Text & photos by Irina Echarry
HAVANA TIMES, May 17 – Along the pedestrian walkway of San Rafael Boulevard, in the heart of the downtown Centro Havana neighborhood, is located the Havana Cultural Art Products Store. In this rambling marketplace a wide range of handmade products and goods related to the arts, including musical instruments are sold.
Artisan-crafted shoes, belts and wallets, or cotton clothes fashioned by skillful hands can be found within the emporium. Paintings and lithographs by various Cuban painters can also be purchased there.
The guitars, pianos, and conga drums seem to want to jump through the plate glass, while the attendant prevents them from taking to the street. Just the opposite occurs with the public; they are drawn into the bazaar if only to appreciate the range of choices offered in the shops. Likewise, throughout the entire week, a series of intimate performances take place: soloists, quartets, troubadours, comedians…
The group Black Voices takes care of Saturday afternoons, beginning at 5:00. This quintet, which never had any formal training, demonstrates that singing is a natural gift. They can effortlessly shift from Black spirituals to jazz, blues or rock, boleros, son, chachachá or ballads.
The fine harmony, the pleasant vocal arrangements and a perfect selection of international classics allows them to immediately unlock the memories of anyone who listens to them.
Another regular is Niurka Reyes, who livens up the afternoons on Tuesdays. Hers is a potent voice, capable of interpreting songs of all eras: from boleros to a host of more animated rhythms. Niurka has also made incursions into children’s songs. In the Singing to the Sun Festival she has been a faithful interpreter of tunes for the very youngest of listeners. In the upcoming Cubadisco awards she will be competing with her Egrem studios DVD titled Chiquilín.
On the first Wednesdays of the month it’s Ireno García turn. At four in the afternoon the troubadour lends us his tender voice, while at the same time inviting us to share musical themes with other guest performers who sing or recite their verses. Ireno García is hardly ever featured on the radio or television, and he hardly ever gives concerts in theaters, which is why this is a unique opportunity to listen to him live.
Humor has the crowd rolling on Thursdays with Carlos Ruiz de la Tejera, the untiring communicator who forces us to reflect while laughing at his routines full of popular wisdom.
There are loads of options at the corner of Industria and San Rafael streets at the Havana Cultural Products Art Store-and admission is free. Inside there is beer and soda as well as other heavier shots sold in hard currency (CUCs) to a laid back public desiring only a good time.