Havana Musicians


President Obama is visiting Havana today, marking the opening of relations between our two countries. Last June, I had the opportunity to visit Cuba on a special Urban Sketchers trip arranged by Jim Richards. What a place! I have a lot to scan and write about, and I will be posting all week in celebration of the President’s visit, but for today, I thought I would begin by posting some drawings of Cuban musicians in Havana.


Music is a big part of life in Havana, as many people know, so I was not surprised to see these two gentlemen setting up shop on a street in the old city, very early on the first morning of our visit. The gentleman in the plaid pants exhibited classic Caribbean style, with an exaggerated sense of manners and elegance to go with. He was the leader of the group, which began playing as soon as the other members arrived:


They were wonderful! The lady on the right was in charge of the basket – and I was all too happy to drop some money into it. Life is tough in Havana, and while these people were playing and I was drawing, I was asked several times for items like soap, diapers, band aids. This was so sad to me, and I’ll write more about that in a later post. But despite the daily struggles they seem to face, the people of Havana were for the most part as warm and friendly as their reputation suggests.


At the risk of delving into cultural stereotypes, I certainly felt the passion, energy, and HOPE of the people coming through their music. It was soulful, joyous, and melancholy all at the same time. The musicians (above) were playing in a little club in old Havana where we made a brief stop. Glad I had enough time to capture the flavor of the music -very colorful and exciting!


Of course our first day in the city included a stop at La Floridita, a touristy bar that was once frequented by Ernest Hemingway. The local city scene outside the bar contrasted quite a bit with the tourist party scene inside, but the musicians who played there gave it their all. Again, full of passion. I have to say about Havana, that I love the people and I love their music- what a place. It was interesting, during our trip I heard a tourist say to one of the locals that, even though the Cuban people had a lot of economic hardship, they had a slower, more relaxed quality of life that could be envied by Americans. “I’d like to try it your way and then decide,” was the succinct (and quite polite, I thought) answer. Let’s hope that the US administration can see some way to start the Cubans along that path.

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