Conjunto Folklorico Naconal de Cuba
Los Van Van:
Thirty Years of Cuba's Greatest Dance Band
Habana Y El Yuma
Night of the
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
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?
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 wayI wasn't trying to pick her upI 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 lifetwo weeks is way too
| next: Los Van Van en vivo >
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.