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With Dylan along the Cuban coast

January 7th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Been sailing along the Cuban coast – although I’m in a powerful boat, the island of Cuba is so long (getting on for 1200 kilometres) that it has taken us 24 hours to sail along the shore before we head south through the Westward Passage and towards the Panama Canal.

Seeing the lights of Cuba twinkling alongside us at night, I’ve been remembering some wonderful times I had at each end of the island in the past — both in Havana to the west but also in Santiago de Cuba right in the far east, the Cuban Oriente, home of son  and so of salsa, and a place like New Orleans which is just busting out with dance, music and musicians wherever you look.

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Perhaps oddly it also makes me think of Bob Dylan.  Why?  Well I constantly play him anyway when travelling and I’ve just been reading an intriguing new book, Dylan in America by Sean Wilentz, which is a reminder of what a musical magpie he’s always been – sometimes controversially as in recent years he’s been accused of plagiarism, which is as absurd as accusing TS Eliot of doing the same in ‘The Waste Land’.

It helped me realise why he likes The Clash so much that he played ‘London Calling’ (to my great surprise) at the last concert he gave at the O2 – a song completely unsuited to his voice but very suited to the rough rock ‘n’ roll quality of the Hawks-like backing bands he now favours .  Perhaps it’s because The Clash, like him, are just such musical magpies who pick and choose from a huge variety of musical styles, and also viewed themselves as the troubadours and custodians  of a whole range of styles of older music, from ska to rockabilly to the whole Sandinista library.

What’s this got to do with Cuba given that ‘Dylan does salsa’ is almost as unlikely a thought as ‘Dylan does a Christmas album’ (except that did actually happen and in fact Dylan has often strayed south of the border, ‘lost in Juarez and it’s Easter time too’, with Latin touches to his music and facial hair – that gaucho moustache).  Cuba too is an extraordinary melting pot of musical styles, far less homogenous than people suppose.  Santiago in the east regards itself as the musical heritage city, again much like New Orleans, with an authentic earlier form of son which was later much adulterated and commercialised in Havana by the nightclub owners and pre-revolutionary Batista American gangsters who ran the place.  

The American State Department is contemplating relaxing the current stringent restrictions on American citizens visiting Cuba.  What better way to celebrate this if it does happen than for Dylan to play Santiago de Cuba as the first visiting American musician? Probably one of the last places in the world he hasn’t played yet on his ‘everlasting tour’ and sure the Cubans would take him to their very large hearts as un músico con corazón e alma y cojones.  I’d love to be there to shake a tambourine.

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