Poem a Day 2015 #14 – Finding Music in Havana

Poem number 14 for April 2015. And another snippet from my Cuba journal:

The Music of Havana

Tuesday 28th June 2005

I want to hear some live Cuban music. After dinner I walk down to the Malecon to catch a scooter-taxi. The taxi driver is the biggest and blackest man I’ve ever seen, with the whitest teeth I’ve ever seen – they almost glow as night draws in. He quotes $5 to take me to Habana Vieja (Old Havana). He is loud and humorous and friendly, like most Cubans. He tells me “you need to find a woman. You haven’t lived until you have fucked a Cuban woman”. I tell him I am married. He says so is he, but it makes no difference. I say “no thanks”. He laughs and points out a few of the “chicas” as he speeds along the Malecon, looking more at me than at the road. I ask him where to find the best music. He recommends La Bodegita del Medio and drops me nearby. This area of Havana is well preserved: cobbled streets, no traffic, it could be an old part of Madrid or Barcelona. The Bodegita is a small, cramped, L-shaped bar with wooden partitions to the street. There is indeed a good band playing, nestled in the corner, backs to the street, guitar, double bass, maracas, drums and all of them singing intricate harmonies. The maraca player occasionally bangs his maracas on the partition. It the best I’ve heard so far, but the place is a bit touristy, and the beers are tourist prices i.e. $3 for a beer compared to the usual $1. After two or three songs, the guitarist passes around the hat and pushes their CD. I buy one for $10. I walk about 100 metres and hear another band. A more down-market but bigger bar. Ceiling fans, waitresses, cigar smoke. The band are OK. A female flautist does a dance routine with the male lead singer. I walk for another ten minutes and come to the Bar Monserrate. The band here really cooks: saxophone, electric piano, drums, guitar, vocals. The sax player is a virtuoso, sprinkling references to Gershwin in his solos. I wander further, past a derelict, partly demolished building in which chairs have been set up and there is an improvised bar in the corner, and a small stage. The band on the stage look and sound like the Buena Vista Social Club. Great vocals. But the rain starts, and it gets so heavy that they call the gig off. I get a scooter-taxi back to Vedado. A different driver. Not a good-time guy, a serious guy. No talk of Cuban women, but of Fidel and Chavez and a big deal they are pulling off.

 

 

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015

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3 thoughts on “Poem a Day 2015 #14 – Finding Music in Havana

  1. I’m enjoying these Cuban snippets as much for the memories of Cuba they bring back to me (I was there in early 2006) as anything. They are nice atmospheric pieces.

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