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realclearworld

Singing Of Cuba Without Ever Seeing it

Music is a great uniter. It requires no wealth to make, and is loved by rich and poor alike. It cracks class barriers and makes all races beautiful. In the most oppressed slave societies, music is all they have.
It unites because even if you don't understand the language, can't pronounce the name of the singer, wouldn't know the instrument played, never heard the style ... you can still fall utterly in love with it as your own.
That's one reason why castro's separation of Cuba from the world is so sad. While Cubans can never leave the island and its indigenous musicians get persecuted and silenced, there's still enough in Cuba's music to somehow spreads the earth and unite people like none other.
I first heard the beautiful voice of Celia Cruz from an crumbling old 19th century colonial balcony in ... Hanoi, Vietnam. I was so enchanted with that voice, not knowing anything about it other than what I had heard that I had to find out who she was, and write it down and hope I never forgot it. I didn't. Celia united people all over the world with her heavenly talent, even in farflung communist regimes on the other side of the world.
With her beautiful voice spreading the oceans, it's significant that her voice was nevertheless banned in her own country, the one she passionately wanted to see free. castro shut Cuba from the world and he tried to shut Celia's beautiful voice from Cuba.
But in Cuba, her death a couple years ago didn't go unnoticed - she was mourned there too. Cubans knew who she was despite castro's best efforts because the spread of music is as uncontrolled as the sea.
Just as Cuba's music spread the world from Havana, something else happened too. The locals in other countries started singing like Cubans too. It didn't start with castro's troops invading Africa, as is the legend. It started way, way before. If you have ever heard Benin's Gnonnas Pedro, the rich evocative deep resonant and pure voice of the Afro-Cubana, you know what I mean. He first found his voice in the early 1960s, and formed popular Afro-Cubano bands. He changed his last name from Pierre to Pedro in honor of Cuba's Spanish language, which he sang songs in, because he loved Cuba.
He sang Benny More's Yiri Yiri Boum with a deep passion, you don't even know that the song is about wanting a girl, all you can tell is that it's about a longing as vast as the world. Recently I listened to his mesmerizing 'Yo Prefeid El Son and thought a bit about the lyrics - he sings of being in cities like Santiago and Havana, passionately loving being there.
I wondered if he'd ever been there. I looked it up as many places as I could find. He never was that rich or successful in his life and died of cancer in 2004. All I cound find was that he had a few trips to France, and proudly represented his region at a Canadian music festival in Quebec. There is no evidence he ever set foot in Cuba. He simply adopted Cuban music as his own and it's beautiful, no nation, no nationality, entirely universal. Only Cuban music seems to be able to do this. What a sad thing, though, that like Celia, he too died before he could see a free Cuba. His music was just his own soul imagining Cuba.

1 comment to Singing Of Cuba Without Ever Seeing it

  • Henry Agueros

    Your words are full of beauty Mora. Try and look up an old Cuban Danzon titled "La Mora". You will be supprised at its beauty and rich soft tropical Cuban rhythm.
    Another jewel of the many jewels of Cuban music is "La Bella Cubana".
    Enjoy.