lifeblood: listlogs: 1999v01n096-news


ig-news-digest        wednesday, june 16 1999        volume 02 : number 096


today's subjects:
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  [ig-news] notes from cuba: part 2  [sheryl jones <sljones1@facstaff.wisc.e]


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date: tue, 15 jun 1999 14:17:50 -0500
from: sheryl jones <sljones1@facstaff.wisc.edu>
subject: [ig-news] notes from cuba: part 2


[sherlyn's note: this message was originally sent to the indigo
girls mailing list at netspace.org.  this is part 2 of amy's
notes from the recent ig trip to cuba.  if you want to read it
on the www, the url is:
http://www.daemonrecords.com/beta/about/aamy.html]

part two of two 3-27-99


i had a full day today. emily, jennifer, and i went down to old havana
again. in the old cathedral area we went to the museum of colonialism. like
the museum of the revolucion, parts of the colonialism museum are also open
air. it is in an old palace type building, set up like a spanish colonial
house. the constant exposure to the elements from the open courtyard areas
takes its toll on the contents of the museum (the artifacts of the
oppressor;but we coveted them in all their splendor). i actually enjoyed
the museum of the revolucion, which housed the whole history and timeline
of fidel's revolution, much more than this one. the museum of the
revolucion was housed in the old palace which was reclaimed for the people
after the revolution. there were still bullet holes in the stairwell from
the taking of the palace. the relationship between cuba and the u.s. was
well documented from the cuban perspective & something we never get to see.
our government has been hell bent on defeating fidel and his communism for
a long time and there are many atrocities and covert activities to show for
it on display at the museum.


next on the agenda was sound check and rehearsal. no one seemed to know the
schedule so we just headed to the karl marx theater. the venue seats about
three thousand and is nice but very modest and with an eastern block vibe.
most of the government buildings have this certain look. the fancy
buildings are mostly diplomats homes and newly renovated spanish colonial
structures.


as the week progressed things are beginning to, as emily said, "shift."
artists are starting to lose sight of why we are here and are vying for
good placement in the show and many soap operas and weird dynamics reared
their heads. the program unfolds itself at sound check. they have to cut
some songs to get the show down to a realistic length. at first the song we
wrote with luis (st. elixir) was cut, but only because we lacked
assertiveness at that point. i decided that, due to the fact that we were
trying to get luis's rock band (bolsa negra) in to play the show, we should
insist on playing our song. giacomo and yosvany were instrumental in making
this happen. our song was in.


meanwhile, a question was posed as to whether the tickets were ending up in
the hands of the elite (and tourists) instead of the people. bonnie rallied
a lot of us to take a stand for the people and insist that the promise of
free admission on a first come first serve bases. as a point of
graciousness, the show was to showcase as many cuban musicians as possible
as well as to present the result of the creative collaborations. some
people who knew the ropes took advantage of this and teamed up with more
cubans just to increase their visibility in the program. ego seems to creep
into everything.


we ran the song and it went without a hitch. we decided to add barrett
martin on a second drum set. the cuban musicians learn parts so fast. for
example, yovany brought an extra keyboard player and taught him the song so
that he could be free to play saxophone. his friend learned the song almost
instantly. if the embargo is ever lifted, american musicians will be given
a run for their money. i guess the cultural embargo is lifted. but although
you can record cuban musicians, they are not allowed to make money on the
records, nor from licensing and distribution. they get paid in per diems
and a place to stay. usually you can get around this by setting up a
special account for the artist in the states. touring is especially hard.
the u.s. state dept. makes it harder by waiting till the last minute for
the special visa to go through. the american promoter takes a big risk in
booking the tour and putting up the money, they could lose everything if
the visa doesn't come through. on the other hand, some promoters get away
with making thousands and paying the cubans next to nothing with the
rationalization that its within the law.


after the rehearsal, giacomo and emily went to party given by a gay couple.
being gay is hard here, but there is a community in havana. a law was just
passed that you can be gay, but not in public...hmmm...


we went to luis and elizabeth's (his wife) mother's apartment for dinner.
elizabeth is a community doctor. she wishes she could specialize in sexual
dysfunction, but she is restricted to practicing general medicine. despite
the restrictions imposed by communism and latin machismo, elizabeth struck
me as very in tune and confident. although there is so much machismo here,
but in terms of jobs there is a certain communist equity between the sexes.
sexism manifests itself in complicated ways within the dynamics of
relationships. for instance, luis feels free to strut around in the face of
fidelity, and often sees women as sexual prey. at the same time, if this is
possible, luis respects elizabeth as a peer and for the fact that she is a
doctor.


