Clive Davis Institute x Havana: The Cuban Music Scene

This program has been cancelled for spring 2017.

Perhaps the most influential regional music of the recorded era, Cuban music has indelibly transformed  the sound of music everywhere. Come discover the musical history of this incredible island nation.


Perhaps the most influential regional music of the recorded era, Cuban music has indelibly transformed  the sound of music everywhere. Come discover the musical history of this incredible island nation.

The largest island in the Caribbean,  Cuba is a fascinating destination that boasts a complex, politically dynamic history and a richly diverse multiculture. Famous Cuban musicians loom large, like Celia Cruz, Paquito d'Rivera, Buena Vista Social Club, Cachao. Los Van Van, Bebo Valdés, and Silvio Rodríguez. But American musicians ranging from Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Nat King Cole, Pete Seeger, Ry Cooder, Bill Laswell to David Byrne have long been fascinated by the promise of Cuban music and culture. Even today’s chart toppers such as Pitbull have taken Cuban music and culture to ever expanding realms.

The Clive Davis Institute x Havana semester is designed to expose students to the rich and fascinating legacy of Cuban music and musicianship in an immersive, firsthand way. Students will attend performances, jam sessions, field recording and conduct studio work. By researching Cuban music history and the political history of Havana itself, we expect that students will discover what it means – and has meant - to be a ‘music maker’ in historic and contemporary Cuba. In a hands-on way, we’ll explore instruments essential to Cuban music including: Cuban tres, marímbula, bongos, congas, batá drums and performing students of all skill levels will become better versed in a range of Cuban music styles and forms like Mambo, Salsa, Latin Jazz, Songo, Cuban Hip Hop, and Cubatón. There may be opportunities for some production and studio work too. 

Regardless of whether you're a seasoned musician or a non-musician simply interested in the music-making process, our classes in Havana are rigorous, intense, immersive, experiential and highly practical. Students will be out in the field, meeting, working, networking, discussing, singing, playing and dancing - all under the stunning Havana moon.


The following courses are open to all NYU students. However, priority will be given to Recorded Music majors. Students must enroll in core program courses, as well as additional complementary general education or elective courses, in order to complete a full-time, 16-unit semester.

Recorded Music majors are required to take: 

  1. Spanish Language (6 units) - liberal arts
  2. Demystifying Cuban Music (2 units) - musicianship & performance elective
  3. Music & Culture in Western Cuba: Living Forms of Knowledge (2 units) - writing, history, & emergent media elective
  4. Arts & Culture of Cuba (4 units) - liberal arts
  5. The Cuban Image: 1959 to Present (4 units) - liberal arts

Introductory Spanish Language

IOART-UT.1959 | 6 units

All students studying in Havana are required to take a Spanish language course for graded credit. This course cannot be taken Pass/Fail. This course will count towards General Education - International for ReMu majors.

Designed for beginners who need to acquire the basic language skills for functional and practical proficiency, the course introduces pronunciation, vocabulary, useful expressions, and fundamental grammar that allow communication and provide opportunities for expanding the range of one’s conversational ability.

Note: More advanced Spanish courses (IOART-UT.1960 or IOART-UT.1964) are available to students based on the results of a placement exam administered by the University of Havana.

Demystifying Cuban Music

IREMU-UT.1820 | 2 units

There is no pre-requisite for this course. This course will count towards Musicianship & Performance electives for ReMu majors.

The American love affair with Cuban music and culture dates back to the turn of the 20th Century. Even the Cold War did not blunt Cuban music’s global appeal, over the decades listeners have been delighted with the recordings of Celia Cruz, Paquito d'Rivera, Buena Visit Social Club, Cachao. Los Van Van, Bebo Valdés, and Silvio Rodríguez. Luminaries such as Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Nat King Cole, Bill Laswell and David Byrne have paid homage to this proud island nation’s extraordinary musical heritage and prominent chart toppers such as Pitbull have deepened these indelible ties with mainstream American popular culture. Havana is now the hottest destination for music lovers given the recent thaw in diplomatic relations between the Obama and Castro administrations. As the passion is rekindled and history is being made, Americans have become more interested in learning more about what Cuba has to offer. 

The Clive Davis Institute for Recorded Music and GRAMMY® winning producer, educator and TEDxHabana founder Andres Levin have joined forces to provide students with a truly unique, immersive, behind the scenes course that investigates the fascinating and complex inner workings of the Cuba and her burgeoning arts and music scene.  Participants will meet the important stakeholders vital to this renaissance. 

This course is structured to accommodate learners of all abilities from beginners with no formal background in music to seasoned performers. NYU students across a variety of schools, departments, and disciplines will engage with materials that are appropriate to their level and will work under Mr. Levin’s supervision in groups and as individuals.

Students will listen to, understand, and be able to identity the various elements of Cuban music. Our survey of Cuban music history including Classical, Avant-Garde, Electroacoustic, and Afro-Cuban musical traditions will educate students in a variety of Cuban music styles and forms such as Nueva trova, Música campesina, Punto guajiro, Zapateo, Criolla, Rumba, Conga de comparsa, Son Cubano, Mambo, Salsa, Latin Jazz, Songo, Timba, Contradanza, Habanera, Danzón, Guaracha, Zarzuela, Nengón, Changüí, Trova, Bolero, Canción, Batá-rock, Cuban Hip Hop, and Cubatón. 

Students will have hands on opportunities, if they wish, to perform and record with instruments essential to Cuban music including: Cuban tres, marímbula, bongos, congas, batá drums, timbales, cajón, claves, corneta china, maracas. bulá, segón, tambora, guitar, piano, and double bass. Through our classes, students will understand the materials used to manufacture these essential tools the trade. They will also be able to identify the parts of the instrument and their correct usage. Classes will provide an overview of relevant techniques for vocal performance in Cuban music.

