February 16
Dateline: Murelando District

Rum aficionados contend that certain blends of rum go best with certain brands of cigars. And, of course, high quality rum calls for higher prices. The rum masters of the island age their product from 2 to 100 years. The most expensive bottle of rum on display at the museum had been aged for 80 years and cost $1,700.

After our rum visit, we headed to the Murelando Community Art Project, where local artists have been working for 11 years to transform the area into a living neighborhood of art.

Our guide was MC Mario, a young Havana rap artist. “Here it is about community and it is about the children,” Mario said. “We have classes in art and we teach them the music.”

“Let me tell you something of my personal life. I lost my mother at 17. I was doing bad things. I ended up in jail. When I got out, I found my neighborhood was full of murals and I decided to stay and help. Now I represent Murelando.

After we viewed the art projects, Mario and his several of his fellow community members and young  acolytes gathered all of us together for an impromptu musical jam and dance session. The percussive instruments, so prevalent in all forms of Cuban music, ranged from the wooden sticks I was handed a make-shift percussion set with cowbell, cymbal, and triangle attached to a partial bike frame.

“Enjoy our music. Enjoy our culture. We do and we want you to do, too,” Mario said before launching into another salsa-beat original rap.

On our way back to the hotel, I asked our guide Hilary about the Cuban rap scene. On one of her trips to the island, she had photographed rappers in Havana for a musical article on the underground art form. Obviously, rap, with its political implications, is subject to government censorship. All rap artists are ordered to join a musical collective. That way, if one of the members steps out of line, the entire collective can be punished. But Hilary said the movement is growing. All musicians are in Cuba receive free studio time to make CDs which they can they sell.  In fact, parents encourage the youngsters to pursue careers in art or music since they are among the most lucrative and valued jobs on on the island. The government allows rappers to take advantage of that free studio time. “It was too popular with the young people to ban,” Hilary said. “So they are leaning to live with it.”

To Follow Our Cuban Trip in Chronological Order