Tuesday 29 April 2008

Road Songs (Misterioso)

Whilst in Malaysia recently I, alongside my wife and children, was driven everywhere by my brother in law and his wife. And it was a pleasure to see the city unveiling itself before my eyes from the passenger seat. Coupled with my hosts' dexterity behind the wheel and their ability to mix explanations about the history and social make-up of Kuala Lumpu and the country as a whole whilst keeping an eye on the road, the feeling was of pure joy. And dexterity is a must-have trait when driving on the streets of KL. As I commented on the Living in a Bilingual World column a couple of weeks ago, drivers there cut in in front of you at the last moment leaving you with either wet knickers or a red, angry face. Or both. Luckily there were no near-misses and as both my brother in law and his wife conveyed to me people are so used to driving in that crazy way that no one thinks much of it. Add to this the fact that the police seem to turn a blind eye on most traffic violations and you could have a recipe for disaster. But it seemed to me at the time that most people knew the ingredients to the recipe and nobody wanted to put them together. The motto could well have been 'live and let live'.

This put me in a pensive mood as it usually happens when I'm thinking of themes for this column. For starters, even if we were able to hire a car in KL or a similar city with such a crazy traffic system (my darling Havana comes to mind), would I risk driving there when I am so used to laws and regulations in London? And secondly, if I did end up by driving in that city, would I try to abide by the laws governing the traffic, or would I copy the locals?

Same with music. We get used to so many different rhythms when we are growing up that it is hard to pinpoint what will be our genre of choice by the time we hit our teens. I still can't believe that with a father who worked and still works as a pianist and whose main remit was Cuban traditional music and a mother who knows her 'boleros' from her 'guarachas' I became a rock fan. But yes, that's what happened. When I turned 13 I became hooked on rock'n'roll. Little outside this music interested me and except for some 'Nueva Trova' and 'Novísima Trova' singers and musicians, I was a firm follower of Anglo-Saxon rock with the later addendum of the Latin American version.

It was very strange then that as my college years moved towards its twilight, I suddenly found myself one day at the 'Casa de la Cultura de Plaza' in Vedado attending the International Havana Jazz Festival for the first time. I had gone reluctantly; my mate had talked me into it. It was the place where I first saw Irakere live (after having slagged them off for the most part of a decade) and they blew me away on the night. But really, nothing prepared me for the musician who brought tears to my 17-year-old eyes, Arturo Sandoval. This was 1989 and as most Cubans know he would leave for the US the next year never to return to the island, but when he played his trumpet that evening, I understood for the first time what people said about spring, blossoms, flowers, renewal and revival. For me it was an opening, a secret door that let me through to another space and dimension, one which I had been ignoring for a long time on account of my stubbornness and which I had now decided to shed.

So, risks, there you have it. Some are worth it. Some are not. In my case, most of them, musically speaking, have worked. The other day as I was driving to the supermarket, making sure that the car was still up to scratch after having been left on its own for a couple of weeks whilst we were on holidays, I was listening to Aziza Mustafa Zadeh's album 'Dance of Fire'. It was just a short trip to the supermarket, but I was able to squeeze in the first three songs, 'Boomerang', 'Dance of Fire' and 'Sheherezadeh'. The combination of the warm spring sun streaming in through the window and the delicacy with which this Azerbi pianist slides her fingers on the black and white keys made me feel just like that day when I listened to Cuba's foremost trumpeter, Arturo Sandoval. And just like on that day a nice, big grin appeared on my face.

Copyright 2008


  1. compadre que empinG. es leer estas cosas a cada rato, vaya es que revivimos unos con otros, llegando de nuevo a la CaSa de la Cultura de Plaza, al JAZZ Plaza, a los conciertos de la novisima trova y por alli pa' lla coquito con mortadella...
    recuerdo los 90's como una fiesta con apagones...
    Creo que me lleve lo mejor de ese tiempo.

    un saludo, tony.

  2. Gracias, asere, Sandoval me llegó primero a través de "Vampiros en la Habana", pero ese día en la Casa de la Cultura de Plaza fue la primera vez que lo vi en vivo y... bueno, compadre, pa' qué contarte y si te cuento mueres, así que es mejor que no te cuente!

    Saludos desde Londres.

  3. Me ha gustado mucho este post. Es cierto que la personalidad de un pueblo se refleja con toda claridad en su manera de conducir. Recuerdo que en Italia decían que el tráfico era un caos, pero que no había apenas accidentes, como tú dices deben tener la fórmula que hace funcionar el desorden aparente. Pero de manera individual, yo diría que conducir despierta lo más agresivo de cada cual. Es curioso que el anonimato del conductor sea precisamente lo que le lleve a exhibirse y a realizar las mayores acrobacias. ¿por qué, si nadie va a reconocérselas? A mí hay veces que también conducir me parece una delicia, con la música o con la imaginación puesta.

  4. Bueno, me quedé un poco atontado con la combinación de Kuala Lumpur, el trafico complicado y la lucha entre el rock y los Irakeres por ocupar nuestra atencion en aquella epoca. Sin duda que Arturo Sandoval fue uno de los pilares de la musica cubana de entonces. Para mi también hay que recordar a Paquito y Chucho Valdez.
    Muy agradable reciordar todo esto.
    Al Godar

  5. Gracias escarola y al. Hay cierto nivel de riesgo que trae consigo el manejar de una forma particular y que está plantado en la siquis del nativo. El cubano ya está acostumbrado a manejar en la calle con cuatro bicicletas, una al lado de la otra, transitando por la calle como si no hubiera nadie más en el mundo.

    Al gran Paquito tengo que subirlo en algún momento. Lo hice el año pasado y no quería repetirlo. Chucho y Bebo tienen un video que me encanta y es el que encabeza mi perfil en youtube.

    Gracias a todos.

    Saludos desde Londres.

  6. Cuban, gracias por la visita a mi casa, pero sobre todo por los comentarios que dejaste. ¡ Joder! Estaba muerto de la risa, yo solo, como un imbécil, delante del ordenador. La verdad es que veo bien la escena y no paro de reirme. Saludos desde Barcelona.
    A propósito, compay, estuve husmeando en tu residencia, debajo del sofá, detrás de la tele, en los armarios de la cocina y encontré varios tesoros como a la Billie y el Robertico. Ah, la verdad es que metes un inglés, que ni la Queen!

  7. Gracias, vida, este es uno de mis vicios, la música. Y desde que saqué la cartera hace casi un año, me encanta manejar mientras escucho buena música.

    Saludos desde Londres.



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