The Stories behind the Sonidos

Sonidos de Cuba (Sounds of Cuba)

In March of 2010, I travelled with my fiance to Cuba for ten days. Despite the short amount of time I spent there, I was overwhelmed by the complexity, culture, rhythm and pulse of the country. I brought with me a Zoom H4N portable recorder and gathered various snippets of the rich acoustic landscape. After returning home, I began using these recordings as a foundation for my own music. I spent many hours editing, warping, looping, filtering, sampling, and mangling the sounds to distil them into songs. Over the next three years, I created an album of electronic music that attempts to tell the story of this visit. I made this music in an effort to relive and restructure not merely the recordings, but the memories of my time there in order to share this journey with others. Hopefully you’ll feel transported as you listen and enjoy these Sonidos de Cuba.

What follows below are some edits from the journal I kept during our trip, descriptions of the recordings used in the songs, and some of the pictures taken by my wife Tania. You can see more of her pictures on her Flikr page here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sidebdesign/sets/

ImageDe Salida (The Departure)

This is the one field recording on the album that was not captured in Cuba. I recorded it during my first trip on the Canada Line Skytrain from downtown Vancouver to Richmond. The skytrain engine in this song conveys the modernity and mechanism of Vancouver as a contrast to the rich history and technological stasis of Havana and Cuba as a whole. The coughs serve as a reminder of the cold of winter, when Canadians often long to escape to warmer climates. The song is about departures, real or desired. It’s also about the process of travel. Air travel is often not fun. Security, customs, crying babies, long waits, delays, layovers, missed connections, uncomfortable seats, terrible food, impatient annoying selfish fellow travelers, and miscellaneous unexpected trials and expenses. It’s the destination that makes us go through this process. We go for the anticipation and excitement that arises from seeing and experiencing a new place and culture.

ImageTwo long flights and an extended layaway did not provide the best opportunities for sleep, and Cuba proved to be intense and surreal in our sleep deprived state. A little overwhelming at times, but that’s exactly what we signed up for by taking this trip. After getting off the plane at “Jo e Marti Airport” (The “s” was missing), we had a photo taken by customs before going through another security checkpoint. While sorting ourselves out in the airport we were approached by what I thought was security guard, who turned out to be a taxi driver. He directed us to a currency conversion kiosk, or Cadeca, where they accidentally dropped some of our money between the desk and the wall, then he led us to his car. No seatbelts in the back, very little cushion in the seat, and a noisy engine. The drive in was definitely surreal. Concrete hovels, horse drawn carts, motorcycles with sidecars, political billboards (¡Sociolismo o Muerte!), all winding back and forth through clouds of thick exhaust. We checked into the Hotel Plaza and collapsed on the hard noisy-framed bed in our utilitarian room.

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Jinetero (Hustler)

Our guidebook warned us about something called Jineteros: Habaneros that prey on tourists for pesos. Jet lag seems to make one an easy target for their wily schemes and charm. The recording in this song was taken from a crowd of Cubans in Jose Marti square, just across from the Hotel Plaza. They were shouting and gesticulating passionately at each other. Someone later told me they were probably talking about baseball.

During our first foray out of the hotel, we hadn’t gone far before a Habanero convinced us to take a horse drawn carriage tour of the city. Johan and Michel were real characters. Johan kept hollering at women as we went along, and continually explained why Canada is the best country in the world, and why Cuba is the worst country in the world.


ImageThey took us to the “Casa de Dos Hermanos”, a bar that Hemingway and Marlon Brando apparently used to frequent. There they told us we could get the best mojitos in Cuba, and they would even serve them in plastic glasses that we could take with us on the horse tour. Instead we stayed at the bar where we were talked into buying drinks for our guides. Once we left the bar, they took us through some side streets to show us how Cubans really live. They described some of the apartments as Iraq or Afghanistan, which was not far from the truth. Truly these people are living in some desperate circumstances.

