The polite name for it was folklore, but it was the daily stuff of peoples’ lives. Dancing and music were never very far away, It didn’t mean people were happy. It meant that — not for all Cubans, but for many — dancing was the way they walked, and singing was the way they breathed. It is still that way, which is one reason musically attuned visitors to Cuba today come home so excited.”
Ned Sublette in Cuba and its Music: From the first drums to the Mambo, 2004. Page 586.
We came to Cuba to get a week’s taste of what Brown students had a 4-month semester to absorb. Their native guide, our mentor Adrian Lopez Denis, implants in all of us the idea that the Revolution – even at its 50th anniversary – isn’t the most interesting thing about Cuba, and Fidel and Raul Castro aren’t the most interesting things about the Revolution. My own prejudice is that music beats sugar as the all-time expressive Cuban export; and that in Cuba the rumba feel of life will outlive and outrank the revolution in the long run. So this first 15-minute introduction is with a master of Cuban jazz and dancehall music, Bobby Carcasses. He’s a singer who plays congas, and flugelhorn and alto saxophone. You’ll hear him say that in sports and in music he is a decathlon man — “a decathlonist in art.” He drops other tell-tale bits of a Cuban musical profile: he’s a religious man who believes in reincarnation, to begin with. He lives and loves Italian opera, Miles Davis, the blues and Bobby McFerrin — that is, his music has no categories of nation, style or the moment. He makes light of his anti-American Castro government, which suspected that jazz was a CIA trick. And he believes in a dark unexplainable genius – and geniuses – in music. Duende is the Spanish word for “these dark sounds,” as Garcia Lorca famously put it, “the mystery, the roots thrusting into the fertile loam known to all of us, ignored by all of us, but from which we get what is real in art.”
This is the first of several posts from Havana — about the beat-up and tumble-down but all-the-more bewitching city itself, in conversation with the international architect Mario Coyula; also about a thrilling encounter with three American students at the Latin American School of Medicine — marking a sort of culmination of the civil rights revolution in the US and the most exalted Cuban vision of its own healing touch in a global healthcare emergency; and with Adrian Lopez Denis about a time coming when the US obsession with Cuba and Cuba’s obsession with its world role both fade — when fetishes give way to understanding and the unmistakable bonds of affections across the Straits of Florida.