Cuba's digital destination
This year, Drew, myself, and a few others went to Cuba and witnessed the first tour across Cuba by a Cuban rock band. A defining moment in rock and roll history, in Cuba and beyond. If you know anything about Cuba, about it’s history, then you know that this is no small feat. It’s a great thing, and I know that this will not be the last time. A Canadian punk band from Winnipeg, KIDS ON FIRE, in partnership with the new Winnipeg chapter of Solidarity Rock had been staging benefit shows. These shows raised the funds required to get Kids on Fire to Cuba and to facilitate the joint Canadian/Cuban tour of the country.
We had a tour bus waiting for us when we got there (wait until you see it!, it’s a huge old school bus painted all over on the outside with amazing political images). A far cry from donkey and cart, we would spend the better part of two weeks in it, traveling Cuba with two punk rock bands. The Cuban band is ARRABIO, I’d say a healthy mix of punk rock and classic heavy metal. A great band, a truly amazing set of guys, and now I’m proud to say… some really great friends too.
We toured across the country for 11 days. Our home base was Sancti Spiritus, a wonderful place, which up until only two years ago was called “a sleepy little city with not much happening in it” by the tour guides and travel books. Now, the same travel books hail it as “a cultural hub that is a place for musicians and artists to gather”. What a difference some gear and some courage make. The town is amazing. The main square, where we’d meet every day around noon, was where we consumed many fresh beers, lots of laughs and formulated plans for the day. It was a ritual, and it felt like home. We had our casa particulares (private accommodation with a Cuban family), two people per place, and it was like having a second little family. So friendly, so much respect and a ton of smiles. Lots of good food too.
It’s hard to write down all of my experiences there: the park during the evenings, meeting new people, having some amazing conversations. Ten cent pizzas, the music, the bus, the wacky folks we met, the cheap alcohol (oh jeez), the beach, the cities, the shows, the venues, the beaming sun and +42C weather, and most importantly the new friends we made.
We had two days on the beach, seeing the hotel patrons was funny to us, they go to a resort or hotel and see nothing of Cuba, we were fortunate enough to get two rest days out on the beach (not the hotel though, just the beach near it) that’s about all I can handle though, it gets boring after that much time. I sit on the beach, and it’s great, but after a while all I can think about is what’s back there in the real part of the country that I’m missing out on.
It all boils down to the people you share things with. Don’t let me forget a tour bus full of people yelling “super hambergasa!” over and over and over… and over, while the Cuban’s around us look at us like total aliens. The stories are endless. Literally.
I did all the rocking out I could, I went into incredibly crazy mosh pits with my camera to get some shots. I dangled myself out the bus window. I drank my fair share, stayed up late and made life long friends. I guess it was just a lot of things all going on at once. I’ll never forget any of it.
This year has been a hard one for me. I’ve been getting really busy with photography and the whirlwind of life had caught up to me. My father just passed away suddenly a few weeks before I was supposed to go on this trip. Drew had a similar loss in his family as well, a year ago, right around a similar trip to Cuba too. One night, having climbed to the roof of a broken down building, we stood up there, looking over this incredible city at night, shaky, covered in dust and debris from climbing up there. We started talking about how it is to be here, what it means. He offered me his thoughts and strength through this time, and I started to cry, I didn’t want to, but I had to give in. He talked about his loss, and he was crying too, two big tough looking guys wearing rock and roll t-shirts, standing on a roof crying. But honestly, it was a moving moment for me. It’s tough. People treat you differently, you just want to escape, but you can’t. We cried for a minute or two, but then realized what we were doing and started laughing a bit. I went back to our casa that night and broke down a little bit inside. Darryl, who was my roommate for the trip talked me down a bit and we really connected. I don’t know how to express how much I appreciated everything from both of them that night.
This was Drew’s 6th trip down to Cuba for Solidarity Rock. I met his friends, and now they are my friends. I will never forget you guys, and I hope I get to see you all every year. That’s a good dream. You made us feel more than welcome. I know Solidarity Rock has helped you all so much in Cuba, but I also know that you guys (and gals) have helped us as well. Live shows aren’t the same there as they are here, for many reasons, but the big one is… turn outs. Tons of people come to these shows. Crowds are not so content in Cuba to just stand at the back of the room and nodding their head, they get up front, yell, scream, sing, dance, and crash around. They really know how to let it all go! I miss you guys, I miss everything there, except maybe that one bathroom in Santa Clara…
William, Irina, Sam, Fendu, Drew, Darryl, Kids on Fire, Arrabio, everyone else, our bus driver, the amazing people we met and shared our stories with, the women who ran our casas and fed us, the rockers we partied with… we are all brothers and sisters!!
About Solidarity Rock
Solidarity Rock is an artist run organization working to partner musicians, artists and creative people in Cuba, Canada and beyond. It was started by Drew in 2007. The core of the movement is to help rock and roll thrive in Cuba. Sure, rock and roll has been there. But not too long ago, being a punk rocker, a metal head, a rocker, was discouraged. Solidarity Rock, with the support of Canadian musicians, hold benefit shows, raise awareness and funds, and collect gear they might not need anymore. A patch cord, guitar strings, an old amp, a bass, drum pieces, no donation is too great or small! The equipment is taken down to Cuba and distributed to the people who need it the most. In the past, something as simple as a guitar string could put an entire band on hold for a few weeks, while phone calls were made across the province(s) in Cuba looking for someone who might have a solution. While that is still the case in some parts of Cuba, things are changing, a lot. There is now equipment for bands to share, and people have access to music and expression like never before. The initiative has been a huge success.