we walked from the hotel through neighborhoods into a cuban night. we saw
once-grand homes that had been owned by the very wealthy which were turned
over to the people after the revolution, and are now often shared by
multiple families. the dilapidated state of the houses is an apt metaphor
for the revolution & through the revolution they seized autonomy, but fell
out of favor with capitalist countries and don't have any access to
materials that would maintain their infrastructure. when we passed one
housing area, a bunch of men yelled out to us laughing, "we have
everything!" the cuban sarcasm and defiance is intriguing and fun. on the
malecon, there was recently a billboard facing the curious embassy-like
office that gives the u.s. a presence in cuba which said "imperialistas! we
are not afraid of you!"


we saw a business with the sole purpose of cutting washer/dryer
combinations in half. the appliances came from russia, but only the washer
half works so people have the dryers cut off. we also saw a place that
fixes cigarette lighters. the cuban's fix everything; nothing is thrown away.


elizabeth's sister lives in an ominous ayn randian building. the lights in
the hallways were all out, because tenants take the light bulbs for their
own homes. the elevator only stops every three floors, so we made our way
through the darkness with only the dim flickering lights from old
television sets to light our way. when we got into the apartment, elizabeth
discovered that the gas had run out, so we had nothing to cook with. it was
a bummer seeing as how she had bought the food already. cubans live in a
constant wartime ration situation. still, while eliza describes the
"transitional times" (a term sometimes used since the fall of cuba's main
economic ally, russia) as negative in many ways, she then will point to the
kids laughing and playing unattended in the parks with no fear of crime.
kids are cared for well here because there is an excellent healthcare and
education system. cradle to grave policies in cuba insure that the very
young and the very old are not neglected. cubans are instilled with a sense
of community. after the hurricane in honduras so many doctors left cuba to
volunteer their services that castro passed a temporary resolution
forbidding doctors to leave the country. it's actually easier for
homemakers to travel abroad because they aren't formally connected to a job
ministry and its obligations.

we didn't think twice about the lack of food as we congregated with our new
friends. the discussion went all over the place from serious to hilarious
about music, politics, and society. the young musicians here are struggling
for freedom and acceptance of their own expression—might it be rap,
reggae, or rock. i pointed out that we struggle in the states to not lose
our folklore traditions, and that through gaining freedom of expression, we
sometimes lost sight of our traditional roots in the midst of our
rebellion. liven, the producer of bolsa negra, literally willed himself to
speak english, his eyes welling with tears as he described the purity in
his heart, his love of music, and his ambitions. the effects of the u.s.
embargo spill over onto everything and dampens a thriving arts community.
someone said its like the cubans are given the bat, the ball, and the
glove, but nowhere to play.


after "dinner" we took a cuban taxi to see yosvany's band play. there are
two taxi systems in cuba—the peso and the dollar cab. most of the peso
cabs are rickety old american cars (1950's) and are much cheaper. americans
aren't allowed to ride in the peso taxis, the drivers get heavy fines for
carrying them. we piled in to the 57 chevy anyway and tried to keep our
mouths shut—three cubans, three americans, and one guatemalan. riding
around in cuba feels like a time warp, with the old american and russian
motorcycles and cars, even the signs and souvenirs look like they are from
a time gone by.


yosvany's gig was at a remodeled sports club (or "remodelated" as yosvany
would say) & its heyday was in the 1930's. now it is a joint venture
between the cuban government and a spanish corporation. it only serves the
very wealthy & diplomats and foreigners;although i don't know how you get
rich in cuba. the contrast was absurd, going from the streets of cuba to a
palatial, exclusive club that was otherwise off-limits to our friends. the
gig was a family experience, with kids running around and yosvany's dad, a
legendary cuban folk/country star, playing percussion, singing, and
dancing. they played a mixture of cuban jazz, african, and traditional tunes.


my friends and i shared the folkloric homegrown in grimy best dressed postures


the elevator counting in bars of three cha cha cha we needed help finding
the one


