Thursday, 16 April 2015

Cuba Libre

-Brian Mendonça

Perhaps what epitomizes Cuba most is jazz -- Cuban jazz. We had the rare opportunity to swing to slow jazz as the evening dripped into night. This was right here in Goa, deep South by the bay.

Cuba, which looks like a crocodile in the water, is in ferment these days. That’s not unusual considering its tumultuous history and the revolution of 1959 which brought Castro to power. Today the buzz is about the USA beginning to resume full diplomatic relations with the nation after a crippling economic and political embargo stemming from the cold war years. Along with the new thinking on Iran, US relations and the normalizing of them with Cuba and Iran have set in motion a new horizon of opportunity for its people and its businesses.

Swept by the seeming euphoria, I steered my trusty i10 along the winding roads of Salcette, branching left at Queenie Nagar and going downhill all the way. First came the Betalbatim circle and then the Colva circle. As we nudged into Sernabatim, the fields as yet untouched, greeted us with a somnolence which seemed a bit forbidding. As we swept right to the sea and negotiated the sharp, blinding curves, only the moon kept us company. Soon enough muted jazz music began to seep through the night – the strains were of ‘Besame Mucho’ – my mum’s favourite.

As we shuffled into our seats we were awed by the presence of Dutch drummer Lucas van Merwijk whose group Music Machine was showcasing Cuban Golden Classics on their India Tour 2015. Mesmerized by Cuban pianist Ramon Valle I sat on the edge of my seat leaving Queenie to do the ordering and dish baba his dinner. In the break Ramon and I shared the poetry of Cuban poets Nicolás Guillén (1902-1989) and Nancy Morejón (born 1944). Hugo Chavez is dead but Samuel Ruiz from Caracas, kept the music alive with his latin bass. Bert Boeren from the Netherlands on the trombone gave the night that unmistakable feel that we were on the streets of Havana.

Music Machine was hosted by The Live Music Project (TLMP) at Baywatch, Sernabatim. These lads Vinesh Iyer and Darryl Noronha are bringing down great music to Goa. There is no entry fee. You just lounge around soaking in the music and feasting on the eats. (The fish fingers in tartar sauce and the kheema pao were particularly good.) And knowing that it is Saturday gives you the perfect reason to unwind . . .*

The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 had Russia and the US eyeball to eyeball over a nuclear base in Cuba. Amazing how the world has changed in 50 years. Cuba Libre / Free Cuba is the toast of the season where many Cubans can look forward to being reunited with their loved ones in the US. The evening of Cuban jazz made me go Caribbean once again. Right now I am reading ‘The Scissors’ by Cuban short story writer Antonio Benitez Rojo.

*; published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 12 April, 2015; pix courtesy

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