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Many buildings were marked by bullet holes

They took us to a cigar factory, but first told us that they would afterward take us to a “market” where we could buy the cigars at half price because “the workers receive some of their wages in cigars”. We had no intention of buying cigars on our first day but figured it couldn’t hurt to see the place, thinking we could return after coming back from Vinales on the final leg of our trip. This proved to be a naive assessment. The “market” that I expected turned out to be someone’s apartment where we were told to shut the door behind us. We bought a small box of 5 “as a gift to the Cuban people”.

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Entrance to the “Market”

After the tour we returned to the hotel and crashed again. I woke up with clogged sinuses and bloodshot eyes. We stepped out to try to find a certain rooftop restaurant but ended up going the wrong way and took a long detour. We eventually found ourselves on a narrow street packed with Habaneros where we were approached by a man named John who spoke good English. He asked to take us to his friend’s house for dinner. We had heard of these paladares, Cuban family restaurants run out of people’s homes. We were pretty hungry by this point, still a long way away from our target, and eager to dive into an authentic Cuban experience so we agreed.

We had a lovely dinner of lobster, rice with black beans, salad, and bread. John’s friend Danny kept us company and translated for the hostess so we bought him a beer. Then John returned and it turned out it was his birthday (what a coincidence!) so we bought him a beer too. After dinner they wanted to take us to another bar for more drinks. When we got there, John and Danny had to speak with a police officer and Tania and I realized we were low on pesos and started feeling naive. We left the bar and were intercepted by a friend of John and Danny who explained that they would meet us at another bar.

Cuba_0655By the time we finished explaining to the third friend that we had no money for drinks, John and Danny returned and we had to perform the whole explanation over again. Once they realized there were no drinks, pesos or t-shirts to be had they disappeared without a word. The third friend said he would help us get back to the hotel, but instead he led us towards the hotel as far as the nearest dark alley where he asked for some pesos for his trouble. Over a couple daiquiris on the patio at our hotel, Tania and I resolved to be less naive. We’ll see how well we do with that. Hopefully blaming sleep deprivation proves correct.

 

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Calle Musica (Street Music)

After a long sleep we went up to the rooftop restaurant for breakfast. It proved to be the most comically unorganized buffet I’ve ever experienced. Instead of having a single buffet station with a single line-up going in a single direction, they had multiple buffet stations with multiple line-ups going in multiple directions. The food was tasty though. Fried eggs, sliced sausages, fresh fruit, fresh baked rolls, black beans, potatoes, and the finest machine-made automatic coffee I’ve ever had (although I admit I don’t drink much machine-made automatic coffee).

After breakfast we walked down Calle Obispo, a street frequented by locals and tourists alike. It was absolutely packed! We visited an open air craft market but mainly took in the sights and sounds. The history of Havana is apparent everywhere through the architecture. It’s somehow tragic and beautiful at the same time to see the faded opulence and decayed grandeur of this city.  Towards the end of Obispo we came to La Plaza de Armas and the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palacio_de_los_Capitanes_Generales).

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It served as a home to Spanish Captain Generals, Cuban Governors, and US Military Governors. It featured some fascinating historical artifacts and had peacocks wandering about the grounds. While there I also learned how the staff made some extra pesos off the tourists. As you wander about looking at the sculptures and relics they say “Hola” and ask you where you’re from. Then they say something about showing you something special and remove one of the velvet ropes and wave you in with several shouts of “rapido”. Once you’re in the “no trespaso” area they offer to take “very romantic” photos of you and of course expect a tip for their trouble. It was cute the first time, but it became more annoying with each insistent blue blazered woman.

We had lunch at a restaurant just outside the plaza. A band was playing but they had to stop because a they were drowned out by street performers. Stray cats, dogs, and chickens wandered about between and under the tables. After lunch we found the Catedral de San Francisco and Plaza Vieja. Part of why we took the trip when we did was because of an ElectroAcoustic Music festival, and the Catedral was one of the venues. We had a few hours before an Electroacoustic concert was scheduled so we had a few patio beers and listened to another restaurant band. We liked this one much better and bought their CD. Apparently the restaurant doesn’t pay the band, so after their sets they go from table to table for contributions or try to sell their CDs. The restaurant had one of the coolest methods of serving beer I’ve ever seen. They deliver these massive tall tubes with a tap at the bottom to your table. There’s a tube of ice in the middle to keep it cold. They call them metros. 

