Tuesday, July 16, 2013

La Habana, en versos libres: III. Dias Tres

No maracas bird, this morning,
to raise an alarm,
and the set alarm did not go off!

No time for breakfast,
neither for badly needed coffee.

Ah, the dream of coffee!
The lingering memory
of last night—the singing of
our friend Luis, the dinner,
the music,
dancing and dessert: flan—and
beautiful, rich coffee!

But the memory must suffice,
along with dried fruit:
time for class.

The intricacies of rumba
are the study of a lifetime;
a fluid language
of thought, word and deed,
of clavés, song and dance,
rising up out of the source
in exuberant expansion!

The Masters teach us
about the bembé,
and its unity of
batá, cantando and rumba party.

In the sacred batá,
the drums speak Lucumi,
the timeless language of friendship;
the drum toques call the orishas,
voicing six tones rhythmically
from three drums,
the Iyá, which is the call,
the Itótole, which is the response,
and the
Okónkolo, which is the time regulator.

But this is already too complex;
it is best just to remember
that drums, singing and dance
speak as a single voice.

How can the uninitiated
gain the key to this mystery?

The Masters, they know best;
they are patient and gentle;
to learn about the role of each drum,
they teach us clavé,
the timeless syncopated
two plus three,
or three plus two
pulses of son or columbia forms;
with their guidance,
the clavés transform
from hardwood in our hands
to heartbeat.

The crashing of our small victory
attracts the attention of passersby,
who press their faces against the window:
these songs, we know them well,
but who are these that try to sing them?

The granddaughter of Jesus
does the dance with us,
but has much better form.

This does not dim the joy of our progress;
the sun is bright on the Alameda
as we take our leave
—we feel we have earned our lunch!

Lynne, Dale, Amelie and Elisabeth
decided on the top floor
of Los Nardos;
there we split mixed grill platters,
reveled in the plantains,
delighted in the flan,
and the coffee.

Rushing back to the Hotel Plaza,
we gather our wits,
along with our music;
the tour bus has magically appeared.

To school we go,
in a neighborhood near La Rampa;
there we are met by a motorcyclist,
whose sidecar holds
a keyboard electric.

The instrument once assembled,
the singers assemble also;
we mingle with the young ladies
of Ensemble Choral Luna.

For them, we sing Barasuayo;
for us, they sing Java Jive,
with a Spanish accent;
then we sing Battle of Jericho,
and they sing a fantastic piece
we would love to learn!!

We rest for a moment,
the room warm,
yet cooled by a cross-breeze
through the open windows;
even so,
there is the snap
the cooling swish
of fans,
ancient technology from Spain,
by way of China
[few people, least of all Cubans,
know there is a Hand Fan museum
in Healdsburg, California].

We end our engagement
by mixing to share

The keyboard is disassembled
and returned to its origin
via the sidecar on the motorcycle;
both groups enter the bus,
and we are conveyed to Hotel Nacional,
where the ladies have an evening concert.

Coconut palms tower over coral stone
pavements: we walk on fossil record,
feeling cool breezes off the Caribbean Sea.

What more could we do today?

Ah, but there is still dinner to be savored.

© 2013 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

batá: set of three ethnic, sacred drums ceremonially used in the Santeria faith; these drums have their cultural origin in Yorùbá.
bembé: a Santeria ceremony that includes drumming, chanting and dance.
cantando: song.
columbia: a clavé rhythm also identified as a style of rumba
clavés: two hardwood sticks that beat the 2+3 or 3+2 rhythms key to the rumba polyrhythms
iyá: the largest of the batá drums, the “mother” drum
itótole: the middle sized of the batá drums, the “father” drum
lucumi: a Yorùbá dialect and the liturgical language of Santería
okónkolo: the smallest of the batá drums, the “baby” drum
orishas: a spirit or deity reflecting a manifestation of God in the Yorùbá spiritual system
rumba: a variety of Afro-Cuban dances
son: a clavé rhythm also identified as a style of rumba
toques: rhythm suites played during Santeria rituals