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Ybor festival lets visitors 'feel Cuba's roots'

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Published:   |   Updated: May 16, 2013 at 11:29 PM

The Cuban Cultural Fest coming to Tampa this weekend will allow visitors to see and hear from some 65 Cuban performers visiting from the island nation.

The festival also will transform Ybor City's Cuban Club into a slice of Havana with Cuban music, arts and crafts, dancers, fashion design, cuisine, and more, said Michael Chapman, a festival co-founder.

“This festival is a way for people locally to feel Cuba's roots,” said Chapman, a former world champion ballroom dancer. “We've been planning this for a long time. A lot of people have put their heart and soul into this event, and it shows.”

The two-day festival includes Cuban bands Adalberto Alvarez y Son and Havana D' Primera, the Arte Y Moda fashion show with clothes from Cuban designers, a Miss Cuban Cultural Fest beauty pageant, an appearance by the Untouchables from “America's Got Talent,” La Colmenita's children's group and performances by Cuban dance professors and folkloric dancers. Cuban instructors also will be offering salsa and bachata classes at the event.

Visitors who attend the festival can travel back in time and get their photo taken alongside several 1957 Chevrolets and munch on dishes including roast pork and black beans and rice. There also will be cigar-rolling demonstrations and screenings of three Cuban films (with subtitles) at Muvico Centro Ybor.

All things Cuban will be on sale as well, such as Guayaberas, (the traditional Cuban dress shirt), hats and other fashion and accessories, cigars, arts and crafts and cocktails such as mojitos.

Chapman said he hopes to attract some 7,000 people to the event, “a dream come true for the first year,” he added.

He is counting on Cuba natives who left the island and haven't returned, second- and third-generation Cuban-Americans who have never visited, and people who simply love Cuban culture to participate.

“This festival has nothing to do with politics,” added Chapman, a Memphis, Tenn., native who lives in Tampa. “This is an artistic cultural exchange and nothing more.”

Chapman picked this weekend because it is the anniversary of the death of Cuban patriot Jose Marti. A memorial is planned Sunday to honor the poet and national hero who helped spark a revolution to kick the Spanish out of Cuba.

Chapman visited Cuba two years ago as part of an artistic cultural exchange, calling it “one of the most extraordinary experiences I've had.”

Chapman, who organizes the annual Millenium Dancesport Championships, the largest ballroom dance competition in America, hopes Cuba Fest becomes an annual event.

“Ybor City has so many ties to Cuba,” said Yanet Labrador, CEO of Arenal 5 Promotions, a Cuba native and one of the festivals co-organizers.

“This festival promotes those ties and gives people here the opportunity to hear, see and feel what Cuban culture is all about.”

CUBAN CULTURAL FEST

When: 11:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Cuban Club, 2010 Avenida Republica de Cuba, Tampa

Tickets: $10 adults; $5 children age 10 and younger; extra charge for movie screenings, evening concerts and VIP packages; www.cubanculturalfest.org or call (727) 755-3509

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