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After polishing off the metro we listened to the electroacoustic concert in the Catedral. There was only one live act where a man played saxophone (two at a time for the first song!) and a woman mixed electronic textures in surround sound. One piece had a video aspect too. Definitely interesting stuff, but not for everyone.

We then returned to the hotel for a catnap (afternoon beer made us sleepy) before going to a restaurant called La Abadia for dinner. Great food and drinks, dirt cheap, but half the stuff we ordered off the menu wasn’t available. When they delivered our food it seemed like it came from another building up the street. The walk there and back was very dark. There’s a lovely pedestrian walkway between Paseo del Prado and Paseo de Marti lined with trees, but at night it’s almost pitch black. Along the Malecon we realized from the lights on inside that a lot of the buildings that we thought were abandoned were actually occupied. We witnessed a woman walk out of one building to a burst water main gurgling water onto the sidewalk. She then filled up a bucket and walked back inside. After returning to the hotel we had beer and a cigar on the rooftop patio. 

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Seemingly abandoned buildings were often occupied

The next day we went to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes where they have an amazing and varied collection of Cuban works. We were particularly taken by the work of Wifredo Lam (http://www.wifredolam.net/en) Afterwards we went back to the restaurant with the metro beer pillars for lunch because we wanted to try their hamburguesa con huevo and get another metro. We also tried to get money exchanged at a nearby bank to save on service fees, but neglected to bring our passports which are necessary for currency exchange for some reason, and changed our money at a Cadeca (Currency Exchange).

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We then crashed at the hotel for a bit before returning to the Museo De La Bellas Artes for another electroacoustic show. This one featured more live acts and was more inspiring than the last one. After the show we went to the posh modern hotel across the street from our hotel for dinner. Pizza with wine and we payed with a credit card. How un-Cuban!

The recording in this song probably came from the band at the restaurant near Plaza De Armas but there’s a chance it was the one that played in Plaza Vieja. Either way, I recorded a band in a restaurant to create “Street Music”. You can hear cutlery and chatting from the general ambience of the restaurant before the vocals and guitars strike up.

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Motopollo (Motochicken)

We happened to arrive in Vinales during their Carnivale, so this normally “muy tranquilo” village in the valley was transformed into a “poco loco” party zone. Our hostess Brunilda was fantastic. She didn’t speak much English, but she was very patient and kind. Through pointing and hand gestures we never had any real problems communicating.

Vinales valley and the surrounding Cuban countryside are absolutely beautiful. Thick, lush green jungle forests of palms and pines, tobacco and banana and sweet potato crops. Jutting mountains and rolling hills. The setting and the people were a welcome change from Havana and I wish we could have stayed longer. 

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What a welcome!

When the bus pulled to a stop, all of the Casa Particulaire owners were lined up on the sidewalk with signs bearing the names of their incoming guests. After arriving and getting settled, we walked up to the hotel Ermita, a resort on the hill removed from the town. When we returned. Tania’s stomach started to turn and churn with what was probably salmonella from the huevo on the hamburguesa on our last lunch in Havana. She spent most of the rest of that day going back and forth between the bed and the toilet. Unfortunate, but hardly surprising as tourist tummy seems to be an inevitable malady here for foreigners. Brunilda jumped right into the role of surrogate mom and made Tania mint and anise tea. There wasn’t much I could do to help so I went to check out the Carnivale.

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I ended up being invited to the table of a trio of girls from Pinar del Rio: Two salsa instructors and a nurse. We had an amusing and awkward conversation and I learned some salsa moves. This night was only the pre carnivale where they have a fashion show. The outfits were traditional and conservative at first, then more racy, and eventually they just became downright bizarre. Fairy wings on one girl, and a violin outfit complete with strings and bow on another. 

