I hear the crowd before I see it. I feel the excitement as I enter the Teatro Mella to hear one of the most influential figures in the world of Afro-Cuban Jazz, Chucho Valdes.The Teatro Mella is past its prime and the seats are worn from patrons rubbing and moving to the performances that have gone on from being the old Rodi Cinema to the Teatro Mella. These walls have echoed the performances of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Arturo Sandoval and many others during the glory days and architectural splendor of Havana. The years of decay and neglect show on the interior fixtures. But what cannot be denied is the adrenaline and excitement infusing the crowd. I’m compelled to lean over the balcony. I am in awe of the demographics of the crowd: teenagers and young adults making up the majority. There is a silence and Chucho Valdes walks onto the stage. He begins to perform, and I feel like I could stay there forever. The audience is mesmerized by the grandeur of this great musician.
In all my world travels, I have never been to a country where the arts are so integrated into that country’s being. The arts are a part of their souls—souls nourished by the arts and kept intact. Their struggles and isolation for years have not depleted or inhibited their creativity. They perform in old decaying buildings, practice for hours each day encourage their children to participate in the arts, and they have created wider movements in the arts influenced by their artists. They Inspire.
Havana is a tale of many cities where much triumph and tragedy has occurred. Change occurs in all places at different times. I hope that whatever changes happen to Havana, it never forgets its passion and love of the arts.