Based on their skill level, students may also be engaged in field recording or studio work in Cuba.  There will be opportunities for interested students to participate in event production, including an introduction to staffing logistics, equipment set up, design and lighting, and the role of the sound and lighting engineers among other topics.

Going beyond the standard tourist fare, students enrolled in this NYU program will engage and interact first hand with some of island nation’s brightest talents and greatest music professionals. Students will be immersed in the heart of Havana where they will discover the birthplace of some of the world’s most influential recordings. Students will have exclusive access to key industry personalities and learn the secrets behind this unique and transformative cradle of musical genius where secular and sacred art forms meld into one.  

Music & Culture in Western Cuba: Living Forms of Knowledge

IREMU-UT.1821 | 2 units

There is no pre-requisite for this course. This course will count towards Writing, History, & Emergent Media electives for ReMu majors.

This field-intensive course will provide students with the direct experiences of living traditional and contemporary musics and other cultural manifestations of Cuba, locating them in both a temporal and a spatial context, as well as in a personal context through encounters with practitioners in a Cuban social setting. In encountering phenomena new to them, students will be encouraged to think analytically about the processes of tradition; sharpen their Spanish-language skills as well as their notion of the Spanish language in the Afro-Cuban context; consider relationships between social and musical geographies; assess their personal relationships to the issues discussed; learn some basic concepts of ethnographic fieldwork; and, fundamentally, improve their knowledge of Cuban history and musical culture. Students will write and orally present final projects.

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR: Ned Sublette is the author of The American Slave Coast, The World That Made New Orleans, Cuba and Its Music, and The Year Before the Flood. Cofounder of the record label Qbadisc, he coproduced the public radio program Afropop Worldwide for seven years.

Arts & Culture of Cuba

IOART-UT.961| 4 units

This course provides a multifaceted understanding of Cuban history, culture, and arts from the period of Spanish colonialism, through the wars of independence and the Revolution, and into the “Special Period” of the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It examines the many political and cultural transformations and, consequently, how the country’s artistic legacy manifests the spirit of an era through literature, photography, music, dance, theatre, and visual arts.

In addition to class discussions and readings, students interact with the country’s leading artists, writers, and performers. Students also attend lectures, performances, and exhibitions at the Ludwig Foundation, ICAIC, and the National Theatre of Cuba.

The Cuban Image: 1959 to Present

IOART-UT.971 | 4 units

This course will use a wide cinematographic selection, the direct contact with visual artists and filmmakers, and the specialized bibliography and “life histories” of some of the protagonists, to study the cultural history and the main problems in the last fifty years of Cuban society.

A special emphasis will be placed on the cultural relationships between Cuba and the United States of America since the very beginning of the 20th century; as well as those from Europe and the so-called Third World Countries. Students will discuss the cultural processes and the artistic samples from different multiple perspectives such as race, marginality and social exclusion, the remarkable role of artists and intellectuals, and the cultural, gender and sexual identities.

The course will also analyze the Cuban model: the governmental support for culture. The course will explore the shaping of new cultural processes that conditioned iconographic and any other artistic creations, their evolution and the way they were experienced by individuals. The students will have to forge their own criteria taking in consideration the different perspectives of the available sources. Throughout the course there will be a “crescendo” on this viewpoint to provide a critical and multifaceted approach to contemporary Cuban reality, revealing the modifications on individuals and groups through time.

Thinking about the special nature of the consensus in the Cuban society students will face the transit of the “illusion of homogenization” that was generally accepted for more than forty years to the current “kaleidoscopic” society. The collective subject became invisible; the different individuals didn’t speak the same language anymore and couldn’t recognize their own reflection on an imaginary mirror. Therefore the possibilities to establish a new social consensus seem to be a utopian dream. Having a daily life almost immersed in the actual Cuban conditions the students will be in the privileged position of being able to understand the present crossroads of the Cuban society, its new contradictions and possible future paths.

All the students shall watch a minimum number of films, and reading the specialized bibliography will be mandatory. Students will work in teams and individually, and have to produce at least one written essay or an audiovisual material about any of the aspects included in the syllabus. Course includes artists and intellectuals as guest lecturers.


Program Dates

Spring 2017 (Tentative)

Charter Flight/Check-In: Sunday, January 22, 2017
Charter Flight/Check-Out: Saturday, April 29, 2017



Spring 2017: The application for spring 2017 is now closed.

Please note that this program is mandatory for all Recorded Music majors. Non-majors are invited to apply. If you are a non-Recorded Music major, you should apply via the Tisch Special Programs Study Abroad application portal.

For more information, please view our Admissions Calendar.


  • Academic Year 2016-2017 Full-time Tuition, 12-18 unit flat rate per term: $25,705

Additional Fees Include:

  • Nonrefundable Registration and Services Fee: $1,236
  • Program Fee: TBD
  • Media & Production Fee (Recorded Music): $275
  • NYU Housing (doubles, includes 2 meals per day): TBD
  • Flight to/from Havana from Miami: Approx. $850
  • Meals: $1,000-$1,750
  • CSI Insurance $155 

Please review the Tisch Special Programs cancellation policy.

Visit the NYU Office of the Bursar for more information on tuition and fees.


There are opportunities for financial assistance to study abroad.

Please review the Scholarships and Financial Aid for Study Abroad page for more information.


You will be housed in the Vedado district of Havana in home-stays (casas particulares). Students are provided with breakfast and dinner at their casas.

  • Double bedroom
  • Breakfast and dinner included in program costs
  • Limited laundry facilities on-site
  • No internet available in residence, but will be available nearby at additional cost
  • Rooms furnished with linens and towels included
  • No overnight guests allowed