Havana, Cuba, Sunday April 8, 2018
While on holiday in Havana, Cuba, I was looking for a concert to go to; something local that wasn’t salsa (which you hear everywhere anyway). I wasn’t aware of any Cuban rock music but like any tourist with an interest in pop culture, I visited the statue of John Lennon in a small park named after him (Parque John Lennon).
Parque John Lennon
When leaving the park I walked past a building with a colourful façade, called Submarino Amarillo (after the Beatles song, Yellow Submarine).
Submarino Amarillo/Yellow Submarine
I went inside but unfortunately, they weren’t properly open yet and I was the only one there. But they were happy for me to have a lemonade and look around the dark room with lots of images of The Beatles on the walls, and on tables etc. While at Submarino Amarillo, I was recommended that I should also visit Casa de la Amistad on a Sunday evening if I wanted to hear rock music. That just happened to be my last night in Havana, and what better way to end a holiday than to see a local rock band?
I arrived early, as I was told it might sell out. About twenty other people were already sitting outside waiting to get in. People were friendly and happy to talk, and one man said he saw The Rolling Stones when they played Cuba a few years earlier, but he preferred ‘harder rock’. Judging by his Metallica t-shirt, I could see why The Rolling Stones may not have been quite hard enough for him. It was nice to see a proper ‘rock crowd’ in Havana where other music genres are bigger and more popular. But, as I found out, rock is definitely also alive in the Cuban capital.
The stage at the back of the garden at Casa de la Amistad
Casa de la Amistad is a huge mansion with a big garden, with a stage set up at the back of the garden. There’s a small bar and tables from where the audience (of about 100 or less) watch the three-four bands of the evening play. I could only stay to see the first band of the evening but I would happily have stayed the whole night.
Luces Verdes at Casa de la Amistad
Luces Verdes is a local band (five males, one female) who play really solid rock and roll. I later read that they often play at Yellow Submarine, playing mainly covers of British and American rock bands. I am later told that rock bands have to mainly play foreign cover songs of bands like The Beatles and Pink Floyd, because owners of the few local rock venues in Havana demand covers rather than original material, probably to please foreign tourists like myself. However, Luces Verdes also played a couple of very good songs in Spanish, that might have been their own songs (I’m not sure), and I would love to have heard more of their songs in Spanish, and less of all these English songs I already know so well. The Anglo-American rock influence is clear, two members of the band wore Nirvana t-shirts and the drummer, besides looking like he could have been a member of The Strokes, wore a Beatles t-shirt.
Luces Verdes have two singers, one female (Deyana Pérez) and one male (Reynier Robles), who also plays the guitar. I must admit there were songs where I wasn’t sure why Pérez was there, and I wished that she had an instrument to play or more songs to sing, so she wasn’t reduced to dancing around. Having said that, when she sang, she sang good, whether it was Venus by Shocking Blue, or Oh Darling, by The Beatles, where she did a good job of screaming out the word ‘DARLING’ just like Paul McCartney does in the original version.
As the band played another Beatles song, Back In the USSR, it was hard not to think of the poignancy of a song written at a time when Russia (or The Soviet Union) was still a communist country, and then, on a Sunday evening in April 2018, a local rock band in one of the only still existing communist countries in the world, covered that particular song. Of all the Beatles songs, why that one? Maybe there was a meaning behind it. Or maybe they just liked that particular song. Either way, they did a good cover of it.
After Luces Verdes’ one-hour gig ended, I had to leave as I wanted to see Plaza de la Revolución at night (I know, touristy stuff), so as the second band of the evening took to the stage, just after the sun had set, I reluctantly bid Casa de la Amistad goodbye, knowing very well I may never return. But if I ever come back to Havana, I’ll definitely be back for another evening of rock and roll at Casa de la Amistad.
Second band of the evening at Casa de la Amistad, after the sun had set
Plaza de la Revolución at night
Luces Verdes setlist