Habana Y El Yuma
Night of the
I love the charter to Havana from LAX. It only
goes on Fridays, and you arrive in Havana around seven oclock.
Plenty of time to get settled in your casa, and still head out for
some music. NG La Banda has a steady Friday night thing at Casa
De La Musica, so I headed there. It turned out they were touring
Europe at the time, but Azucar Negra was playing, so everything
was good. It was my first chance to check out the new singer, a
redheaded bombshell named Tanya. She is marvelouskiller voice,
terrific dance moves, great stage presence, and remarkably easy
on the eyes. I ran into some friends, and was back in that ecstatic
mood I only seem to encounter in la Habana these days. I was a happy
My plan was to stay in Havana for a month. This
had to be negotiated with my daughter, Lauren. Since the charter
only comes and goes on Fridays, your trip is planned by weeks, not
days. Lauren thought that coming home on December 20 was too close
to Christmas. It was bad enough Id be missing Thanksgiving.
I pleaded that the Havana International Jazz Festival was being
held that last week. She looked skeptical. Chucho Valdés
is the Musical Director of the festival! On hearing that,
she knew there was no use trying to talk me out of it, and gave
me her blessing. OK, you can stay til the twentieth.
So, the plan was to record the first three weeks,
and kick back and enjoy the jazz festival the last week. As I have
written before, you can make plans when you go to Cuba, but dont
expect for them to always go that way. They rarely do. I spent most
of the jazz festival week putting in twelve to fourteen hour days
in the studio.
But during my first few days there, I didnt
get right to work. I was a musical tourist again. Saturday night
had Pupy Y Los Que Son, Son at Casa De La Musica, and I was there.
Never pass up an opportunity to hear this band, they are mighty
and awesome. Sunday night, Manolito Y Su Trabuco were scheduled
for the new Casa De La Musica in Centro. I decided not to call Manolito,
but just show up at the gig and surprise him. I managed to hide
out at the bar, but was discovered by Indio. I told him not to say
anything to the band, and you should have seen their faces when
they saw me after they started playing. Fun.
On Monday, I started to get to work. I called
Marcos. The plan was to use the theater that Klimax rehearsed at
for recording the basic tracks. This began an ongoing nightmare
of logistics involving availability of the theater aligning with
the availability of the musicians, who had rehearsals and recording
work with Manolito that would pre-empt anything I was doing. For
days, either the theater wasnt available, or the musicians
werent. This went on for more than a week. Marcos mantra
to me was always, Tranquilo..., but I did remain calm.
I knew that in Cuba, things take time, and I had that, at least
a month of it.
Besides, it wasnt like being stuck in a
boring placeif I wasnt recording, I sure wasnt
bored, you can believe that. I decided to see if my friends in the
rumba group Iroso Obba were interested in having me record their
Sunday performance at Callejon De Hamel. They needed a better sounding
CD to sell at their gigs. They agreed, enthusiastically, so on the
next Sunday I headed over there with all my equipment, accompanied
by Michel, an engineer friend of Hector, Manolitos sound guy.
| next: recording
at the Callejon >
Travel to Cuba is, of course, restricted
for Americans due to the embargo/bloqueo we have against Cuba.
Still, travel there is not impossible by any means.
A travel agency that specializes in Cuban
travel can help you find out if you qualify for a license from the Treasury
Department to go. It can be as simple as faxing an affadavit to the travel
agency. Here's a link with all the official stuff:
As a musician, I qualify as a "professional
conducting academic research." This would also apply to artists,
architects, dancers, photographers, bio-tech engineers, etc. Cuban-Americans
are allowed one visis a year to see family members. Students can get a
license if their school has a program in Cuba. Journalists, and members
of the media also qualify.
Still, the vast majority of Americans who
travel to Cuba do so discreetly by entering through a third country, such
as Canada or Mexico. When you are in the airport in say, Cancún,
you buy a Cuban Tourist card for $15 or 20 dollars. This is what the Cuban
immigration people stamp when you enter or leave Cuba, not your passport.
You return to the United States with no record of your ever having been
to Cuba, except for those cigars and rum in your suitcase.