Almanac Music: Matt Zurbo’s Musical Adventures – Cuba

Estrellas de Trinadad




I go to the Casa de Planenque, like I did the night before. The one that holds my rummy blank spots. It’s full, the band is playing. When I walk through the door they yell, mid song, “Matteo!” and the locals in the corner all cheer. Men, pregnant wives, fathers, friends, lovers.


Before long, the place is dancing. Before long it’s over. Todo esta bien It’s good, so it goes.


“Psst, psst,” Ricardo nudges at me, then juts his chin at a group of four women.


“No worries,” I say, then correct myself. “Lo siento… No problemo.”


I walk over. They’re Irish. I tell them I hate the British. Gemma, the red-haired bulletproof one, replies that I’m racist, but the little one, Falic just agrees. They’re all stunning and sassy, carrying the defensive leer of strong, pretty women, giving off that punch for higher ground.


“Come join my friends,” I say. “They’re good people, you’re safe with them.”


“Sorry, we’re not having a big one tonight,” Gemma sneers, in a way that’s hard and mean and not an apology at all.


“Look at you, in your group,” I say. “You’re an Irish fortress. They’re good people. They’re Cuban. Be in Cuba for a while.”


They huddle, looking cocky rather than scared. Fuck them and don’t fuck them, I think. My friends are relaxed, in their circle, none of them even looking our way.


I make to leave, and the small one, Falic, with perky little Irish lips and long black hair says, from behind me:

“Oh, bugger it. E’m there.”


She’s smaller that the others, and not as pretty, her body mannerisms not as hard.


“Yer jokin’ ain’t ya?” Gemma fires up.


“Surely nowt,” Falic replies.


“Oh, ‘ere we go,” they roll their eyes, leering sideways, belittling her, as if she’s naive.


“We ain’t saving ya!” the blond one barks.


“That’s fine.”


“Oi mean it, we ain’t.”


“Oi said fine.”


Falic joins our circle, sitting between me and hulking, bald Claudio. Soon after, when her friends make to leave, she refuses to go. They all huddle and insist and she hunches her little shoulders into a defiant pout.


“C’m’on, Falic! Now!” they order.


“I’m stayin’,” she insists.


“Yer fuckin’ mad,” they say, as they leave. “Ye’ll end up dying.”


Soon Mnyuli, Diario and the band come over and join our group, then the staff. The last of the tourist are kicked out. Somebody shuts the door and none of us notice or care. Falic stays and drinks rum, and knows not a word of Spanish, but is full of easy respect to this mob, and this mob are polite to her.


Up close she’s a waif compared to her friends, but was raised a Protestant in Ireland, in a Catholic school and had some kind of fire.


“I’m Gaelic,” she says.


“Can you speak it?” I ask.


And this wisp of a woman’s face becomes a quiet, fierce thing. She stares into nothing, singing me her national anthem, a song about being defiant, and kicking the English square in the balls. Sings with a quiet, seething anger, with fierce pride.


“Why are your friends so up themselves?” I ask.


“Yeah,” Falic gives a half smile. “Dey think I need looking after.”


I notice her hands, still clenched into fists from the song. It’s obvious she’s tougher than them all.


I tell Diario that Falic is una Buena persona that she is friendly and brave. He looks at her with dead eyes for a second, then leans across and behind three band members to pull out one of their guitars, as the last of the staff finish cleaning and join our group of about twenty, now. In the middle of our noise and freedom, everybody goes “Sshhh, sshhh…” and he sings for her.


He sings with passion, with heart and fine, husky voice. A voice that wails and needs and hushes and rides. He is a good man.


As Diario’s song winds down, Mnyuli’s father, Pablo, a black Cuban man of about 60, began to sing to Falic. His voice is deep and strong and oh so gentle, it holds firm and touches you and runs right through your bones. It has humour and worth and humanity. It’s round, deep and warm. It tells of soft truths, and earned pride, of warm Cuban midnights and who cares what the words say, you don’t need to know a single line. You just have to feel to know them fine.


The group of locals, raised on music, fed it and bathed in it, familiar and accustomed to it, up to their gills with and half sick of it, these musicians and waiters and builders, recognise the real thing and smile and lean forward to catch its every breath, every note, every line. All of them, bar none. And the second it’s over, their damn brakes, and – click – they’re back to drinking, talking, smoking, putting a seaweed sway to it all.


I lean down through the noise to Falic, kissing her on the cheek and whisper:

“Thank you for being brave.”


Before long everybody’s left somewhere near dawn, including me and the Irish girl.



More stories from Matt Zurbo can be read Here.



Read more stories from Almanac Music  HERE


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  1. Matt Zurbo says

    Well, I liked it.

  2. Malby Dangles says

    So did I :) This is such a wonderful series of stories. I wish I was there

  3. You have been for several of them!

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