jam session to be held in Cuba. Over 30 artists from the U.S. and Cuba took the stage at Havana’s epic music venue the Fabrica de Arte Cubano, rocking the house for 2 hours to a sold-out crowd and thousands in line outside.  The core band of Ivan Neville, Keyon Harrold, Nik West, Pedrito Martinez, Pete Murano and musical directors PJ Morton and Yissy Garcia was joined by New Orleans artists Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph, Big Chief Juan Pardo, Big Freedia, Mannie Fresh and “Tank” Ball and Cuban artists Brenda Navarrete, Ibeyi, Reyna y Real, Rolando Luna, Wampi and X Alfonso.

A centerpiece of the “Getting Funky in Havana” experience is the ongoing collaboration with the Guillermo Tomas Music Conservatory in the city’s Guanabacoa neighborhood, which reflects the nation’s deep Afro-Cuban community. While at the school, the students from the Shorty Academy learned from and collaborated with the Cuban students, who last year visited New Orleans to perform with the Academy at New Orleans Jazz Festival and Shorty Fest, the foundation’s annual fundraiser. Trombone Shorty and all the visiting professional musicians took part in this day of cultural exploration and sharing, and Trombone Shorty and his foundation gave away much-needed new instruments to the school through a partnership with the non-profit Horns to Havana.

[Photo by Ed Aranz]

“New Orleans is my home away from home and nothing makes me happier than connecting the youth in our two countries,” says Cimafunk, who helps curate the program. “Cuba and New Orleans have centuries of shared culture and traditions that we need to continue to embrace, celebrate and share with the world. I’m so grateful to Trombone Shorty, PJ Morton, Big Freedia, Tank and all the other New Orleans artists for bringing their art to Cuba.”

"The 'Getting Funky in Havana' program is all about celebrating the connection between New Orleans and Cuba,” says Trombone Shorty. “Bringing artists from both places onto the same stage gives us the chance to show off the transformative and unifying essence of music. This trip is a reminder of how music can connect people across nations, keeping the roots of New Orleans music alive and setting the stage for the next generation of musicians to come.”

Shorty’s connection with Havana dates back to 1988, when he, alongside his brother James Andrews, embarked on a transformative journey to Cuba as part of a cultural exchange program. The profound impact of this journey on Shorty has served as the inspiration behind his mission to recreate aspects of that experience through his foundation and the Havana Funk Expedition. In 2019, Shorty led the inaugural cultural exchange trip under his foundation’s name, followed by a second trip last year. You can find NPR's coverage of the 2023 trip here.


If anybody knows their way around a festival, it’s Grammy-winning artist Trombone Shorty. Born Troy Andrews, he got his start (and nickname) earlier than most: at four, he made his first appearance at Jazz Fest performing with Bo Diddley; at six, he was leading his own brass band; and by his teenage years, he was hired by Lenny Kravitz to join the band he assembled for his Electric Church World Tour. Shorty’s proven he’s more than just a horn player, though. Catch a gig, open the pages of the New York Times or Vanity Fair, flip on any late-night TV show and you’ll see an undeniable star with utterly magnetic charisma, a natural born showman who can command an audience with the best of them. Since 2010, he’s released four chart topping studio albums; toured with everyone from Jeff Beck to the Red Hot Chili Peppers; collaborated across genres with Pharrell, Bruno Mars, Mark Ronson, Foo Fighters, ZHU, Zac Brown, Normani, Ringo Starr, and countless more; played Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Newport Folk, Newport Jazz, and nearly every other major festival; performed four times at the GRAMMY Awards, five times at the White House, on dozens of TV shows, and at the star-studded Sesame Street Gala, where he was honored with his own Muppet; launched the Trombone Shorty Foundation to support youth music education; and received the prestigious Caldecott Honor for his first children’s book. Meanwhile in New Orleans, Shorty now leads his own Mardi Gras parade atop a giant float crafted in his likeness, hosts the annual Voodoo Threauxdown shows that have drawn guests including Usher, Nick Jonas, Dierks Bentley, Andra Day, and Leon Bridges to sit in with his band, and has taken over the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival’s hallowed final set, which has seen him closing out the internationally renowned gathering after performances by the likes of Neil Young, the Black Keys, and Kings of Leon.