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A Visit to Havana, Cuba: Day 1, Part 2: Cuban Music


Cuba’s second language is Spanish.
Yes. You read it right ! 😃

First language of Cubans is music.
They speak music, they walk music, they breath music, they live music. If you have any doubts, you need to visit Cuba.
Every few hundred meters, just as you find Tim Hortons in Canada, you will find music bands in Havana. Cuban music is influenced by European and African music mostly brought along by people from Spain as conquerors and West Africans as slaves. Am no technical expert on music so i quote from elsewhere:

“SHORT HISTORY OF CUBAN MUSIC:
The Caribbean island of Cuba has been influential in the development of multiple musical styles in the 19th and 20th centuries. The roots of most Cuban musical forms lie in the cabildos, a form of social club among African slaves brought to the island. Cabildos preserved African cultural traditions, even after the Emancipation in 1886 forced them to unite with the Roman Catholic church. At the same time, a religion called Santería was developing and had soon spread throughout Cuba, Haiti and other nearby islands. Santería influenced Cuba’s music, as percussion is an inherent part of the religion. Each orisha, or deity, is associated with colors, emotions, Roman Catholic saints and drum patterns called toques. By the 20th century, elements of Santería music had appeared in popular and folk forms. Cuban music has its principal roots in Spain and West Africa, but over time has been influenced by diverse genres from different countries. Most important among these are France, the United States, and Jamaica. Reciprocally, Cuban music has been immensely influenti
al in other countries, contributing not only to the development of jazz and salsa, but also to Argentinian tango, Ghanaian high-life, West African Afrobeat, and Spanish “nuevo flamenco”.
FOLK MUSIC: The nati
ves of Cuba were the Taíno, Arawak and Ciboney people, known for a style of music called areito. Large numbers of African slaves and European immigrants brought their own forms of music to the island. European dances and folk musics included zapateo, fandango, zampado, retambico and canción. Later, northern European forms like waltz, minuet, gavotte and mazurka appeared among urban whites.Fernando Ortíz, a Cuban folklorist, described Cuba’s musical innovations as arising from the interplay between African slaves settled on large sugar plantations and Spanish or Canary Islanders who grew tobacco on small farms. The African slaves and their descendants reconstructed large numbers of percussive instruments and corresponding rhythms, the most important instruments being the clave, the congas and batá drums. Chinese immigrants have contributed the cornetín chino (“Chinese cornet”), a Chinese wind instrument still played in the comparsas, or carnival groups, of Santiago of Cuba.”


Below are two beautiful videos I have recorded from live performance by an all girl band in the hotel we are staying. Its absolutely phenomenal.

Cha cha cha

A Visit to Havana, Cuba: Day #1 Part #1: First Impression !




A city and a country frozen in time.
It jaw-droppingly transports you back to times your weren’t even born…in the 1950s and at places to even 400 years back. And leaves you stunned and mesmerized at the same time.

What a marvelous kaleidoscope of colors Havana, Cuba is in every sense of the word- from people to places to music to artwork to landscapes, to cuisine.

My first impression is of two Havanas- one for the tourists and the other for the local Cubans. The tourist areas mainly in the City centre are pristine, chic and modern. The old colonial and baroque buildings that now house museums, and some hotels have been restored to their fullest glory.

In aesthetics and class they beat any North American city. The residential quarters which mostly have the influence of French and Spanish architecture even in their derelict state leave you awestruck. With their receding glamour they still stand tall with beauty and grace, as if patiently awaiting for good times to restore them to their old glory. Most of these old quarters of Havana have been declared a Heritage site by UNESCO, so are being slowly preserved and looked after. Thankfully.

What matches beautifully with these colonial architecture are the vintage cars from 50s and earlier. That was the time of prosperity in Cuba when these cars were imported in large numbers. Once embargoes pushed them against the walls, little or no new cars can be 9mported. There are Dodges, Cadillacs, Chryslers, Buick, Fords, Chevrolets, Volkswagen and even Ladas(from Russia) from yesteryears plying on the road. Lada mostly used as personal vehicle by above average locals, I am told, is a status symbol for their, and their spare parts are imported from Russia and Panama.

Like the tourist-local divide in buildings, the old luxury cars have also been either refurbished and repainted into bright neon colors to cater to the tourists, while the austere Ladas or Volkswagens remain in old form, and used by locals for personal use.