The recordings on this track were gathered during our walk around the town to Hotel Ermita. There were chickens by the side of the road, and an old sputtery motorbike passed by while I was recording their clucking.  We walked past a group of noisy schoolkids and they started shouting at us. There’s also a recording from the horseback tour we took the following day.

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La Cueva (The Cave)

The next morning Tania felt a little better but still didn’t have much appetite. Brunilda served delicious fresh fruits at every meal. Papaya, bananas, pineapple, and oranges. After breakfast we did a four hour horseback tour of the valley.

Juanqui, our horseback guide, first took us through the valley to a cave where a couple guides led us through the pitch darkness to an underground pool. As they led us past the stalagtitos y stalagmitos my H4N recorder mysteriously started playing. I did a quick recording and playback to demonstrate the device and they were pretty amused. One of the guides seemed to share my love of noise making as he was almost constantly whistling, clucking, snorting like a pig, or doing Donald Duck impressions. Naturally I had to get some recordings of him as the ambience in the cave was fantastic. I was the only one to swim in the cave pool and modestly stripped down to my boxers. Tania pointed out that it probably wasn’t a good idea as I had no option but to put my pants back on over my wet boxers before continuing to ride “Ronco” the horse. 

Cuba_0485Next, we went to the “Casa” of a Campanero. He didn’t actually live there, but he gave us coconuts filled with coconut juice, rum, grapefruit juice, and honey along with a cigar. He explained and demonstrated the rolling process and offered the one he made as a gift. Then he offered to sell us some cigars that his father rolled wrapped up in a palm leaf. 24 cigars for $40CUC and we preferred them by far over the Montecristos we bought on our first day.

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After we returned to the casa, I invited Juanqui to join us for a cerveza so we went to the open air stand up the street. People kept greeting Juanqui – it’s a small village so I guess everyone knows each other. People kept telling us “he’s a good man, but his English is not so good”. We met his brother and his friend Ernesto joined us. His English was very fluent, and he was very well educated. He told us how it had been one of his goals to play major league baseball, but when the time came he wasn’t willing to leave his family behind for good. Apparently one of his friends did defect to play for the Chicago White Socks. His other two goals were to learn English and travel to a cold country. 

We popped in and out of Carnivale throughout the rest of the day. The music was pumping out of two massive stacks of speakers until 4am, and the real thick of the celebration was still to come after we left. The street was barricaded on either end and lined with stalls selling food, drinks, crafts, noise and light makers, shoes, and there were a couple carts filling 1.5L bottles with beer. I asked Ernesto about them and he said “It’s very low quality, watered down, and it gives you a terrible hangover”. 

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There was a bar adjacent to where the Carnivale was taking place so we went in there to hear some live music and get some respite from the Cubaton induced craziness in the plaza. The salsa band was like a Cuban version of ABBA. They had three front women with synchronized dance moves, one of which played the flute. We saw some fantastic salsa dancers while they played. Tania and I made an unsuccessful attempt to dance but quickly gave up.

Following the salsa band was a dance act featuring three women and one man in a garish blue sequins vest. After the dancing a man started singing to backing tracks in the middle of the dance floor. We left shortly after he started because we had an early bus to catch the next morning. We were up at 6am and had one last desayuno with Brunilda. More delicious fresh fruit and cafe con leche. Both mornings she even made us sandwiches to take with us for lunch. Such a sweet woman.

Cuba_0444The main street where we caught the bus was also where the Carnivale took place. The vendor stalls were all still set up and there was a number of people milling around one. There was also a few people sleeping on the street and one couple still drinking. We had a minor scare at the bus office when we found out that we weren’t on “the list”. We’re still not entirely sure what the story was there, but we had to wait before we could buy tickets.

 

Cuba_0263Una Dia en el Jardine (A Day in the Garden) 

On our last full day we had planned to go to the beach, but the intense wind and waves made that a bad idea. Instead we hired a classic red Oldsmobile Taxi convertible to take us to Los Jardine de la Tropical. The Jardine was made to be a destination for picnickers with a beer garden. Like many things in Cuba, it appears abandoned but is actually still used.

