Sunday, 2 March 2008


Every issue reeks different opinions.
There are some who see Cuba as a monster dressed in the clothes called Fidel Castro. And those who view Cuba as a wonderful place; sticking her brave tongue at the biggest nation on earth.
I am talking about the recent resignation of Fidel Castro. Cuban exiles have already made their points clear while media scrutiny still goes on.
I have met very few Cubans and they have always been the most wonderful people on earth.
One was Luison Medina, a percussionist. You might say entertainers across the world tend to be very wonderful people, but listen.
I jammed, played and hanged out with Luison in the small beautiful town of Bergen, Norway in winter, 1994. We played with some amazing, local Norwegian musicians. It was a small project focussing on Latin jazz and Brazilian music. In the thick of it, Luison wanted to learn some African rhythms especially from Tanzania. I showed him what I considered to be only a fraction of the subject.
He, in turn, also shared his Cuban rhythms. I kind of regarded the affair as an exchange of information.

Jamming with Luison Medina(right) Bergen, Norway, winter 1994. Pic by Amita Tiwari.

A few days later there was a knock on my door; El Cubano had a huge bag of fish.
“For you…” he announced.
Everyone around me wondered why he was giving me fish; actually loads of fish. Even though Bergen is a fishing town, giving someone so much fish was still peculiar, a brow-raiser.
“Thank you for the music.” Luison Medina said.
“What music?”
“You show me some wonderful rhythms. Take the fish.”
Long story short that was a lesson in Cuban hearts.
At the time I thought this fellow professional was a particularly, remarkable bloke. But then fast forward four, five years later. I am now living in London. Raul used to hang around the house of some Brazilian Capoeira players, in the northern zone. At first I thought he was a Capoeira master: he was colossal and well built. Raul, however, wasn’t even into exercising or sports. Known in our circles as Cubano, Raul was a mechanic: he had long dreadlocks, a slow gait, slow paced speech, slow movements, everything about him was slow and lingering. When we hear Jamaican people saying “Soon Come” they have this quintessential Caribbean rhythm, in mind.
I was slightly frustrated with my car. A mechanic had messed up with it, charged loads of money to mend a simple thing, which remained unfixed. The car was mishmash, a jumble. Raul not only repaired the vehicle; he charged less and in the few days that I was waiting, lent me his car.
“Don’t worry, Compay.” He would say.
When I say it took a few days to mend my car, it was actually over a week, he worked slowly, but I had his car to carry on, meantime.
Around 2000, I was making a CD.
In one of the tracks I needed a man to say something in original Spanish. I craved for authenticity. I used to run a show at the Spanish Bar Lorca in Stoke Newington and so Leonardo Alvarez Despaige, a Cuban, wasn’t hard to find.
“I will do it for you, companhero.” He promised. He was skinned, new in town and I recorded him. How much would he charge, I enquired.
“Don’t worry; anything. Anything.”
Hey! Notice.
One might say these guys were desperate to make some bucks in the West. That they come from a poor, improvised country known as Cuba. The disaster Cuba that we have heard so much.
Everyone has a different opinion about something.
I have encountered many people around the globe, I have hanged out with the miserable and desperate, but few have shown me this much soul. Call it what you like. Propaganda. Communism. Marxism. Have your opinion. In Tanzania we used to have loads of Cuban doctors. In the 70’s everyone who had been treated by them would say how patient they were, empathetic, caring.
“That Cuban doctor is so nice…he treated my mother.”
“Those Cuban doctors always have time for you at Muhimbili hospital. You see one, you are in good hands.”
You heard those sonorous, melodic, ringing words; all the time.
In 1977, I was a young reporter and Fidel Castro passed through Tanzania. It was at the height of the South African invasion in Angola. Cuban soldiers were helping Angolans in their fight against this apartheid led raid. We of the press congregated around Dar es Salaam international (nowadays Julius Nyerere) airport. Out emerged the tall leader, in his green fatigue, cap and pistol. He was so tall. A few seconds later we saw security services scuffling with a young woman who had apparently, (it was whispered) tried to harm El Commandante.
There were more than 600 attempts to kill Fidel Castro. Even after he has resigned old, sick and frail, some still wish him dead. You wonder. You wonder and you wonder, again. Everyone, of course, has and is entitled to an opinion.

1 comment:

dara said...

here in the US, we've always been told that Cubans are these poor dejected people wanting to flee to America. I have a friend who's in his 3rd year of med school in cuba. his education is free & he tells me that the people he's met are some of the happiest, friendliest, and selfless people he's ever met. even with very little, he says people are always feeding you and rejoicing with their music. just shows u there's always more than 1 side to a story