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The next night I went to a Manolito Y Su Trabuco show at the club atop the Havana Libre Hotel. I got there before the band started playing (not hard to do in Cuba, just show up anytime before one a.m.), and saw El Indio sitting by himself at a table close to the stage. I asked him if I could manage to record in Cuba, would he consider singing on a tune? Again, the answer was “como no?” I sang him the coro of La Gata Loca (the coro was about all I had to the tune at that time, along with the horn part that plays after the intro), and he started whipping off guias on the spot. The guy has to be the best improviser down there, he’s amazing. Needless to say, this strengthened my resolve. I was now determined to record at least part of the next Mamborama record in Havana. Later that night, I asked Riverón, the monster drummer for Trabuco if he would play. Affirmative. Eduardo, Trabuco’s bass player and Evelio the conguero also agreed to play.

After I rotated back to the States, I started researching equipment. I wanted something self-contained and portable, I didn’t want to lug around a computer based rig or a bunch of separate boxes. I ended up with a Roland VS2480CD, a complete 24 track digital studio in a case that is about two feet square, and about six inches deep. The thing only weighs about twenty pounds, but is one of the most amazing pieces of equipment I’ve ever worked with. I bought a bunch of microphones, stands, cables, headphones, everything I’d need to record anywhere I pleased. Self-contained.

For the rest of that summer, and through most of the fall, I divided my time between learning how to use that recorder and writing the tunes. I’ve never been a prolific writer. I’ve been spared a miserable existence writing jingles because I can’t just turn my creativity on and off like a faucet. Either a tune comes to me, or more often, doesn’t. Plus, my inner critic, God bless him, makes me throw out about three out of every four tunes I write. So when it came time to go back to Cuba in November, I only had five songs more or less ready to record. I hadn’t even finished writing the arrangements for all of them. So why didn’t I wait until I had more material before going? Because I planned on taking the stuff to Midem in Cannes to try to line up some licensing deals for the album. Midem is but once a year, always in January. It was time to go, ready or not.

But I had written my first Spanish lyrics, for La Gata Loca. It was originally going to be mostly instrumental, with vocals only on the coro and of course, Indio’s improvisations. But what a waste of an opportunity, to have the best singer in Cuba, and not use him on a full tune!

Talking to Kevin Moore of fame on the phone a few days before I left, he suggested getting Indio to write lyrics to one of my instrumental tunes. While he was on the phone, I played him the demo to what became Ven a bailar, and we both agreed that the melody would adapt well to lyrics. Again, como no? I had no clue for even a subject matter, but what would it hurt to see if Indio could come up with some lyrics? If he didn’t the tune still worked as an instrumental.

Finally, I was ready to go. For a guy that likes to travel light, I was doing anything but. The digital recorder in its case was about the size of a hotel room refrigerator. I had a long bag that looked like a set of golf clubs that contained seven mic stands and a bunch of cables. Another bag was loaded to the brim with mics, headphones, gizmos, more cables and an uninterruptible power supply. If the power went out while we were recording, I would be able to save what we had on the hard drive with this thing. I wound up being very glad I had it with me.
Driving to LAX, I was excited and happy to be getting back to Havana. A melody was running through my head. It was an eight bar melody that I had been playing around with for a couple of months, but it seemed determined to remain an eight bar melody and resisted all attempts to turn it into a song. Suddenly, due to my elevated mood I suppose, lyrics joined the melody! “Cuba, quisiera estar en Cuba. Yo canto al país, que me hace tan feliz.” Now I had a coro of a tune, at least! I scribbled down the lyrics and made a mental note to try to finish the song in Havana.

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Getting around Havana by taxi, part 2

Taxi Colectivos are the huge lumbering behemoths that travel along fixed routes. The fare is fixed at ten pesos, but the deal is they travel from point to point like a bus, they won't take you door to door. They aren't supposed to take foreigners, and often will ask one for a dollar for the ride. This can still be a bargain, depending on the destination.

You stand on a corner, hold out your hand at a ninety degree angle from your body (not pointing in the air, like hailing a cab in New York), and when the driver pulls over, you announce your destination by area (Vedado, for example), or a cross street that is perpendicular to one the taxi is on. The driver will either shake his head and drive away, or say, "Vamos," and off you go.

If they don't pull over at all, it usually means that the taxi is full, or the driver has made you as a foreigner and doesn't want to bother with you.

You share this taxi with up to five other people, and it will make stops along the way, depending on where your follow passengers are getting off.

The Coco taxis are generally a tourist taxi, these are the ones that are basically motorcycles outfitted with a hard plastic yellow shell with two seats behind the driver. They can be fun and scary, and I never take one if I'm traveling more than a couple of kilometers, because if there is just one person sitting in the back, the weight is very unevenly distributed, somthing the drivers never seem to take into consideration when they take turns at breakneck speed.

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