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Friday, May 10, 2002

The last day. In the afternoon I took Manolito's piano back to his house, but he was out, so I thanked him by email after I got back. The rest of the short time left was spent gathering up the various flavors of Cuba I wanted to bring home with me: two bottles of Havana Club, a half kilo of Cubita coffee, a few cigars, the usual stuff.

Reluctantly, I boarded the plane, telling the hostess that I did not want to go. I'm writing this after being back for nearly ten days, and I'm still in la habana at night when I dream, and my dreams are in Spanish. Riding in the car with my daughter, I hear clave in the alternative indie rock she plays on the stereo. I look at my watch, and I realize that some of my friends are at the rumba on Callejon Hamel right now, passing the rum and dropping into the hypnotic bliss of good rumba grooves. In my mind, I'm right there with them. En mi cabeza, soy Cubano.

Various thoughts and opinions:

Every musician, regardless of instrument or preferred type of music, should make the pilgrimage to Habana at least once to get humble. If you get to the point where you think you are a big deal, you aren't going to grow very much. The day after you get off the plane, you will most likely find a seventeen-year-old kid who plays your instrument seven or eight times better than you ever dreamed was possible. This is not depressing, it's inspiring. To see and hear Cuban musicans working their art, you realize once again that if you want to excel, you have to spend a lot of time studying, learning, playing constantly. Music literally fills the air in the streets of la habana. It makes me want to be a better musican. It makes me realize that music is a life-long journey with no arrival. There is always something new to play, and there will always be something new to learn until the day you die. ¡Viva la musica!

One thing that bugged me: When I was in Habana two years ago, every little bar and sidewalk cafe had a boombox that was constantly playing Van Van, or Issac, or Charanaga Habanera. They still have the boomboxes, but now they are all playing American hip-hop. I heard Mary J Blige and Eminem far more in these cafes than I did any Cuban music. I even asked a waitress in one, "Where's the Cuban music?" "We don't have any," was her reply, as if it were rationed and had run out. This bothered me on two levels. Primarily, I just didn't want to hear this stuff. I don't listen to it at home, it seemed completely out of place in Habana (well, not to the Cubans who were grooving to it). Second, it worries me about how it will influence Cuban music. Hip-hop is all samples and machines. No musicians required. One one bar atonal groove carries the whole lame tune. No bridge, no changes, no mambos, none of the sophistication of modern Cuban music. A minor gripe. Of course, I do realize that Cuban music is and always has been a fusion of many things; the African Yoruba music fusing with the music of the Spaniards and the French, all the way up to Charanga Habanera's obvious Earth, Wind & Fire influence. So, I'm not going to worry about it too much, but I still would much rather hear Van Van when I stop at a sidewalk cafe to cool off with a Cristal beer. Wouldn't you?

I'm currently scheming to get back to Havana, just like I did after the last time I came back. Hopefully, this time it won't take me two years to get back there.

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