Thursday, December 14, 2006

Musical Cubans

Everyone who visits Havana comes back with one overwhelming impression: Cubans love music.

Yes, Siree, everywhere they went in the capital city or in Santiago or Trinidad, they came across musical Cubans. Cubans signing. Or dancing in the middle of the street. Or playing instruments, even if it was the humble guiro. Those Cubans - they love their music.

Now, there is an element of truth here: Cubans and music go back a long way.

And despite the best efforts of the Castro regime to strangle traditional Cuban music back in the 1960s and replace it with ideologically-correct “protest” songs, the cha cha cha, the rumba, the son and the mambo all survived.

Sadly, there is another reason why so many talented Cubans today spend so much of their time singing and dancing and playing instruments, especially in the vicinity of say, tourist haunts in Havana.

In the latest issue of The Economist magazine, a columnist writes of his experience visiting Havana, including spending an evening on the roof-top of a crumbling apartment building in the city listening to a band of pretty good musicians.

When he asked why Cubans were, you know, so musical, the manager of the band told him it had a lot to do with money. Or rather, making a living.

A successful show at a tourist hotel in Varadero, he was told, meant band members could earn as much as US$50 each — around three times the average Cuban's official salary.

“This is one big reason why Havana remains, more than most, a city full of music,” the correspondent writes. “In the United States or western Europe music is a winner-take-all industry where a successful few make a lot of money and the rest work for love.

"In Cuba, a lot of verve and ambition is always going to help, but music is basically a job with better than average prospects of earning a living and making some hard currency.”


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