The Cubana Chronicles: Friday February 17, 2012

June 6, 2012

How Can I Be Down?

Practicing my photoshop skills today while listening to Common and waiting for my weekly NYU call. So I’ll go ahead and admit it – I’ve never owned an album by Common before yesterday. This Cuban brother Amehel hooked me up with about 500 albums yesterday, lots of US hip-hop, some reggae, etc. He was a little horrified that I didn’t have anything by the Roots or Common or any of the other hip-hop greats, and while I’m familiar with all their music (more or less) it made me think why I didn’t own any, and also why he assumed I had any in the first place. I guess the latter part has to do with how we met – last week at the Bob Marley Tribute. Aside from the “consciousness” assumptions that go with attending such an event, I had my “conscious gear” on…you know, the long skirt, a zillion beads and bracelets, the bobo headwrap, sandals. I mean, I wasn’t trying to SAY anything, I just felt like getting dressed up to go out on my own for once! (My students ended up coming but we sat separately…I wasn’t about to share Bob Marley with anyone!) I have to tell you about this concert man, it was great.

First off, all the Havana dreadheads came out which was just fantastic to see. Mucho “peace and blessings” and fist bumping, mucho Ethiopian dashikis and white cotton clad, each Rasta more “locked” than the next. I got a seat in the fourth row right at the end, and unbeknownst to me, the ticket seller  had probably sized me up as a ‘dancer’ rather than a ‘watcher’ which was probably why he chose that seat for me. You see, people are only allowed to dance on the ends, so as not to stand up and block other people’s view. I didn’t figure that out until I’d moved to the middle and then had to dance seated. I guess the ticket seller saw “reggae hopping potential” in me. Oh well, next time.

There was the “on-the-scene” Rasta brother, right smack in the middle who kept yelling, reggae-hopping and “Po! Po!”-ing all night long until two bouncers had to remove him by force for interfering with everyone else’s groove. I think he just really wanted to be on TV (they were televising live.)

It was a fun concert. Lots of different bands and musicians from Cuba and some other islands performed their own music, and then some of Marley’s songs. There was a mean female bass guitar player who tore it up, and a soca music singer from St. Vincent (Scorpion) who made my heart a little warmer with memories of Brooklyn’s West Indian Day Parade.

It was interesting to see how similar the “conscious culture” is worldwide. All the different colored ‘conscious’ people doing the ‘reggae hop’ dance in the front, letting loose, the über-concious ones hopping extra hard with one woman who went as far as sitting in front of the stage in lotus position, then after a brief meditation, jumped up and dropped it like it was hot!

They were similar and yet different. There’s something about being in a room, jam-packed with Cubans, young and old, most non-English speakers, singing “Redemption Song” in unison even when they pronounce the words so ‘Spanishly.’ Its like the spirit of the song wasn’t limited to the meaning of the words he used. You could just feel that Marley was singing about struggle, and these people, all very familiar with struggle, received and reciprocated that sentiment. I should point out that the large majority of people weren’t Rasta at all, they were very regular looking people who’d gone out to hear a concert at the local theatre. (Oh, did I mention that all concerts and performances cost 10 Cuban pesos? i.e. less than $0.50. Yeah.)

So anyhow, after “Jamming” with my brethren till midnight, I met Amehel, a Spoken Word artist and conscious hip-hop head. I mean, I didn’t claim any such status, I guess I just looked the part. So yesterday he took my student and I to meet one of the artists from last week so she could interview them for her documentary, and then we hung out and exchanged music and he was horrified to know that I wasn’t as “down” as I’d appeared. I’ve never considered myself as being…”non-down” (up?) but…yeah, I stopped listening to US hip-hop for several years…or at least stopped buying it. What can I say? A year in California bombarded with west coast Death Row misogyny, increased interest in Africa’s take on hip-hop…*shrug* I don’t really have a good explanation. But not to worry, I’ve been saved! I now have every Roots album known to man and another 2 months to catch up on them! Viva Marley, Viva Cuba, Viva Conscious Hip-hop!