Drumming In Cuba

It all started at the Hotel Lincoln in Centro Habana. It always starts there…..Ah, the Lincoln….Listen, this is a really nice hotel. In Havana, to find a place with a/c, phones in every room, a color TV with CNN, and a friendly staff of attentive people, well, the Lincoln is pretty cool. I was met at the airport by the people from the Eleggua Project, the group I’m working with. They have offices in Canada and Havana and they do a great job. I had arrived at the Lincoln a day before most of our group, mainly to insure that all was running smoothly for our percussion and drum set courses. Our classes were to be held in the temple house of babalawo, a priest in the Santeria religion. We visited the house and met our hosts, Jorge Padrón and his wife, and our teachers, Miguel and drum set and Lali Gonzalez for percussion. Everything seemed so right and ready for our nine new visitors to the miracle that is Cuba.

Drumming in Cuba The first to arrive was Jeroen from Holland. And one of the first things we did was go to a wonderful ceremony called a “violin”. This was held on the 3rd floor of a building overlooking the Atlantic, on a balmy somewhat “cool” evening. A violin is a religious ceremony where the music is provided by two violins, a guitar, and drumming. The drinks were provided by the host. It was a very potent fruit punch. Yum! The music was gorgeous and the evening passed sweetly.

As our group arrived, we realized that we had a very good bunch of people. Matthew from New York, Steven from South Carolina, Tim from Minneapolis, Brigitte from Montreal, Marciano from Mexico, Jason from B’more, Brian from San Fran., and Don from Connecticut. We all clicked immediately…I knew this was goin to be good….

Our classes began with Lali patiently explaining all the sounds of the tumbadoras. Lali is such an excellent teacher and a warm human. We all began our classes with a smile on our faces. Miguel, our drum set instructor, is 17. Seventeen! What Lali has in abundance, patience and calmness, Miguel matches in exuberance and attitude! We began our drum set lessons with “mambo” and new bass drum patterns.

Drumming in Cuba After a couple of nights of hangin out at the hotel, the group was getting itchy to hear some live bands. When I was here in March, there were so many bands performing. Summer usually finds most bands out of the country, playing at Festivals and concerts all over the world. And so it was this Summer in Havana. But, everyone wanted to go out. What to do?? One of of guide/translators, Adiel, was on the phone checking out the clubs. Nope….I couldn’t find any good bands playing.

So, I found a local “bar” called the Palomar. Hmmm…..I went in to check out the band and came back with a B- report. But, hey, I couldn’t hold the group back. The reports that came back, when the group returned, well let’s just say that they had a very interesting time! The band was not that great, but the “ambience” was more than entertaining! Shall I go on? I think not!! Our classes continued as I checked to insure the content was working, that everyone was “on track” and that things were running smoothly. Our group seemed very content.

Life in Cuba is so different than what most of our group experiences in their home towns. We all learned that, immediately. We’re so used to our “things” and the immediacy of life outside of Cuba. In country, life moves at a MUCH slower pace….and one must accustom one’s self to this pace, or else be prepared to wait and be frustrated. Most of us worked right in with the Cuban concept of time. “Most” of us….

After the first week passed, there were many bands to choose from, playing at Cafe Cantante and Casa de la Musica. We saw Novel Voz, a great a capella group, and Carlos Manuel y su Klan, at the National Theater. We saw Bamboleo there too. Klimax, we saw them twice. Piloto is one BAD ASS musician! Wow!! What a weekend!

It was the weekend and time to get to a beach, to chill and absorb the drumming and music. We went to Boca Ciega beach, a little East of Havana. It was a hot day…real hot. We loved it there…what a day! The next week held so much promise….more drumming lessons with Lali and Miguel. Music lectures with Dr. Olavo Alén Rodriguez at the CIDMUC, folkloric drumming events, concerts, and MATANZAS for three days. Matanzas, wow, what can I say. Our drumming instructor is Minini, leader of AfroCuba de Matanzas. Need I say _any_ more?! From 10 AM ’til 12:30 PM, for two days, we learned rumba, abakwa, and bembe all under the shade of mango trees. Minini is such a sweet and knowledgeable man. We learned the differences between Havana and Matanzas, and some of the history of rumba and abakwa. Great!!

Our hotel in Matanzas is 10 kilometers from Matanzas, surrounded by yucca, rice, banana and palm trees. I woke up one morning, early, to a fog shrouded dawn. Went out for a long run in the country. It just couldn’t get any better.

One of the three days in the area we went to Varadero Beach. Please…is this one of the world’s most gorgeous beaches?!?! And then….it was over. But…..!!! One last evening at the Palomar for what I felt was a Felini-esque adventure! Those of your who were there know of what I speak. But, it was a great way to end this part of our adventure in Cuba. The band was kickin, the dancers were …um….dancing, the vibe was tight…..and then we bid adieu to the group. It was a wonderful trip….Let’s meet in Cuba again soon!