Damned are these embargoes by the US and the Western countries, that Cubans remains stuck in mid 20th C with economic challenges.
What these wretched imperialist bullies could not put an embargo on is the zest for life and happiness of ordinary Cubans.
No Cuban child has delayed their childhood, waiting to play with American brand of plastic toys ‘Made in China’. LOL. Their playfulness finds simple, yet creative ways to make the best of their childhood.
No Cuban youth have waited to for flashing brand new Lexus, Toyotas, Mercedes Benz or even Hyundais to impress their prospective girlfriends and take them ‘for a ride’- both in letter and in spirit. Their old, 1950 models Volkswagen or Ladas, are enough to do the job.
No Cuban lover has waited for good economic times to take his beloved for a date in Western chain of restaurants (LOL), nor has a single one of them waited for deeper pockets to propose to their girlfriend with a DeBeers Diamond ring or gift her with an exotic Herme’s Birkin or a Prada handbag.
No Cuban woman has waited for Chanel or MAC cosmetics to make themselves look pretty (LOL). They still manage to carry themselves gorgeously, with minimal resources. I personally found every single young Cuban woman very well groomed and stylish. ❤
No Cuban foodie has awaited franchises like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFCs LOL to load themselves with massive calories from comfort fast foods or colas. Their own cuisine is exotic and authentic enough to not miss these useless calorie bombs that we in rest of the world have got hooked on to happily.
The obesity in youngsters here is hardly visible(though am not sure of stats). Just second day here, and we have enjoyed their seafood especially Shrimp caserrole, local black bread, Cuban coffee, guarapo( sugarcane juice) and Cuban ice cream. Since we don’t eat Pork, our choices remain limited. Locally produced Bacardis flow in abundance almost every few hundred meters.

Cubans 🇨🇺 are welcoming and warm. I am sure it is far more than just because they are a tourist economy. Not one single request to take pictures or ask them questions was turned down. And for sure, they open their hearts if they come to know you are a Canadian. 🇨🇦 Couples walk hand in hand in the open streets, kiss more freely than Americans get free healthcare. 🤣🤣🤣

We walked into barber shop to click picture, made video of kids playing football, walked to a wine bar to watch live music. And we were received with smiles. Being pushed against the wall and isolated by the world does hurt ones self esteem. But they have learned to live with dignity despite all the isolation. Embargo has done zilch to the spirits of Cubans.
Bravo these people with a heart ❤ larger that the size of their enemy country United States of America.

Contrary to the ignorant advices we got from those who never visited Cubs, it is an extremely safe place with only minor crimes that may impact the tourists.

We roam in day light and in the dark, and feel no major risk. Yet being a super cautious person, Ismail is making sure we stay in safe limits and keeping a check on, “Ammi don’t give out too much information in your interaction with locals.” My boy he is.
Every moment here is beautiful, but Ismail and I often talk of how much Fasih would have enjoyed if he was with us too. May you be happy wherever you are, you are being badly missed Babloo.
Missing my Fatima, Abdullah and Rahma too.
This was just the first impression..

Lots more on Cuban history, revolution, cigars, their art, music, museums, Earnest Hemingway home, its exemplary healthcare, human stories, need to be explored and shared in days to come.

For Manila with Love


“Hello Ma’am your seat is 47E. Not good. Can I give you an aisle or a window seat at a better location?”
Me: “Oh that would be so kind of you for going extra mile even though I had booked online and this is the seat I could book last minute.”
Him: “Maam here is 17A. Window and front seat with extra leg space.”
Me: “You guys are amazing. I loved every day of my stay here.”

As I check out at immigration after a 45 day stay in Manila, this favour without even asking for one makes me overwhelmed with gratitude and would love to pay tribute to Phillipines and its lovely, hospitable people aloud on social media.

Right from the moment my husband and I landed at Ninoy Aquino International Airport at Manila till exit today, and from immigration officers to taxi drivers to house nannies to senior executives in MNCs to doctors to nurses to porters to managers to ordinary street vendors to jeepney drivers to tricycle drivers to kids playing on streets Phillipinos are an epitome of politeness, etiquettes and culture. Please, thank you, sorry, are spoken with as fluency as our desis hurl gaalis.

It’s not that their lives are easy or comfortable but they have the exemplary patience to stay calm and sane, without honking horns or getting jittery in hours of traffic jams.
Most Philipinos are extremely sincere, hardworking and professional in their work.
Another huge quality in mostly all Philipinos I met is humility. They are also wonderful at enjoying their life the most with whatever is available to them.

Talking to a CEO of a company in a party she asked me how i found Manila.
I replied, “It is very similar to Delhi in terms of rich poor divide, high density population and horrid traffic, but Manila and Philipinos are way ahead in cleanliness. I did not see any litter even in poor localities.”
The lady smiled with pride and replied, “Yes that is true. We feel shame in littering. But let me tell you it was not like this 35 years ago. Manila was dirty. I remember in my youth there was a huge campaign against littering all over from city govt to schools. It took us almost 20 years to get here.”

Another interesting fact I learned about Philipines is that it was a matriarchal society before it was colonized by Spain and patriarchy was imposed. However, it is still known as a country of strong women. Two of past Presidents have been women. Even though still under colonial patriarchal influence to a great extent, one third of businesses are owned and run by women.

Below are some of the scenes from the old district of Quiapo in Manila which houses the largest and oldest Quiapo Church and the largest mosque Golden Mosque and a huge vegetable market in between.

I am extremely thankful to my daughter Fatima Fasih and her husband Abdullah because of whom we could visit Manila and learn so much more about these wonderful people.
I know Phillipines is not a common choice for tourism, but if one gets a chance please do visit to see their level of exceptional humility, politeness and hospitality.
I know I am going to come again to explore less metropolitan areas especially Mindanao and other islands in coming years.
Thank you Metro Manila for a wonderful experience !


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