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Havana Cruising - The magical arts and music edition

by SV Crystal Blues 17 May 05:26 PDT
Music for the street, so much energy © Neil Langford, SV Crystal Blues

Havana absolutely rocks with music of all types - every second restaurant has a resident band for the lunchtime crowds, and usually another band for the evening session. So many musicians, so much energy, its hard to relax. I just wanted to hear all of it, to drink it all in, but it simply isn't possible.

In any afternoon you can hear five or six bands at as many venues, all playing to the street and the crowd inside. The guys in the first image above occupied almost half the floor space in the bar - in another bar the band occupied the entire space, and the patrons sat on stools outside on the sidewalk. The younger bands are mixing newer sounds into the traditional Cuban mix, adding saxophones and much younger interpretations of the Cuban classics.

Of course it is not all Latin rhythms - visitors can take in the Ballet, there are symphonic concerts, Jazz of all kinds. So many talented performers in one small nation, its hard to comprehend. I understand the government pays selected musicians a monthly stipend (yeah, probably only around US$20.00) and then schedules them to play where required - government owned restaurants, community festivities etc.

However many musicians are also part of the new economy, playing in bars and restaurants where they gather tips in the breaks plus (the big earner) selling CD's of their own music direct to the crowd. Those CD's are a kind of variable - sometimes you get what you heard, other times the music on the disk is completely different. No way to tell, but its worth buying the memories, and great to support the talent in a direct way.

Other art forms flourish here - from sculpture to lino cut printing, oil painting, even street art is an accepted genre.

Galleries and artist collectives are everywhere, creative processes are underway around every corner. Usually with an eye to the dollar, though not in a blatant way - these are educated people, subtle and proud.

It could be argued that even the traffic barriers in Havana Old Town are artistic - here they stop cars with canons. Old canons, hundreds of them, artistically buried / planted in the narrow streets to place limits on vehicle traffic, returning the streets to the people and creating a beautiful traffic free ambience in much of the Old Town.

Which leads us to that most complex of artistic disciplines - architecture. Havana can boast a good collection of Soviet inspired brutalist concrete structures from the 1960's, and then there is the Russian Embassy in Havana, which has to be seen to be believed (what were they thinking?).

However it's the older architecture that is so compelling, with fine restoration work proceeding apace on almost every block. In the heart of town the old Capitol Building is beautifully restored, along with a collection of significant buildings, including the oldest hotel, the Hotel Inglaterra (do not miss the rooftop bar at night).

Now to something more mundane, but far more personal.

At lunch in the Old Town, a young woman sat across the street and produced a sketch of me, then presented it at our table. This was not something we'd requested - she was an opportunist. Some minutes later she returned, and I asked how much she wanted - the answer was enlightening. "How much do you think it's worth? Give what you think, or give nothing, it's yours" she said. So of course I over paid. Go figure.

So capitalism is alive and well, and the people have a certain charm that allows them to prosper when they spot an opportunity, and Cuban art is a big opportunity.

In the past few years the internet has become widely available, and far less expensive, and the younger generation are right into it. This will rapidly impact their expectations, influence the art and change the country for sure - go see it before it changes too much if you can.

Finally, I believe that the Cuban people have raised vehicle maintenance to an art form - the massive number of 1950's vehicles (and older) that are still running is a tribute to their talent.

This article has been provided by the courtesy of svcrystalblues.blogspot.com

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