Music in Cuba

One of the things I was really looking forward to was hearing Cuban music. I knew that I wouldn’t be going out to clubs, but I had read there were lots of opportunities to hear music outdoors so I was ready for that.

I did hear some great music, but a lot of it wasn’t what I was expecting.

Some musical memories…

An elderly man on a trumpet in a street in Old Havana playing the Frank Sinatra standard “My Way”.

The pianist in the lobby of Hotel Parque Central — I admit, a very expensive five-star hotel catering to tourists — playing You Are My Sunshine and the theme song from The Godfather.

Sometimes disappointment became irritation, like the time I and half a dozen other tourists were being driven to a park outside of Cienfuegos. The guide turned on the car radio and we listened to an Elton John tune and Celine Dion singing My Heart Will Go On.

Restaurants were a good bet for Cuban music. Although I often found the songs loud and interminable, most people were really swayed by the beat. A lot of the music was new to me, but every restaurant band I heard sooner or later sang Guantanamera and played The Godfather theme.

In Vinales, there was a band that played every night at one restaurant. I could enjoy them while dining at a restaurant across the street. One evening a woman passed by and spontaneously started to dance and continued until the music stopped.

One evening in Cienfuegos made up for it all. After dinner I went for a walk towards the town square with some idea that I might hear some music there. I was walking along a street that has been recently fixed up and is lined with upscale stores and an art gallery or two.

I heard children singing and realized they were behind a shuttered door. There was an opening just above my eye level, I presume for air circulation. I stood on tip toe to peek in and saw it was a small but very modern shoe store. Six children, about 10 years old, were seated in a row facing a young woman who played the guitar while they sang.

The light on the street was dim; the air was fresh and cool. Their voices were so sweet, I just stood for awhile to listen to them. I wanted to take a photo but I was afraid they would hear me and it felt too intrusive.

More was to come. I walked further on where a six-person group was playing the kind of Latin music I had hoped to hear. There were two women as lead singers and they had wonderful voices. They played electrical instruments and the technician was set up inside an art gallery. The group — called Cinco Pa I was told — played on the sidewalk.

Cinco Pa in Cienfuegos. This is clearer than the video below because I took a night shot. Not possible with video.

Cinco Pa in Cienfuegos. This is clearer than the video below because I took a night shot. Not possible with video.

Cinco Pa in Cienfuegos

An audience just gathered spontaneously and grew, with some people dancing and everyone enjoying the music.

There were places to sit and people began to gather. A middle aged couple with a young son walked by and they stopped and started to dance. The woman tried to get her son to dance with her, which he did very well and with the same kind of hip action everybody in Cuba seems to know, until he saw people looking at him. Other couples began to dance.

There was a master of ceremonies who seemed to be saying that this was a celebration, possibly of a poet since there was also someone who declaimed poetry in between songs.

I managed to upload a video, only part of a song unfortunately, to this location.

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