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Music in Cuba

If you have a “friend” who just came back from Cuba and won't shut up about how warm and pretty it was, there's a simple way to annoy them as much as they're annoying you. Just say “Guantanamera.”

Think of Christmas carols. Now imagine they were all combined into a single really catchy but really annoying tune. Now imagine that was played year-round, and you have some idea of what “Guantanamera” is like.

If you know Spanish, you might be able to tell that there are a number of variations of stanzas. If you don't know Spanish, you'll only be able to catch a single word.

While we were waiting in line for customs, Wyatt mentioned that he couldn't wait to be past it so he could use his phone to buy a song.
Ian: Guantanmera?
Wyatt: No, absolutely not.
A little later I realized that I was mentally singing it.
Me: Ian? When we're through customs, can I please punch you for getting that stuck in my head?
Ian started bobbing his head.
Ian: Dammit.
Me: Nevermind. It getting stuck in your head is more than enough punishment.

In light of that, it's not surprising that when we asked the Cuban students what music they liked to listen to, they all responded “yours. American.”

With the exception of “Guantamera,” most of the songs I've heard have been pretty enough, though lack of Spanish prevents me from enjoying the original music that much. There were enough covers of English and American songs to keep me recognizing things, though. Someone commented that since Cuban and American legal authorities weren't exactly friendly, they probably didn't need to pay royalties on the songs, which would explain a lot.

Most of the full-fledged restaurants we ate at had a band playing there. This could be frustrating if our table was right in front of the band and I couldn't hear or be heard by anyone I was eating with, but if I was sitting sufficiently far away, it was nice. During a pause between songs they'd pass around a basket asking for tips and/or seeing if anyone wanted to buy a CD.

There are two main kinds of musical groups I heard. Most of the ones in restaurants had a singer, in addition to instruments to back them up. They would be the ones selling CDs and playing a mix of Cuban, American, and British music.

The restaurant we ate in at the last night had no singer, and didn't sell CDs. They joined a lot of different groups on the street in this regard. For the most part, it was an eclectic collection of instruments playing acoustic versions of songs I recognized. Several guitars playing “Hotel California.” (This happened in Havana while Trent and Adam were buying books and Wyatt and I were standing nearby. They came up, talked with us for a bit, and then started playing. I'd had no idea the song was so long.) A violin and a guitar playing classical music on the street. (It was the first time I'd heard that kind of combination, and I found it really interesting.) A cello, piano, and some guitars playing “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and “Someone Like You.” (This was the restaurant the last night. Street musicians tend not to play the piano.)

Personally, I preferred the second kind, both because it was easier to talk over, and because it was more recognizably unique. I loved the combination of instruments I'm not used to hearing together with a song that usually sounds so different. In many cases, I liked the versions I heard in Cuba more than the original.

Except “Hotel California.” That song is way too long without lyrics.

Posted by Soseki 08:02

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