Tuesday, December 22, 2009

That's Kool!

20-something years ago, Teresa Contreras started a "Kool and the Gang" fan club in Havana. That was back when she was just a sweet sixteen. Though she won't say exactly how old she is now, MSNBC reports that the club is still going strong with 148 members but that you have to be at least 35 to join! I'd just make the cut. They meet once a month in Contreras' house to boggie down to the oldies.

Of course, they cancelled this month's meeting in lieu of the fact that the American group got its funk on for more than 100,000 groovin' Cubans at Havana's seaside "Protest-o-dromo" (otherwise known as the Plaza Anti-Imperialista Jose Marti). But you gotta love MSNBC for mis-identifying it as the "Imperialist Plaza."

Here's the original caption that went along with the above photo: Fans sing during a concert of US band Kool & the Gang at the imperialist Plaza in Havana, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2009. The band became one of the few U.S. musical groups to play in Cuba recently, despite Washington's travel restrictions and the island's communist government's ambivalence toward Rock and Roll, Hip Hop, and other kinds of American music (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos).

Reports on the concert are all over the web and seem to have at least temporarily overshadowed the news of Raul's weekend speech to members of the Cuban National Assembly (see here and here). While he had pointed words for the U.S. in the wake of the arrest of a U.S. contractor in Havana two weeks ago, he did reitterate his government's "sincere willingness to definitively settle its differences with the United States, starting from a respectful dialogue, between equals, on any issue, without detriment to our independence, sovereignty and self-determination."

Mentioning Secretary-of-State Hillary Clinton by name, he added, "If the U.S. government really wishes to move forward in its relations with Cuba, I recommend that it abandon the conditions of a domestic nature that it attempts to impose upon us, issues that only us Cubans are entitled to decide."

However, much like Carlos Varela's message when he played for us last Friday afternoon at The New America Foundation in D.C., "La politica no cabe en una azucarera" (Politics don't fit in a sugarbowl), Robert "Kool" Bell tried to draw a line between music and politics, saying, "We con't come to Cuba as politicians. We come as musicians." This sentiment was not lost on the Cuban people themselves who joyously (and voluntarily) turned up in throngs to hear, strut, slide, and line-dance to Kool & the Gang by the thousands.

For a Cuban, non-governmental take on the concert, I recommend you check out Irina Echarry's coverage of the concert at The Havana Times. "People laughed, danced and choreographed spontaneously in the middle of the street," she writes, "but -unlike the political rallies- no one had to be summoned. It was one of the most cheerful mass concerts I’ve ever seen in Havana." The site also has a scrapbook of some wonderful photos, like the one above, all taken by Havana Times photographer Yordanka Caridad.

There's also some great video of the concert at MSNBC (see above), Reuters (see below), and BBC. Coverage from Cuban TV is available at YouTube here and here.

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