A number of years ago, Anne and I took salsa lessons and had our first taste of Cuban music. Whilst we enjoyed ourselves, we never really mastered the art. It’s like anything…..if you want to be good at it, you need to practice. Sadly, we didn’t. Now, after watching the Cubans on the dance floor and in the streets, I wish we had kept it up. It seems that they are born with rhythm running through their veins (as well as their hips and backsides). For them, when hearing any “son” style music, and, no matter what time of the day or night, they are soon into the rhythm, moving to the beat. Being in Cuba, we couldn’t resist the allure of the Cuban music and took another salsa lesson. By the end of the session we were “sweating bullets” (we credit Michelle, our American tour buddy, with that phrase) and some of the dance steps we’d previously learnt felt familiar again, so we tried them out at the beach.
“Son cubano is a style of music and dance that originated in Cuba and gained worldwide popularity in the 1930s. Son combines the structure and elements of Spanish canción and the Spanish guitar, with African rhythms and percussion instruments of Bantu origin. The Cuban son is one of the most influential and widespread forms of Latin American music: its derivatives and fusions, especially salsa, have spread across the world”
For me, it was the Buena Vista Social Club that really popularised son Cuban music. Wikipedia tells us that “the Buena Vista Social Club was a members club in Havana, that closed in the 1940s. It was also a 1990’s band, an album, a film, and the unofficial brand name representing the musical spirit of the original Havana club…..the success of the 1990’s band was fleeting for the most recognizable artists in the original ensemble: Compay Segundo, Rubén González, and Ibrahim Ferrer, who died at the ages of ninety-five, eighty-four, and seventy-eight respectively; Segundo and González in 2003, then Ferrer in 2005.” We were fortunate to visit the grave of Compay Segundo on our visit to Santiago de Cuba. On his headstone is a brass sculpture of his guitar, his characteristic hat, and 95 flowers – one for each year of his life.
At every chance, Cubans find a way to celebrate with music, dance and a little Havana Club rum. I’m sure the rum helps loosen the hips and improve the rhythm. Whilst in Trinidad, the town was celebrating its carnival, and we joined the local Cowboys as they drank rum, home brewed beer, and salsa’d to the music. In Santiago de Cuba our visit coincided with the festival of fire. The festival had nothing to do with fire, but was a celebration of dance and folklore.
It’s not just son music or rum that gets Cubans excited either. Whilst in Camaguey, we had the chance to visit a rehearsal of the Camaguey ballet company, one of two companies in Cuba. The other is in Havana. We also had the joy of watching a water ballet performance too. You can’t help but smile when salsa, bright costumes, tight swim suits, nose clips and water ballet are combined….it was an unexpected delight.