021407 Buenavista Social Club AfroCuban All Stars, Havana, Cuba

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On February 14th, 2007 m’lady and I found ourselves on our second and final (to date) annual winter trip to Cuba.  The previous year we had booked into an all-inclusive in Camagüey and looking back we realized the only true fun we had was when we had gotten off the resort.  So this time around we took advantage of one of the standard super-cheap flight/hotel packages available and after two nights we bailed on our resort in Varadero and got a bus to Havana, spending the rest of our week staying with a local family who rented out their spare bedroom for around $25 a night.

We lucked out and found ourselves staying with a great couple right in the heart of Old Havana and our luck continued when we discovered that the Buenavista Social Club was scheduled to play a Valentine’s Day gig in the Old Square literally steps away from where we were staying.  

A brief inspection of this ‘ticket’ will reveal that it holds a Valentine’s dinner menu, and a one hundred peso fee.  We partook in neither, opting for a wonderful (and relatively inexpensive) dinner at one of the many nearby patios and choosing to stand just outside of the velvet ropes that separated the paying customers from those (like us) that were taking in a fantastic free show.

Cuba is a really great country full of amazing people, and they have more than their fair share of astoundingly great musicians.  Everywhere you go in Havana you’ll find them; horn players playing in tight harmony, guitarists with the oddest triple doublestop tuning, and the ubiquitous doublebass players who humbly and subtly hold the whole thing together.  In the street, in the bars, in almost every restaurant, from breakfast until closing time you’ll hear that very particular and identifiable Cuban rhythm, a sound that found it’s way to an entire generation worldwide when Ry Cooder produced this very band’s eponymous album and a music documentary came out bearing the same name: Buena Vista Social Club*. 

And so, on a beautiful night with an impossible canopy of stars overhead, in Havana’s spectacular old square with ancient-looking stone-arched buildings on all sides and smooth cobbled stones under our feet, we stood and shook our el culos to some of the finest music Cuba has to offer, and all of it on Valentine’s Day no less.

Fortunately m’lady and I aren’t prone to making a big deal out of February 14th but still, it was pretty darn romantic.

I don’t remember for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we found ourselves a pair of daiquiris somewhere after the show and maybe even did a little stroll-swooning together while we sucked on our straws.

*Curious that the album and movie spell Buena Vista as two words and this ticket has it as one word.  I figure it’s either a translation issue or we actually saw a group of imposters cashing in by playing in a barely re-named Buenavista Social Club cover band. 

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