Cuban street music brought tears
On the advice of a friend who had visited before, I brought a set of guitar strings to give away. They are among the many things that are difficult or very expensive to get in Cuba, so I immediately looked for someone to give them to.Two standouts will be forever memories when it comes to the music we heard in Cuba.
A young woman who was playing on Cathedral Square in Havana caught my eye, since one of the strings on her guitar had broken and she was trying to play around it. Cubans have become accustomed to doing without and adapting, and that’s what she was doing.
When I approached her with the package of brand new guitar strings at first she didn’t seem to believe I meant to give them to her. A wide smile broke over her face as I placed them in her hand and then the tears began. Soon we both were weeping.
But our guide was telling us something about the square so I turned away to listen. A few minutes later the young woman played heartfully for us. And I teared up all over again. It was a windy day and the recording captured that wind over her music, but I’ll not soon forget this genuine people-to-people encounter
Earlier on a walk down Obispo Street, one of Havana’s main pedestrian walkways, I heard the most amazing operatic voice behind me. It came from a woman selling peanuts, who later introduced herself through our guide as Lisette. She told us she had sung Ave Maria for the Pope when he’d come to Cuba three years ago. And I could see why. I recorded her peanut selling song. Later I realized why it sounded familiar to me. I’m no musicologist, but I’m almost sure it was the inspiration for jazz great Stan Kenton’s “Peanut Vendor.”