Key West, the southernmost point in the US, is closer to Havana than to Miami; but as far as the second half of the 20th century in the United States is concerned, Cuba might as well be in another cloaked dimension. In all the obscure and occluded years of Cold War relations, so little verified cultural information has escaped from this island so close: a condition that breeds myth and misinformation. But from what has reached us reliably, we have ascertained a few things for certain.
First, Cuba = baseball. Every El Duque and Liván Hernández that we’ve gotten to know has attested to the riches back home; and now that the gate is swung wide, no doubt remains. Whether baseball thrives in Cuba as the rare permitted Western decadence because Castro himself played the game at a level high enough to be on the radar of Major League baseball scouts is a subject of some debate. The truth trends toward nay.
Some have it that if Fidel had in fact been signed to a Minor League contract that one team seriously considered tendering, the chain of events that culminated in the Missile Crisis and the assassination of JFK would never have been triggered. After looking into the matter, the Daily Kos concludes that Castro “did pitch in at least one game for his intramural Havana Law School college baseball team.” It is therefore likely that some people need to chill with that.
Second, in a way similar to baseball in its disproportion, Cuba is inarguably one of the greatest music nations on the planet: the very soil of the global fusion known as the Afro/Cuban musical language and family of styles. The agonies of history, slavery, conquest and revolution really, really know how to make great music happen, and in Cuba the soul of music found one of its handful of truly magical formulas.
Words won’t do it justice, but if, in the standard story, European harmony is “high” and the street rhythms of the Caribbean and Africa are “low,” Cuba got it all mixed up: its rhythms so “high” that American musicians have struggled in vain to play and feel them accurately for 60+ years; harmonic development so sophisticated and elegant that jazz – the American classical music of the 20th century – has been obsessed with it for as long as it has been jazz.
In the American popular consciousness, Cuban music is mostly associated with the band + film + album + 1940s Havana venue the Buena Vista Social Club, in which one of the most knowledgeable and kind of all US musical imperialists, Ry Cooder, brought Cuban music legends out of retirement and (re)kindled a stateside obsession with the music of Cuba. That scene has stayed active ever since, and on Sunday, October 23 at 7 p.m., the Havana Cuba All-stars perform at the Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie in their American debut.
Drawing their inspiration from traditional Cuban son, the Havana Cuba All-Stars comprise some of Cuba’s greatest and most prominent musicians, and are devoted to promoting the entire tapestry of Cuban music.
Tickets for the Havana Cuba All-Stars range from $44 to $64 and may be purchased at the Bardavon box office at 35 Market Street in Poughkeepsie, (845) 473-2072, at the UPAC box office at 601 Broadway in Kingston, (845) 339-6088, or via Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000. Please note that Bardavon member benefits are not available through Ticketmaster.
Havana Cuba All-Stars, Sunday, October 23, 7 p.m., $44-$64, Bardavon, 35 Market Street, Poughkeepsie; www.bardavon.org.