Guaguas, Blackouts, and Ham Sandwiches: Making Music in Havana

After all these years here, I never tire of the constant education. Meeting new people, learning, creating, connecting – Cuba es así. These past 10 days were a potent distillation: immersed in an international ajiaco (thanks Roy Hargrove/Crisol) of musicians and artists, brains and beauties, I learned many things and shined new light.

I learned that no matter where you are in the world or what type of music you play (in this case Renaissance and Baroque), you’re leaving the gig with 14 people and a half a dozen big instruments crammed into a mini van.

I learned that whether in Hialeah or Havana, the band may have to leave the gig running for the bus. And dinner was the cheapest, quickest thing around – in our case, the ubiquitous ham sandwich.

I learned – or re-learned – that magical things can happen when you combine musicians and blackouts (get your mind out of the gutter: I’m talking musically).


I heard a baroque guitar in a small ensemble for the first time and man, is that a hot little instrument. I know everyone’s gaga for the ukulele, but I tell ya…

I learned more viscerally that bass and tenor viola da gamba are powerful, communicative instruments. The treble? It still makes my ears twitch like an adorable terrier hearing above our range.

I had affirmed – once again – that music and movement, creativity and goodwill can transcend all language and cultural barriers.

I understood the profound human capacity for better communication, better conflict resolution, more fluid ways of being and wider ways of thinking.

I learned that the recorder sounds pretty damn good when not in the hands of a 3rd grader.

I learned that a cheese grater and a knife make a mean percussion instrument in the hands of a Cuban.

I realized that no matter how green the Yuma or how little traveled, how poorly they speak Spanish or how deeply-seeded the disinformation about Cuba, with an open mind and open heart, Cubans will touch both, ignite both, profoundly.


And I was taught, once again, that the support and love of one’s community (however defined), is priceless and irreplaceable.



Filed under Americans in cuba, dream destinations, Expat life, Living Abroad, Travel to Cuba

5 responses to “Guaguas, Blackouts, and Ham Sandwiches: Making Music in Havana

  1. Alix

    Beautiful! Next month, I‘m heading for Cuba, and your post puts me in the perfect mood for it, since la música is the most moving power for me, personally (apart from ca. 1000 further reasons driving me on), to come to your country. Thank you so much, Conner!

  2. Doug Haxall

    Conner, your best post ever! Allelujah!!! Peace through music (and the other arts) is still the best! Been practicing it on and off for 30 years now… more off than on these days, but still at the core of what I believe in! What a wonderful experience!!! Mucho mucho amor and hugs!!!

  3. Caney

    So happy for your never ending capacity to enjoy new things in Cuba. I envy you. Keep it coming, Conner, and thanks for sharing!

  4. Pingback: Guaguas, Blackouts, and Ham Sandwiches: Making Music in Havana | Cuba on Time

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