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A CubaDupa Conversation

By Martyn 20 Mar 2017

CubaDupa 2016 LADY BUG OPERA 1 credit Amandala Photography Photo credit: Amandala Photography

Continuing the spirit of the infamous Cuba Street Carnival, CubaDupa is Wellington's vibrant street festival, and more importantly, a tangible homage to the creative spirit of Cuba Street and the Wellington community. This weekend, CubaDupa will transform Cuba Street, and the surrounding areas into a celebration of music, food, dance, theatre and art. With local cafes, restaurants and bars spilling onto the streets and laneways, and parades marching up and down them, it's an explosion of colour, experience and stimulation.

In the words of CubaDupa artistic director Drew James, "The key thing about Cubadupa is that it is as much about the street and the audience as it is about the performers on stage. We get to reserve the streets for people and artists, and make something that is for a family audience and an adult audience, while staying committed to Cuba Street." Early in March, I sat down with Drew to talk about CubaDupa's different stages and the overall vibe.

CubaDupa Drew James 6 photgraphy credit Hannah Clarke
Photo credit: HANNAH CLARKE

"I love the mix of quirky businesses and fantastic hospitality up that end of Cuba Street. It’s a great community and scene."


"Upper Cuba Street has two stages this year. The upper Cuba Stage, which is the big stage we put into the festival in the first year which has been well supported by local venues like Southern Cross and Laundry. We also have a new stage, the Toi Pōneke Stage, which is more of an electronic stage. That gives it a bit of a point of difference and broadens that area a little bit as well. I love the mix of quirky businesses and fantastic hospitality up that end of Cuba Street."

A stalwart of the festival, the Upper Cuba Street Stage will showcase a diverse range of musical performances from the likes of Latinaotearoa, Olmecha Supreme, DJ PG (Brazil), The Beatgirls and The Eggs, as well as street dance, theatre performances and family activities. It will alternate performances with the Toi Pōneke Stage, where classic New Zealand DJs and live electronica acts like Rhombus In Tiki Taane, Dub, The Nomad,  and dFresh will do their thing alongside newer generation acts like A Girl Named Mo. Additional stages like Abel Smith Street West and Booth House, will provide extra street music and theatre options. With local businesses like Southern Cross, Laundry, {suite} and Fidel's doing their own thing nearby, it's going to be a fun zone.

CubaDupa 2016 BAROLOSOLO 5 credit Amandala Photography Photo credit: Amandala Photography

"We wanted to nod to the history of Cuba Street, and the idea that Cuba Street was full of dancehalls. It’s always been the center of entertainment for Wellington."


"One of the next key areas is in the Swan Lane carpark. We’ve created the Swan Stage and Dancehall with Wellington International Airport. We wanted to nod to the history of Cuba Street, and the idea that Cuba Street was full of dancehalls. It’s always been the centre of entertainment for Wellington. We dedicate the first four hours of each day to music to dance to.  We do dance workshops and look at the whole social dance area. You can get involved, learn some moves and have a play. I don’t like to call it main stage, but it’s a sort of center stage we call that Cuba Central that goes from Vivian Street down to Ghuznee Street."

CubaDupa's Swan Stage and Dancehall will feature a bevvy of big band performances from jazz, world music, reggae and funk ensembles like The Big Troubles, Tomorrow People, Superhero Second Line and Mass Cuba Street Funk Orchestra. It's also going to be ground zero for come of CubaDupa's immersive experiences like The Battle of The Saxes (100 saxophone players playing together)and CubaDupa's special Whakatau opening event. Adjacent to Swan Lane, the Glover Stage and the Marion Street Stage will serve up a mixture of indie rock, soul, punk, techno, psychedelica and beyond. While the Glover Stage is designed as more of a relaxed zone for chilling out on the grass, Marion Street will present a bundle of super talented and emerging new Wellington bands and electronic music producers like Hex, Alexa Casino, Earth Tongue, So Laid Back Country China, The All Seeing Hand and Borrowed CS. Building on this, San Fran will host a folk and country lounge on the Saturday, and local cafes and restaurants will provide delicious street food options.

CubaDupa edit 2016 MUSIC 9 credit Amandala Photography Photo credit: Amandala Photography

"Being a free event, we can present interesting work that might not be more commercially viable. From an artistic director point of view, that’s what I love about it. I can really throw anything at people on the street. I always look for stuff that’s high quality, but what I’m most interested in is surprising people"


"Then we have Lower Cuba, which is anything below Ghuznee Street, but also Leeds Street and Eva Street where Hannah’s Courtyard is. This area has a strong family feel to it. REACT (Rangiwahia Environmental Arts Centre) bring in plants, crates, boxes and props to create an interactive environment for families. ZEAL and Hotel Bristol also bring in stages for the Saturday night. ZEAL showcase a lot of youth performances, Bristol's Capital Blues Stage puts on a lot of local blues, funk and RnB bands. We’ve commissioned Orchestra Wellington to perform a short opera called 'Renard The Fox' several times in Hannah's Courtyard. It’s nice to be able to take something like opera and put it in the street. Later in the evening we have the bicycle-powered sound system. We have an outrageous cabaret punk performance from Princessin Hans. We’ve got things like The Aroma DJs, one of them DJs music, the other DJs smells to match the music."

Rounding things out, the Lowe Cuba section of CubaDupa offers up fun family friendly spaces, the opportunity to check out local teenage musicians and entertainers (the next generation!), loved local pub bands, and a variety of theatrical and dance-based performances. Duelling street boogie pianos, Yo-Yo demonstrations, Junk Instrument Making Workshops, it's all happening this week.

CubaDupa 2017 runs from 12:00pm to 12:00am on Saturday 25th March, and 12:00pm to 5:00pm on Sunday 26th March. To check out the full festival lineup and find any other details, head over to the CubaDupa website HERE. Find them on Facebook HERE.

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