3-28-99


signs at the ballgame-


xxxiii siera nacional de beisbol


deporte participativo deporte de pueblo


hombres de espiritu y cuerpo fuerte


deporte socialista cubano

cuba vs. baltimore 1999 our wallets bulge we have dollars to spend
encouraging apartheid the exchange only one better than starving them out


we know they are better they let us win sometimes


we talk in romantic terms time seems to stop the fairy dust of
pre-revolution splendor we might feel better for the moment as we
infantalize but finally our lungs burst with toxic smog our stomachs reject
the sameness our grasp of the language falters our attention to detail
catches us off guard when the dog with bleeding testicles walks by again


we are bound to lose our appetites for this art and pledge allegiance to
the cleanliness of home

3-29-99


peace and quiet at last... i never thought i could embrace an airport
yuppie fast food joint. cuba is in my head now. i am ok to go, but the
images will never leave. at the jose marti airport this morning, we stood
in one line after another paying airport taxes, going through the departure
routine, jammed into a very small space with hundreds of people. i watched
large extended families breaking down in tears as their loved ones left. i
overheard some stupid americans complaining about the incompetence of
communism but they missed the point. the lines blurred and moved slowly as
families crowded around saying good-bye. this wasn't a time for expediency.


last night i met fidel castro. after the show, we were bussed over to the
presidential palace. the bus was crowded and some were complaining of
having to stand and it taking so long. we are so spoiled. we were led into
the palace and our bags were left at the counter. the security was very
unintimidating. the artist were set aside to meet him first;which seemed
fitting somehow for this country. we approached castro one at a time and
got to spend a minute of one-on-one time with him. i was visibly shaking
and my eyes teared up as i introduced myself. i know that this man has
participated in his share of violence in the name of the revolution, but
his ideals (a "man of the people") seemed to overshadow the reality of
war;this i have to ponder. i feel the same way about che;a man who was
dedicated to fighting the brutalities of imperialism but who also got lost
in his own machismo and violence. the zapatistas seem to be the purest
movement that i have been exposed to. i think of ingrid washinawatok who
recently was kidnapped and killed in colombia, south america, and one
reason to meet fidel is in her memory. but how disillusioning that a women
who fought for the people and sympathized with the marxist vision would
herself be killed by leftist guerrillas. this is the mix up of war. giacomo
decided not to meet fidel because he had been touched too closely by his
wars. fidel funded the left-wing guerrilla movement in guatemala and the
u.s. government funded the corrupt right-wing guatemalan government army.
so many people were caught up in the middle. i told fidel that i
appreciated what he stands for and that i would go home with a bigger
heart, then i kissed his hand...hmmm...i don't know what got into me, and i
don't even remember his response. he had a peaceful demeanor and struck me
as an old spirit who had been through a lot and sometimes may have lost his
way. he was very otherworldly yet human.


the reception afterwards was lavish by cuban standards but not the gluttony
we are used to. the palace is very mod and communist in its decor with
large dark rock formations inside and big white globe lights hanging from
the ceiling. emily and i left early and played guitar on the steps of the
palace;this would never happen in d.c.


the concert was a mixed experience, like everything else. there was some
posturing but i tried to ignore it and take in the last hours with my new
cuban friends. since we could hardly speak to each other, we just kept
saying "hola" and "como esta" and hugging;i love my new friends. i met a
cuban teenager in the lobby who was a big fan. he had heard only one song
of ours;"fugitive";off of some argentinean cd sampler. i was flattered and
excited that he had heard of us. i promised to send some music over to him
via guatemala. one thing i noticed about the show reflected back to our
late night discussions with luis and company was that the audience didn't
know what to make of the harder-edged rock and rap, but loved the softer
pop, blues, and traditional cuban music. the younger kids do have to go
against the tide to express themselves. the older generation may fear
americanization of their music, but much of the cuban jazz is also hybrid
from pre-revolution days. another highlight of the show was when me'shell
introduced me to assata shakur;an ex-political prisoner of the u.s. living
in exile in cuba. it was a massive honor to meet such a dedicated and
self-sacrificing civil rights activist.

we swear that we will remember promising god everything but we go through
customs and open our big fat impatient mouths.


a.r.

- ----------------------------------------------------------
sheryl jones
sljones1@facstaff.wisc.edu
cooper seay page:
http://www.geocities.com/colosseum/field/3349/cooper/cooper.htm
bootleg page: http://www.geocities.com/colosseum/field/3349/boots.htm

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