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We were greeted at the gate to the Jardine (which appeared closed) and immediately led to a small castle where an old habanero gave us a tour in rapid Spanish. He explained how it was originally used as a beer garden but now mainly for pottery and artwork. We missed most of the information he imparted due to the language barrier but it was still an impressive building inside. Outside the building we left him behind and toured the grounds. It was very picturesque next to the Rio Almendares with archways and spiral staircases and trees with vines that droop and become roots. A steel drum band was rehearsing while we strolled through the garden. We crossed the river and bought mojitos from a little outdoor cafe. Across the road was a military base where soldiers trained. By the river we saw a group ringing bells. We then noticed they were holding chickens and learned they were conducting a Santeria ceremony. As we walked along the Rio we noticed lots of feathers, a chicken corpse floating in the water, and a used voodoo doll lying on the ground.Cuba_0019

After we got back from the Jardine we tried to go to two art galleries but one had apparently relocated, and the other was closed that day. Instead we decided to just have a walk around the neighborhood of Vedado to see some of the beautiful mansions. We also visited Park John Lennon. Soon after I sat down on the bench with John Lennon’s statue, an old man told us to wait as he took out a set of round spectacles and put them on Lennon for our photos. We then had a huge lunch at a nearby “French” restaurant of snapper, lobster, chicken and pork barbecued with bread, rice, black beans, and salad. A stray cat had high hopes that I would share and kept persistently putting his paws in my lap.

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For our last night we decided to go see the cabaret show at the Nacional. It’s supposed to be the second biggest cabaret show in the city next to the Tropicana. The show was silly, cheesy, and fun with garish ridiculous costumes. There was an amazing acrobatic display where a man put a large rotating hoop on his forehead, then a woman climbed up his legs and shoulders to contort her body as she dangled from the hoop. At some point in the show we began to notice that a lot of the audience members appeared to not be enjoying the show at all. Some had deep scowls on their faces. They must have realized what they were in for when they bought the tickets, so what was their problem?

For this song I recorded the bamboo creaking in the wind at the Jardine. You can also hear the birds, a dog and at the end our guide saying “c’mon, let’s go”. He got pretty bored while I was recording and didn’t really seem to understand that I was trying to record sounds.

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These Swallows provided my vocal talent in “Una Vista del Malecon”

Ascensor (Elevator)

After returning from Vinales to Havana for the third and final leg of our trip, we stayed in a Casa Particulaire in an apartment in Vedado. Getting in proved to be more difficult than expected, but by now we were accustomed to things being more complicated than anticipated. There was no buzzer on the apartment building so the taxi driver leaned on his horn. A man in a neighboring building asked us what we wanted and a fair bit of confusion brewed from our cryptic notes on the casa. We were staying at Casa Zoila, but it had been booked by a separate man whose name and number was written on the same paper as the address of the casa. The taxi driver mistook the booking agent for the owner of the casa and told the neighbor we were looking for him which confused the man who told him he wasn’t there. Eventually we realized what was going on and Tania told him we were looking for Casa Zoila. “Ah si! Casa Zoila!” He then called her and she let us into the building and explained the elevator situation. In typical Cuban fashion, the elevator doesn’t stop on our floor. It doesn’t even stop on the floor below us. The old elevator had a neat rhythm to it so I recorded it and used it as the foundation for this song. While I was recording the elevator opened and a man got on and we had a rather awkward and  confusing conversation. You can hear bits of it in the song, but I mangled and hid it because I sounded like an idiot. I was working on the song in my basement studio on one particularly windy day and during the quieter parts I kept hearing a wind-chime. For a minute I thought it was in my recordings, but then I realized it was outside my window attached to the house upstairs. I took it down into my studio and recorded it twirling around and used that for the chime rhythm in the song.

