Recording with Jesus

The band & Paloma

There’s plenty of fun to be had on the road with children in Cuba. Crumbling aquarium visits, strolls through the vibrant streets and long rides in cycle rickshaws. But, more than anything else, we came to Cuba for the music. And the music’s here, everywhere. No street is silent. Mambos and cha chas and son cubano emanates from every nook and cranny. Havana sweats rhythm. And those sounds are what we want Paloma and Romeo to appreciate as much as we do.

Stopping at the Hotel Sevilla in downtown Havana for another refreshing Cuba Libre, a band is playing beside a fountain in the corner of a chequered courtyard. Paloma and Romeo dance and play hide and seek behind the double bass and conga drums. We watch them and when our drinks come we make a toast to the band and throw some coins in a hat that’s passed around. Afterwards, we befriend the guitarist who has the most encouraging name, Jesus, and invites us around to tea. How can we say no to Jesus?

Later, in the modest home of Jesus and his wife and daughter who is slightly younger than Paloma, my husband Ben proposes that Jesus and Paloma record a version of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. A Bossa Nova, he says. Bossa is not Cuban, but Ben’s obsessed with it and Jesus plays it all the time and agrees. As for Paloma, Twinkle Twinkle is ‘too easy, Mum’.

Paloma recording

Within a day or so we’re in the home studio of Carlos, a friend of Jesus, to record the song. Paloma is a little shy at first, but it’s not long until she’s got the whole way through the song and we’re cruising home in another ’59 Chevvy after paying Carlos with a large bottle of vintage Havana Club. It’s gone so well we decide to come back and do a whole album, or at least another song! Ben is already composing an original piece.

So here, for starters, is our 4 yo daughter singing the ‘Twinkle Twinkle Bossa Nova’ we recorded in Old Havana. There’s always fun to be had on the road with your children. You are only ever limited by your imagination.



Holiday in Havana

Kaspia in Havana Our first glimpse of Havana is better than expected. For so long we’ve wanted to come here, an intriguing destination seemingly made just for us, our tastes and style, which are, like Cuba itself, stuck in a time warp circa 1959. Romeo Cuban architecture leaves us gaping, our necks craning to take in the diverse wonder of it all. There’s plenty of rustic opulence here. From handsome colonial buildings to crazy baroque and neo-classical style. Old Havana is dense with Moorish, Italian, Greek and Roman design, the majority of structures looking near to collapse, with peeling paint, crumbling balconies and some of them almost entirely covered in crawling jungle vines.

Vintage car aficionados like ourselves are in heaven. For the first week in Havana we take whatever crazy finned fifties car our heart desires and drive around admiring other crazy finned fifties cars. We could car-hop all day in this place! They come in every colour of the paintbox. There are Jacaranda-blue Buicks, ruby red ratrods, canary yellow Cadillacs and perfect bubbble-gum pink Pontiacs. I was expecting only a few of these cars scattered around to please tourists. But they’re everywhere, and for most Cubans they are everyday transport. All around us they splutter and chug along, choking the air with their noise and fumes, packed with grannies on the way back from the market or kids from school. Each morning, neither Romeo nor Paloma can wait to help choose another beautiful yank tank to explore more of Havana in.

While we relish the time capsule that Cuba still is, at least for now, all the locals seem to want is the latest slice of modern America. It’s ironic that anti-imperialism slogans are posted everywhere we turn, yet we see just as many ordinary Cuban women eating hamburgers at pop-up fast food joints dressed in lycra leggings and tight tops printed with stars-and-stripes. Obsessed with bling, R&B and pop-culture, the young boys could be straight out of Brooklyn. Brooklyn, Cuba Kaspia makes a call Holiday in Havana Romeo, our new travel addition, has taken to the road like his true namesake. Making an exception to our preference for vintage American cars, we catch an orange motorcycle taxi and put-put around the narrow back alleys of Habana Vieja and down towards the sea at the Malecon. Around us crumbling Art Nouveau leans on Deco villas which stand proud against decaying eclectic facades. Who lives in these palaces, I wonder?

Wherever we stop, we’re never far from a Cuba Libre. Hotel Sevilla beckons and we take shelter from the midday sun in a courtyard of palm trees, cool black-and-white tiles and the Afro percussion of a band playing son cubano. Romeo and Paloma make straight for the dance floor. Paloma enjoys a Romeo & Juliet Cigar