CUBA is drenched in music. You hear it everywhere, emanating from bars or homes or religious ceremonies.

For many visitors, Cuban music is defined by the traditional sounds of the Buena Vista Social Club or Celia Cruz.

But Cuban music stretches far beyond those sounds; its roots draw on Africa and Haiti, France and Spain. Genres come together and break apart, like flocks of starlings at dusk, endlessly forming new shapes and sounds.

''THE show starts at 10,'' Claudio told us the night we arrived in the remote beachfront town of Gibara near the east end of Cuba.

We were on the hunt for Cuban music, and for a week, we'd been told a show would start at a certain time, only to spend hours idling in empty venues, watching the sound guys set up and waiting for the band to arrive.

So I asked Claudio if 10 meant 10, or if it actually meant midnight. Claudio, a good friend of the band we'd come to see, hesitated and smiled : ''Let's say 11.''

The clock on my cellphone read 2:11 a.m. when they finally took the stage. Within seconds we were enveloped by sound - bongos, scrapers, shakers, trumpets, sax and the falsetto of the singer, who goes by the name Cimafunk.

The band's nine musicians weren't just playing that night, they were partying. Cimafunk, whose real name is Erik Iglesias Rodriguez, with his four-inch high flattop, Bruno Mars-esque swagger and leopard-print Hawaiian shirt, open and flapping the breeze, was the center of attention.

The enthralled crowd of hundreds danced into the morning with their arms in the air, they seemed to know most of the words. It was a magical moment, and the one that the photographer Todd Heisler and I had been chasing on our trip across the island.

In an effort to better understand Cuba through its music, Todd and I traveled east from the capital city, Havana, towards Santiago de Cuba, in the southeast.

For 12 days past potholes and beach towns and rolling green hills, we went in search of Cuba's musical roots. We waited in the rain for midnight shows, ran out to central plazas to hear local orchestras and tried not to creak the floor boards during intimate recording sessions.

''I wish you luck in trying to describe Cuban music with words,'' Claudio laughed at me as we headed home that night in Gibara, after a stop for a pork sandwich.

''The way to know Cuba music is to hear it for yourself.''

Fusion of Havana : The Wednesday night Interactivo show in Havana is a good place to start a tour of the island's many sounds. Interactivo is a band, but it's also uniquely Cuban collective of individual artists pursuing their own projects.

The member ship has ebbed and flowed over two decades. Cimafunk is one of its alumni.

The low ceilings and round stage of the band's regular spot, the Centro Cultural Bertolt Brecht,make it feel so small and intense you could reach out to touch the bongos if you weren't so busy dancing.

The night we went, the place coursed with young, cool-crowd energy, as couples spooned and swayed to the music, while tourists twirled each other in the front row. Artsy looking smokers gathered in the foyer, and their smoke drifted over the crowd.

Interactivo is a 12-piece group, some times more, sometimes less. Its members are young and old, black and white, men and women. Its sound defies any particular genre, though an easy label would be ''Cuban jazz fusion,'' with bright horns, conga drums and electric keyboards.

The Honor and Serving of that latest Global Operational Research on Music, continues. The World Students Society thanks author Shannon Sims. 


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