Dance to Cuba's tune
TRAVEL:Getting to grips with a country and its culture can be difficult at the best of times, but in a place as unique, confounding and often mystifying as Cuba, embrace the possibility that it’s not going to happen at all. Spending a few weeks listening to Spanish lessons in the car and reading Jon Lee Anderson’s epic account of Comandante Che’s revolutionary life will stand to you, but for a truly immersive experience, brush up your salsa shimmy and prepare to bust some moves.
Wandering around Havana in search of one of the city’s carnavales de Cubanos, at which to show off said moves, it quickly becomes obvious that finding a festival in this parish is going to be difficult. The music, mojitos, daquiris and dancing are everywhere. The whole city seems to be in party mode, and the Cuban crowd are well trained in the art of enjoying themselves.
Trying to find something in particular in Cuba can be frustrating: the trick is to roll with it, and when you’re searching for something else you’ll probably happen across the thing you previously needed.While looking for dinner, I ended up at the ballet. Having missed a festival in the south, I stumbled into the middle of two festivals up north. I got my hands on a ticket for the Plaza Jazz Festival while trying to book an internal flight.
In a packed Mella Theatre on the opening night of the festival, Cuban pianist Chucho Valdez, performing with his sizzling quintet on his home patch at the international jazz festival he founded, was out of this world.
Five-and-a-half hours southeast of Havana is the beautiful town of Trinidad, a time capsule that harks back to an era when the rich colonial sugar plantations made the place a bustling jewel of the Caribbean. Many of the musicians who provide the soundtrack that permeates Trinidad from early morning to, well, early morning, will provide music lessons for anyone interested. I hooked up with a percussionist and, besides the beat schooling, he provided some great insight as we chatted between slaps. His love for Cuba, his family, his bandmates and their music was obvious; that he and his Croatian wife choose to make Cuba their home is intriguing.
While living in Cuba doesn’t afford the same economic opportunities he enjoyed while living in Mexico or Canada, he says it’s a better place to rear a family, and because he is married to a foreigner, he has the luxury of being able to travel abroad when he wishes. He cites safety, medical care and education as the main reasons for choosing to live in Cuba. Having begun his career as a university mathematics lecturer, he found a career in music more rewarding, both financially and spiritually. A few mornings spent in his company, drumming, sipping beer, chatting, lizards running around our feet and hummingbirds buzzing in the red and yellow blossoms on the tree under which were taking shade, were moments to be savoured.