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Thursday, May 9, 2002

This morning (well, if you can call waking up at noon morning) I decided to conclude my business with Chucho "El Capitalista." I went over to his house and he showed me the various videos he was proposing to sell to Kevin. Chucho is one of those Cubans whose accent I find almost completely indecipherable. His teeth remain together when he speaks. About the fourth time I asked him to repeat something, he grinned and said in heavily-accented English, "You speak Spanish pretty good, eh?" "Como su inglés," I said.

Knowing that Kevin is the ultimate Timbaholic, I was able to eliminate quite a few from the package, knowing full well that Kevin would not be interested in Pedro Calvo or any various members of the Buena Vista Social Club. I handed over the money Kevin had sent, got my minidisc recorder back, and left with a huge bag of videos and minidiscs.

I walked across the park where Cubans were lined up for the Coppelia ice cream to stop by Manolito's house. He was still crashed out from the gig the night before, so I went to the cafe next door to cool out with a beer. A drunken loco came by, and started haranguing the customers to buy him a beer. The last thing this guy needed was more alcohol, so I politely told him I just wanted to sit and drink my beer in peace. He started to get aggressive. He moved on to the guy sitting at the table next to me, taking him for a tourist. "You rich tourists don't know what it's like to live in this country. Can't you at least buy me a beer?" The guy looked at him and said, "I am Cuban. Leave me alone."

The maitre'd and three waiters came over to escort this loco from the premises. He got very upset, and went around to the trash bin by the side of the cafe and fished out an empty beer bottle. I watched his every move from the corner of my eye. This guy was in that explosive, emotional state of drunkenness where anything could happen. He sat on the stoop of the apartment building next door, and when he thought no one was looking, he stood up and smashed that bottle in the street. He pantomimed that it had fallen from the apartment building above, and started in wheedling for a beer as if he had just arrived.

The four guys from the cafe once more told him to leave, and he got very agitated, shouting and cursing. By this time, two cops across the street at the Habana Libre were watching this comedy take place. The drunk stormed off in a huff, and pulled two empty beer bottles out of the trash. I started to gather up my stuffI was ready to bolt at any second. The loco went to the curb, and broke the bottoms of the beer bottles, creating two very sharp weapons, which he started waving over his head. The waiters just laughed. The borracho went out into the middle of the street, and as taxis dodged around him, he started shouting about the injustice of it all, and put the jagged bottles against his stomach, threatening to commit hari kiri right there on Calle L. Now the cops came, and I thought that was it for this poor bastard. In LA, the cops would have used this as an opportunity to see if their tasers were charged, or to try out the new moves they had learned with their night sticks. He would have been flat on the ground on his stomach with his hands cuffed behind his back in two seconds, and he would be very lucky if he showed up at jail without some major bruises. But these cops just calmly took away his beer bottle knives and walked him to the sidewalk. One of the cops put an arm on the loco's shoulder and talked to him for a few minutes. Then he walked the guy down to the corner, and sent him home to sleep it off. I was impressed by the tolerance they showed him.

I told the maitre'd "Gracias por el Espectáculo," (thanks for the floor show) and without missing a beat, he held out a palm and said "Five dollars." ¡Ja! Too funny.

Around six, Marcos and I headed back to Palenque for another killer meal. We invited Piloto to join us, but he was busy mixing some demos at his house, and invited us to come over there after dinner. So after packing ourselves with comida criolla, we headed out to Marianao in Marcos' Jeep. On the way, Marcos gave me a lesson in clave. "You have to learn to hear it everywhere. You can find the clave in everything, not just music." He told me to sing any jazz tune. I started singing the melody from Miles Davis' Solar. He instantly outlined the clave in it. And he's right. After three years of studying Afro-Cuban music, I am relating every banal pop tune to clave as my reference point. The clave is starting to replace the basic pulse or backbeat as my main time-keeper. I still have a long way to go, though. I don't tap my foot in clave like my friend Sonny Bravo of Tipica 73 fame does when he plays.

Marcos said that you can even apply clave to a conversation. "When you're listening to two people talk, or watching Oprah or something (highly unlikely for me), start tapping clave and watch how the conversation sometimes lines up with it. Later, at Piloto's when they were taking a break from mixing, I gave it a try. Yusef, Klimax's keyboard player and the engineer were having a conversation that was too fast to me to completely follow, so I started quietly tapping a fast rumba clave to go along with it. I tapped Marcos on the shoulder, and pointed out the clave I was tapping out on my chair. He smiled and started snapping his fingers quietly in clave. The back and forth conversation started lining up with the clave like coros and guias, and Marcos and I fell out laughing. The other guys, who were having a serious conversation looked at us like we were locos. What's so damned funny? Try this clave experiment sometime, it's fun.

It was interesting to watch these guys work on the mix. Digital home recording is starting to appear in Cuba and I wonder what kind of impact it will have down there. For Piloto, it means that he can record the band at a rehearsal hall to 16 tracks of ADAT, and bring it home and transfer it to a PC running Sonar for editing and mixing. A big difference from the old Egrem studio in Centro Habana where I had spent some time on my first trip two years ago. Walking into that control room was like time traveling back to 1978, even down to the monitors. Not that there was anything wrong with the equipment: those Studer two-inch 24 tracks still beat the pants off any digital system, and they have a killer selection of vintage Microphones. But being able to do your recording on your own terms and time can mean a great deal of freedom to an artist, and it will be interesting to see what sort of stuff comes out of Cuba once the digital stuff is available to more artists.

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