Shabnam Samoohi is an Insight Cuba tour leader and director of Direct from Cuba. She first travelled to Cuba through the educational program, Semester at Sea, in 1999 and she fell in love with the country. She was so impressed by her experiences that she returned to New York and began studying Cuban music and dance. Her passion for it led her to establish Direct from Cuba, an organization where she organizes concerts and programs for various Cuban musicians.
Initially, the performers were mainly Cuban musicians who left Cuba and relocated to the USA. Once visas were granted to Cuban bands in 2010, Direct from Cuba organized concerts with Cuban musicians who still lived in Cuba as well. Shabnam’s deep love of Cuban culture influenced her to become a tour leader, her love has grown exponentially since then.
She was asked by an employee of Insight Cuba to organize a compilation of Cuban music for a promotional CD that Insight Cuba would then send to prospective travelers with their brochure. The employee thought that Shabnam would make a great tour leader. Shabnam put the CD together and then decided to interview for a tour leader position.
As a tour leader, she guides passengers and watches them fall in love with Cuba the same way she did. Shabnam has lead a number of tours and her favorite is the Jazz in Havana tour. She writes, “I love it because it really allows me to put my knowledge of Cuban music to use, and at times travelers are then able to see the musicians I represent, which is always a very special experience for me.”
Her best reward is when she watches clients fall in love with Cuba for the first time. She also adores when they share their pictures after a trip. A client once sent her a photo calendar with unbelievable photos of their first tour with Insight Cuba and she loved it!
When asked, what do you like most about Cuba? She answered, “The people, the music and the dancing. I have traveled the world and have never seen another country that is so vibrant and alive. The people also have an unparalleled respect for the arts, which gave me my passion for the arts.”
Photo courtesy of Shabnam Samoohi Direct from Cuba