Opening Statement



Thursday, 5 February 2015

A Cuba Story 4: Tropicana Floor Show!

Read the Complete Story @ On The Road in Cuba!

March 1996!

[Continued] Then, a pale spotlight on centre stage:




"BABALU!!! BABALUAAA!!!", a skinny Ricky Ricardo look a like, a forgotten out take from the "I Love Lucy" show, breathlessly pounds away on his conga drum. The Tropicana Orchestra joins in. Dancers in swirling skirts, hips swaying round and round delicately balance fake fruit baskets on their heads. Everyone is looking pretty tattered and frayed but that hardly matters tonight! The show has begun; the spectacular extreme!


Striking a match, I light up a fine Cuban cigar I've been specially saving with the other hombres. A fine, thoughtful plume of smoke. The fragrance tickles my senses. You know, the whole trip is worth it if only for this one night alone! Whatever else the Cubans might lack they enjoy a rich sense of music and culture without compare. 

I can't pronounce let alone name the rich smorgasbord of songs and dance that we are treated to tonight! The rich array of horns, percussion and rhythm instruments. The stand up bass. Tres guitars. We are treated to Son-Montuno. Changui. Guaracha. Mambo. Bolero. Merengue. Yoruba. Afro-Cubano. Every strain and combination of Cuban musical styles there within! The list goes on and on. Absolutely fabuloso!!!

Suddenly, the Tropicana falls silent. A nervous Cuban Frank Sinatra gingerly steps into the limelight. In broken English he bravely attempts to croon "My Way" to the hushed audience. The orchestra awkwardly struggles to back up his foreign Broadway tune. Little of this would've been tolerated a little over a year or so ago. All eyes are upon us as they finish the song. A stunned silence. I politely clap. Whistle enthusiastically. Stomp my feet. Everyone seems pleased and gives him a huge round of applause!

And now, the act they've been waiting for all these years: It's the Cuban Beatles!!! With guitar strings made from stripped electrical wire. A battered old out of tune keyboard. Drum skins that have definitely seen better days. But nothing's going to keep them from their moment in the spotlight in this really big show!

Oh no!! Not Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da!!! Too bad I screwed up the ghettoblaster and we couldn't do our teaching thing! But the Cubans love it. Totally gobble it up. Then a few more songs. The Cuban Beatles throw in a McCartney number "Hope of Deliverance". Sadly fitting and all things considered quite sweet. And then OH NO! 

"Come up! Come up! On stage!", There's excited whispers and shouts. They know I'm fluent in English! Arghhh!

Well, you know we do what we have to do to fight the good fight. The Cuban Beatles break out into a rousing rendition of "The Ballad of John and Yoko" (Lennon not Lenin...). I try to help them along. I swear to god this is the only place in the world where ANYBODY will ever clap and cheer while I sing Beatle songs on stage or anywhere else. For an encore I show them them how to do the twist while the band bashes away at "Twist and Shout". I'm even really getting into it now. Ha. In Cuba nobody really cares as long as you catch the spirit which is about all they're going to get from me tonight!

Okay folks, that's about it! But no, no! "Speech! Speech!"

The Cubans love speeches. Long, long speeches like Fidel gives on t.v. at night. Truth be told I'd make a pretty lousy Spanish Communisto. Instead we indulge in a little patriotic good cheer. Always a safe bet. 

"VIVA CUBA! VIVA CANADA!", I cry out, pumping my fist in the air.

A sea of hands and fists wave in unison held high under the full Habana moon. Pretty crazy! Indeed they go nuts! Cuba's like that. It's truly an enigma. You've just got to love Cuba for being itself. Maybe it truly is impossible to figure it out. You've just got to experience it with your heart.

To be continued .....

RELATED READING: 

Traditional Cuban song + dance @ Santiago de Cuba Diary 4

Afrocuban culture, song + dance @ Santiago de Cuba Diary 5

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