Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba

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Los Van Van

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Thirty Years of Cuba's Greatest Dance Band

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Mamborama CD

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Night of the
Living Mambo

 

 

Saturday, April 27, 2002

chucho's styleSomeone was pounding on my door around noon. I decided to ignore it, or pretend that it was someone else's door. But I was awake now, so I dragged myself out of bed, and looked out the window at the streets of Vedado. A guy in the street shouted "Bill?" It was Kevin Moore's friend and bootlegger Jesús "Chucho" last-name-best-left-unsaid. No, it certainly wasn't that Chucho. As he came up to the room, I saw a note had been slipped under the door telling me to meet him that night at the Macumba for Los Van Van. He even included a drawing of what he'd be wearing, so I could find him.

Kevin had sent me a few hundred dollars to pay Chucho and another guy for all the bootleg concert tapes and videos they had been gathering for him for the last few months. Chucho handed me a stack of minidiscs and videos for Kevin. His big problem at the moment was that his minidisc recorder was broken, and he wasn't able to record any more shows. I lent him the one I had brought, figuring that he would probably have better luck getting decent recordings than I would. I told him that I'd see him that night at La Macumba; I was delighted to hear that Los Van Van was playing in town. I've seen them probably five times in the States, but I've always wanted to see them playing a home town gig. What could be better than that?

Conjunto Nacional de CubaAfter a few cafecitos, I walked over to a rumba my new friends from Casa De La Musica had told me about. The Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba puts on a killer rumba every Saturday at the Gran Palenque in Vedado. The cover is a mere five bucks, and it goes on all afternoon in a beautiful outdoor setting with a bar under a thatched roof. My friend Harón introduced me to a gorgeous young blonde named Anna. She was from Denmark, had to be nearly six feet tall with ice blue eyes. She is a piano player and has been staying in Havana since last October studying with Roberto Carcasses. Imagine that: six months studying music in Cuba, and she wasn't planning to go back to Denmark until July for her brother's wedding. Someday I want to do that.

I invited her to go to Van Van that night, but she said La Macumba was too expensive for her. I offered to pay her way—I wasn't trying to pick her up—I wanted to learn more about how she was doing what she was doing. We decided to meet at ten at a nearby café. She warned me that she might not be able to go, because some friends of hers might have already bought tickets for the ballet.

The rest of the afternoon was spent grooving to some incredible rumba and watching great rumba dancers, and the beer and rum flowed like a river. It felt so good to be back in Cuba. I envied Anna her Cuban life—two weeks is way too short.

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Getting to Cuba
(information for
US citizens)

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:

Cuba Travel and
Trade Restictions

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.

 
© 2002 Yo Mambo Music. All rights reserved.