Monday, July 13, 2015

Cuba Day Two: A Flag Flies in Havana

I have quickly learned that the experiences which occur in a foreign country in 24 hours are far too numerous to comprehensively include in one blog post. So, for the next week I will distill what I think are the most important takeaways from each day of the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, DC's concert tour in Cuba. My lense may be different from that of others, so I hope that my friends and colleagues on this tour will also document their experiences. 

Okay, enough with the oversized asterix...let's get back to Havana. While my first entry had us looking back, today's entry has us looking to the future. There's a lot of talk back home about flags lately, and the US is not alone. 

I awoke at the early hour of 6:30am to go to the gym - cliche, I know. I couldn't help but stop myself as I walked to the elevator and saw out the window what was, for many LGBTQ Cubans, a mirage. Something that the eyes may see but the heart can't quite believe. 

This is a photo taken in front of our hotel, La Quinta Avenida in Miramar. Among the many flags seen, including those of Russia, USA and Cuba, flies the pride flag. Proudly flowing in the wind, in front of one of the newest and more prosperous hotels in Havana (and a state-run entity), is a symbol of LGBTQ equality that is seldom seen on such public display. Having been only a very small part of this event, I can't do justice in words or any other medium to properly honor the importance of this symbolic act. 

It was not just the flag that struck a chord with me today. GMCW had the privilege of hearing and performing for the Mariana de Gonitch Chorus at Casa de la Amistad (the house of friendship).

There, a special thing happened. One of the songs from Mariana de Gonitch was also on our set list. Impossible Dream is a song that knows no borders - political or social. Our new Cuban friends belted it out with passion, sharing their experience and dreams. About an hour later, the Gay Men's Chorus sang a haunting a capella arrangement, sharing a different version of the same dream. You could hear a pin drop and you could see both Cuban and American tears being shed in the mutual understanding.

Later that night, we ended up in the Regla neighborhood where a few original Buena Vista Social Club members train and perform with the next era of Cuban Jazz musicians. The concert, emcee'd by a fabulous woman I can only describe as the Cuban Bea Arthur, featured a series of old guard singers who seemed to increase with talent, energy and dance moves as they grow older. Most of them were in their eighties (according to our emcee)!

In a spontaneous moment, Bea Arthur introduced the Gay Men's Chorus to the whole audience and invited is up to sing. It was a recognition not only of us as musicians, but of the advancing acceptance of LGBTQ people in Cuba. It is moments like these that we hope will occur more in the following week, and well beyond our time here. 

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