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They were still in the midst of cleaning the casa particulaire when we arrived as the previous tenants had only left an hour ago, so we sorted out the paperwork and went for a walk. We went straight to the Malecon, thinking we’d walk alongside the water to the Hotel Nacional, but we quickly learned that wouldn’t be possible. The Malecon is coated in large patches with treacherously slippery algae left by the waves of sea water spraying over its ridge. Tania bailed. She went down so quickly I just heard a yelp and felt her finger scratch my ankle. We decided it would be a better idea to walk on the opposite side.

Cuba_0353We walked past the Riviera Hotel, past mansions and large apartment blocks, a baseball diamond, empty pools, abandoned playgrounds, and monuments. At one point a guard whistled and motioned that we had to cross the street and couldn’t walk in front of a building. We thought it was some kind of jail, but it turned out to be the US Special Interests Building. Apparently this building exists in lieu of an embassy to represent American interests in Cuba. The US would display Anti-Communists rhetoric on a ticker tape board so Castro had a forest of black flags erected to hide the US propaganda. When we walked by I couldn’t see the ticker-tape display and the flag-poles were there (some had been taken down) but there were no black flags. Next to this strange building is a large open-air concert square called the Anti-Imperialist Stadium.

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By now we were getting close to where our map told us a bank was supposed to be. All the neighboring landmarks lined up, but we couldn’t find the bank. After asking at the gas station we found out that it had closed, probably a while ago. This proved our map wasn’t completely reliable. We used the Cadeca at the Nacional to get some CUCs from our Visa. We found out that our pre-payed Visa cards were pretty much useless here because no business in Cuba will take a credit card without a name on it. The Nacional was opulent and luxurious, and very well maintained. The grounds outside were tranquil and refined, and the inside was palatial. We had lunch at their outdoor lounge under a palm leaf roof. The food didn’t quite live up to the surroundings, but by now our expectations for food were low anyway. My stomach was also feeling rather queasy by this point and I didn’t have much of an appetite.

We rode our first CocoTaxi to get back to our casa. These funny looking, three wheeled jalopies are all over Havana. Our driver was quick to tell us that he loves Canada and showed us the Canadian sticker on the back of his helmet as proof. He even took our picture in the taxi with me in the driver’s seat. When we arrived at our destination he told me it would be “100 Pesos”. I probably could have bought a CocoTaxi for that much. We had wanted to go out to hear some jazz that night, but my queasy stomach sapped my energy. I kept feeling like I had to throw up, but never did (until the next morning after I brushed my teeth). We ended up staying in and watching some Cuban Variety show on TV called “La Descarga”.

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Una Vista del Malecon (A View of the Malecon)

Our casa particulaire in Vedado was lovely. It was fairly spacious and overlooked the Malecon. The only downside was that the phone kept ringing and we were never sure why. It seemed that the line was connected with our hostess, because it never rang long enough for us to answer. We had a corner suite on the top floor with a wrap around balcony. A thick column of cinder blocks rose up the center on each side of the building, and little swallows had made homes out of the gaps. We spent a good portion of time relaxing out there on the balcony. Sipping cervesas and Cuba Libres; watching sunsets and the waves crash on the Malecon; seeing pelicans, classic cars, and packs of stray dogs scurrying about. Below us was a large abandoned pool where kids would play soccer. This song was made from a recording I made on that balcony and was an attempt to capture the feeling of relaxing there. 

Cuba_0340We went to a place called the Necropolis de Colon, a huge cemetery made to house centuries of dead Habaneros. It covers something like twelve city blocks and houses thousands of bodies and bones. It’s the biggest of its kind in the western hemisphere. It was amazing to see. Obviously we took a lot of photos. A man approached us and started telling us facts about the place and the people within. He told us that the bodies are layered in the graves five to seven deep per family or organization. After a few years they are exhumed and the bones are put in smaller graves. Some of them feature huge monuments or mausoleums with staircases that descend into darkness. Very eerie stuff. We spotted a few graves with thick masses of flies and could smell the stench of death from a couple. Others had bottles of rum next to them in varying degrees of completion.

