Monday, February 20, 2012

Holy Ritmo

Whoever desecrated the picture above by tastelessly printing "Pope Robot" across it was wrong as well as wicked, and worse, inelegant; "Pobot" would have been much better.  In any event, the Pope and his entourage were actually swaying to el son Cubano.

How can I tell?  Just look at that motion, the movement in the hips and back as well as head and hands!  The photo absolutely pulsates with ritmo.

In truth I guessed it from an article announcing Pope Benedict's desire to see Fidel Castro on his upcoming trip to the Pearl of the Antilles.  The meeting will depend on el dictador's fragile health.  The more fragile, the more urgent it would be for him to receive the Pope, one might think.
At present, the pope is only scheduled to meet Fidel Castro's younger brother, President Raul Castro, 80, whose formal title is president of the Council of State and president of the Council of Ministers.   
Raul Castro is due to welcome the pope at Santiago de Cuba on March 26, hold private talks with him in Havana on March 27, and see the pontiff off when he leaves Havana for Rome on March 28.  There is no mention of Fidel Castro on the official program.
Fidel Castro, 85, ruled Cuba for 49 years before his brother succeeded him in 2008.
How's that for lifetime employment?  And, he only had to redistribute his people's freedom away in order to secure it.

It was the mention of Santiago de Cuba (St. James the Apostle) that tipped me off to the Pope's predilection for Cuban rhythms.  Listen to this, take a look at the picture again, and tell me you don't see it.

The great Benny MoréEl Bárbaro del Ritmo (The Rhythm Barbarian) and his Banda Gigante (Big Band) ruled the Cuban roost between 1953 and 1959.  You know what happened that year!  If you need a hint, it begins with "R" and rhymes with "devolution."

What would have happened to Cuban, and the world's, music had Fidel's quest for justice  without mercy--cruelty, according to Thomas Aquinas--been thwarted?  Would the British invasion have happened?  Would "I Saw Her Standing There" have become "Look at that Mulata Dance"?

One interested observer had this to say about Cuban music after the revolution:
The oldest musicians in Santiago told me that, before the Cuban Revolution in 1959, there had been a lot of musical contact between Santiago and the rest of the Caribbean. For instance, calypso was very popular in Cuba in the 1940's and early 1950's and a lot of Cuban artists (including my friend, the late great Compay Segundo) had made calypso records. After the Revolution, Cuba had other priorities and the level of interaction reduced dramatically. As a result, Caribbean musical developments from 1959 onwards mostly didn't reach Cuba.
"After the Revolution, Cuba had other priorities."  That's cute: priorities like survival, staying out of Fidel's concentration camps, and getting your children to the safety of Florida even at the cost of your life, which, you may recall, Elian Gonzalez's mother paid.  (By the way, I'd have prayed that Cuban music would not evolve into Ska, which sounds like Reggae infused with Buggle-Gum!)

One thing that did happen to Cuban music is it moved to New York, fused with Puerto Rican rhythms, the Boogaloo and the Shingaling, and became Salsa.  Oh happy tyranny!

By the way, check out this movie clip if you'd like to know how shoulders and hips are meant to move.

As you can tell by now, this post has almost nothing to do with the holy father, and everything to do with pre-revolutionary Cuban music, which is no less compelling for the passage of time.  Fossilization is one of communism's specialties.  But even without it, this music would be timeless.

Time is one thing that stands still in Cuba--economic development is another, which remains arrested in a state of 1950's development.  That's only fitting.  Fidel's Russian masters were frozen in the feudal era for centuries, well into the 20th.

Cuban friends in law school told me that I'd love Miami, where I'd be considered a Lefty in comparison to Cuban Americans, the most conservative people on the planet.  That reminds me of the old joke about Fidel's converting Cuba into the largest country in the world, with its land in the Caribbean, its capitol in Russia, and its population in the US.

It's been a long time since I viewed "The Buena Vista Social Club,"  which was sad to me then, especially when the old-timers travelled to NYC and didn't even know who JFK was.  I think I'll enjoy it more now.

Long live Benny Moré and the rhythm that flows in Cuban blood.  May the Pope's mission be successful, so that the land of Guajira Guantanamera can rejoin the Western Hemisphere and commune with all of its cultures, not just the ones dominated by Leftist strongmen.

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