HAVANA, Cuba — In January, a group of New Orleans musicians, including the Soul Rebels, traveled to Cuba to play at the Havana Jazz Festival as part of a cultural exchange of music.

They shared the music of New Orleans with very appreciative Cuban audiences and even joined Cuban musicians in a show of the bonds between New Orleans and Havana.

The Soul Rebels traveled to Cuba along with teens with the Trombone Shorty Foundation. Band member Lumar Leblanc told us the trip was a dream come true.

“I love Cuba, have been wanting to come for a long time. Finally was able to make it over here. We love it,” he said.

“The cultures just mesh so well, especially from a musical standpoint. I feel the spirit of the people and I love the vintage style. I love it, it’s beautiful. They try to hold onto their culture and I think they do a good job of doing it, just like we do in New Orleans. People love the authentic look of the city and we still have the jazz and everything like that and the spirit, that's the main thing.” 

On stage at several of their concerts, the Soul Rebels were joined by Cuban music star Cimafunk, who met them in New Orleans last year at a concert at Tipitina's. 

“I played with the Soul Rebels, they came to my concert,” Cimafunk said. “We made a really good mix. We passed one long day in the studio, jamming and stuff, so we made this environment and friendship.” 

That friendship was obvious when Cimafunk joined the Soul Rebels on stage in Cuba.

“I’m just so happy, you know Eric, to be here, and find the spirit of the people,” Leblanc said. “I know I’m here through music. What I find is that the culture here is the same as New Orleans. We have to keep bridging that gap. These people have a special thing that we have. You know we have that in our city, so thank God for the trip.” 

We’re pretty sure the Cubans who saw the Soul Rebels play are feeling the same way too.

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