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After we left the Necropolis, we had lunch at a little diner, then meandered over to La Plaza de la Revolucion where the iconic visages of Fidel and Che overlook a large gray expanse of parking lot with a large statue and monument to Jose Marti on the other side. After Revolution Plaza we weren’t really sure what to do. We wandered along and went into a park to consult our map and decide on our next course of action. While we were looking lost checking our map, we were asked if we wanted a taxi. We wanted to go check out the big ice cream center but we couldn’t remember the name. Luckily Tania had brought our translation dictionary so we gradually figured out that we wanted the Copelia. The taxi turned out to be his Amigo’s car. He wanted to charge us 10 pesos but by now we knew that was a rip off and he quickly reduced it to 6. In Cuba you ask the taxi driver what the fare will be at the start of the ride instead of the end.
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Copelia had a huge crowd of people outside. We thought it was the lineup for ice cream, but they were actually all waiting for the bus. It’s a funny little place. Very retro-futuristic. There’s a round, flying saucer-like structure in the center with wavy blue concrete spidering out. A bit of ice cream really hit the spot as it was so hot out that day. We went into the nearby Hotel Libre for la banos and I found out it was once the Havana Hilton. It also has quite an interesting history as it was once used as a temporary headquarters for Fidel’s army, and as a Soviet embassy.

20110812-123627.jpgThis was supposed to be the night we went to see Gabriel Ananda in Los Jardine de la Tropical for the closing party of the Electroacoustic Festival but it wasn’t to be. First we tried to get out for an early dinner, but we didn’t leave all that early. Then we had a confusing time finding the restaurants we meant to check out. The taxi driver instead tried taking us to a paladare but there was no answer so he took us to another. We realized we wouldn’t get to the concert until 8pm which would make us an hour late. On the way back from the paladare it started raining, and then it started pouring. By the time we were back at the casa we experienced what I expect was probably a category 3 tropical storm. Meteorologists might disagree. The heavy metal rocking chairs on our balcony were rolling, the doors were rattling, water was pouring down the glass in rivulets, and a thick pool of water began to snake across our floor. I imagine it would have made a garden party at Los Jardine de la Tropical rather unpleasant. Getting information on the event had been nearly impossible. We didn’t know how much tickets would be, if it would be hard to get in late, if there would be a lot of people, how late it would go, or if we would be able to get a taxi back. In the end we decided to go to the Jazz Cafe instead.

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The jazz at the cafe was fantastic. Oddly enough it’s located on the third floor of a glass fronted shopping mall. It had a funny decor, with various instruments hanging from the ceiling. There were some strange patrons there too. We felt they must all be tourists, but later met a Cuban who proved us wrong. There was one group that wouldn’t stop taking pictures of themselves. They seemed largely oblivious to the music as they were too wrapped up in themselves. One vacant looking young man at their table wore a purple blazer over a white blazer with his hairless chest exposed. He had three lines shaved into his hair, an immaculately groomed chin strap beard, and white pants.

The band was a quartet: Keys and vocals, sax (soprano and alto) and flute, bass, and drums. They were really tight. Quick tempo and feel change-ups, virtuosic solos, and killer grooves. After the show, I came back from the bathroom to find Tania in conversation with a guy with short dreadlocks and a big smile.  “Languages are my hobby” he told us. His name was Yongli and his English was good, but his French was better. His German wasn’t bad either, I take it. He even has a Facebook account!

Havana is full of people making due with an idiosyncratic reality. Everything is just so old, decrepit, and unobtainable that concessions, coping, repairing, and jerry rigging become a way of life. Granted, I’ve only spent 10 days here so there’s obviously a great deal that I don’t understand. It’s a country that really gets under your skin. There’s just so much to take in around you that you experience a sort of cultural and spiritual overload. Through these sounds and words I’ve endeavoured in my own way to share a limited aspect of my short experience there. It was a fascinating learning experience for me, and from here I’ll move on to the recordings I captured while on my honeymoon in Japan and Thailand. Those will provide exceptional raw materials for the next album. The general quality of those recordings is superior to the Cuban ones because I took my Rode NTG3 shotgun mic with me and a contact mic. I hope you enjoyed my musings and music and are as excited as I am for the next trip!

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