Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hasta Siempre!

Cubans are some of the world's most talented and enthusiastic musicians and artists. No need to go to a club. Traditional bands perform everywhere, especially in restaurants, street corners and cafes, or anywhere where tourists are likely to gather. We'll remember this group in Trinidad, not only for the (real) stuffed alligator, but for introducing us to what became our favorite song - Hasta Siempre, a 1965 Spanish tune by Cuban composer Carlos Puebla. The lyrics are a reply to revolutionary war hero Che Guevara's farewell letter when he left Cuba for the Congo and Bolivia, where he was captured and murdered. The title is taken from Guevara's mantra, Hasta la victoria siempre (Until the eternal victory). 

Music is considered so important that there are special schools for young people who show interest and talent. I wish I could have studied guitar as a subject in school. It's possible here at the Ernesto Lecuona school of music in Sancti Spiritus where the students are ages 7-18. The building's in need of a paint job. The pianos are old. The sheet music is worn, but the kids are dedicated. A few performed on stage for our group. The highlight was a rendition of "Give Me that Old Time Religion'' sung in English with a Spanish accent. There aren't enough practice rooms inside the school, so the kids find space to rehearse wherever they can. 

Notice the uniforms. All the kids in Cuba wear them, color-coded to their age group.

Later in the evening, we spent a fun few hours dancing and watching performances at a block party hosted by a local branch of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. Every neighborhood and apartment block has a CDR which kids join starting around Middle School age. The groups were formed after the Revolution in 1959 to counter resistance, and "keeping away the enemies of the Revolution'' is still one of their stated goals, although they concentrate now mostly on neighborhood affairs such as recycling, health and safety issues etc. Most, but not all, Cubans join the CDR, although doing so generally makes life easier. 

These cool fashionistas couldn't be more than 10 or 11, but look at them swing.  About 50 people showed up and gathered in the courtyard of a white cinderblock high-rise. They set a table with bananas and grapefruit. Jesus, our guide, suggested we take up a collection and buy six bottles of rum as a gift. It was MUCH appreciated.

The Cuba Libres (rum and Coke) flowed freely, with everyone grabbing partners and dancing to salsa tunes.

Artists and musicians are Cuba's elite. They can keep all the money they earn, and enjoy special privileges, such as freedom to travel out of the country.  One of the most successful is Jose Fuster. HIs hose and studio in the suburban Havana neighborhood of Jaimanitas are on the itineraries of many tour groups.  

Starting around 1995, a time economic belt-tightening after the break-up of the Soviet Union,  Fuster got the idea to brighten up his neighborhood. His home is covered in ceramic tile sculptures, and now so is his neighbor's house, the doctor's office and many more homes - with their permission, of course. Fuster happened to be home when we dropped by. I had the chance to sit down and chat with him. What a character he is, dressed in a green Lone Star Auto Body shirt, green ball cap and big glasses. 

With every square inch of his neighborhood covered in colorful mosaic tiles, what more is there for him to do?

 “I have more ideas," he said. "Everyday, I have to cope with many challenges,’’ as do his neighbors, so his art has but one message, and that is the “Joy of Life.’’ When will he finish? “The end is never here.'’

Next: At home in Vinales

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