The Rhythm of Patience

by Aziza Camacho (United States of America)

Making a local connection USA


“Are we lost?” I anxiously asked Lydia, the niece of my dad’s Afro-Cuban musician friend in New York, as I peered out the window of our taxi, a 1958 red Ford Fairlaine with polished red interiors, immaculately cleaned and restored except for the hole under the rubber mat on the car floor. I could see directly through to the cobble stone street. That was Cuba, beautifully rustic and frozen in time. Lydia was a nice young woman with limited English and very shy. I could tell she did not want to show that she was lost in her own country. My mom and I gave each other that look every mom and daughter give when things might not be working out as planned. Although my mom and I speak Spanish we are not fluent. We realized quickly that in some areas English is not spoken. It’s times like these that test your memory. We were following directions given to me by a local connection, a friend of friend. In preparation for my trip I spent over 4 months researching and reaching out to all my friends for their insight and advice on traveling to Cuba. We were now entering deep areas of Centro Habana on a busy Friday night in search of a local night club to hear traditional and authentic Afro-Cuban music. The taxi driver all of a sudden told us to get out. He could not drive any further through the densely populated district. Maneuvering through impenetrable narrow maze-like streets with no names became exhausting. My mom, Lydia, and I got out of the taxi and continued to walk a little further. The streets were filled with construction, new bricks piled everywhere with large openings in the ground, school children running home, street vendors, and hundreds of people hanging out in the streets. With barely any street signs our friend Lydia finally directs us to a coral colored building that reads “El Patio.” A young school boy in plaid shorts and tie pressed his head against the white railing trying to get a peek inside the gated building. A woman standing next to him in a yellow dress whose beautiful brown skin glowed like the Yoruba goddess Oshun also peering in at the upcoming music schedule. We were the first people on line. As more Cubans lined up, within the hour, I realized that my mother and I were the only foreigners at the event. The gates of the club Patio de La Egreem opened at 5pm. The small club slowly filled up. The band Rumberos de Cuba did not come on until 6pm. They did not disappoint and were worth the wait. The sound of maracas, the clave, shekeré, bongos, conga, and other percussion instruments guided us through a journey to Africa - the rhythms of the son, rumba, and mambo filled the intimate space. Cuban rhythms tell a rich multilayered history, one that has its origins in the first enslaved Africans on the island. The strong and richly toned voices of the lead singers gave depth to the full-bodied performance. Afro-Cuban percussion, music, and dance is part of the cultural and religious roots of Cuba. I would also be introduced that night to some of the best Afro-Cuban dancers that I have ever seen. The dancers were powerful, high energy, with spectacular synchronicity and dynamic rhythmic movements. One of the highlights of the night was when I was invited to dance and freestyle with the band’s premier lead dancer. I was completely nervous to dance in front of everyone in the nightclub a style of dance that I have yet to perfect. But if you have ever heard Afro-Cuban music it is intoxicating, you cannot help but to move and feel the music. Music and dance provide people a way of expressing themselves, a liberating and empowering feeling even when this may not be a reality in one’s daily life. Politics, I was told by my new friends in Cuba is not really something you talk about in public. It is through art and music that the people of Cuba can celebrate their unique identity and freely communicate their ideals and dreams for the future.