This is really a small post of memorial. On Easter, so a day about resurrection (a wonderful story, whether or not one believes). Which makes me wish we’d have some resurrection of a giant of the musical arts – Israel Lopez passed away in Miami. He was amazing and a part of so much great sound. Cachao is a reminder of why our (in the U.S.) near total ignorance of Cuba and Cuban culture is a loss.
Cachao played bass. But not in the way that relegates a person to the background. Cachao could compete with the percussionists for space and dominance, which is no small feat in Cuban music. I mean, seriously, Cuban percussionists are the very best in the world. Cachao put the bass out front. With the bass out front, the best music in the world blended dance feel and high art complexity.
That’s what I thought when I read that Cachao passed away. How there is this strange discourse that we have about Cuba. A lot of different discourses, really, all of which compete for an unrealistic portrait of any nation. Either Cuba was or is a utopia. Either Cuba was violent and exploitative or is violent and exploitative. And we can discuss politics and Cuba all day long, during which we can take notes on how Cuba gets held to this insane standard. And, in all of that, we can take notes on how Cuba gets to be a screen on which we project our hopes and despairs about politics.
The truth is complicated. Because it is a country run by humans, it is kinda screwed up and kinda beautiful at the same time. Writing that makes me miss the days spent there with students, friends, my sweetie.
There is also this amazing thing called Cuban music. Art has a funny way of standing outside politics, even when it is put to political use – or artists get political. In the case of Cuban music, I think the standing outside politics is actually the deepest sense of being political. That is, in Cachao’s sound, there are all the sounds of Cuba’s history, all of those Europes, Latin Americas, Caribbeans, and Africas. Gathered together to do something that is distinctively Cuban. No mistaking it for any other country or culture. Just Cuban.
So, when Cachao passed and I saw the blurb on the BBC Caribbean page (can’t find it buried elsewhere), I pined a bit for resurrection. These kind of musical giants, well, it’s just sad when they pass and I wish they were immortal in body, not just sound.
But I also wished for a first resurrection, the idea that we could organize ourselves like Cuban music organizes itself – a bundle of differences in one expression, and an expression that brings difference into a beautiful space without making difference go away. The way that the right kind of ear hears so many sites and cultures and histories in rhythm and tone and words. It’s a musical event of what one of my students calls an alterpolis – a way of imagining living together that is always difference. And nothing more, nothing less.
Anyway, that’s a dreamy shift from art to political imagination. With Cuba, it’s always like that. But more importantly, for me, it is sad to say goodbye to Israel Lopez. Download a song or two…the track’s title is proved by the song itself: el son no ha muerto.
For now, this gem from youtube.com. Wow. Beautiful stuff.