The Plastic Hippo

April 14, 2015

Buena Vista

Filed under: History,Music,Politics,World — theplastichippo @ 2:00 am
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Oye como va

Oye como va

Whilst we are being mesmerised by British politicians telling massive lies, something rather significant has taken place across the pond where a man once had a plan about a canal in Panama. Some bloke called Raul sat down for a chat with another bloke called Obama and after the brief mano y mano discussion actually shook hands. This might not seem important but if you were born in the 50s and remember childhood nightmares caused by the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban missile crisis, this rapprochement between the US and Cuba is nothing short of remarkable.

Cuba is more than crumbling buildings, ancient Chevrolets, cigars hand rolled on the thighs of young beauties and a tenacious clinging obsession with Marxism; it has the best rum and some of the best music ever created. Setting aside Guantanamo Bay, it looks like Fidel won the waiting game. It seems Cuba is no longer considered to be a rogue state cynically sponsoring and encouraging terrorism but has instead been transformed into a lucrative market. Perhaps the next POTUS, who might actually be a woman, will take a look at lifting the sanctions and embargos placed on Vietnam for having the downright cheek to defeat a global superpower in a war that ended 40 years ago.

But, as the late Gore Vidal pointed out, “any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically by definition be disqualified from ever doing so”. As a friend of the Kennedys and the Clintons and no friend of Reagan or the Bush family, Mr Vidal obviously knew what he was talking about. There is something rather disturbing in the way ambitious politicians interpret an election victory as evidence of popularity or even adoration. Having snared the populous with a kick drum of deception, a hissing hi-hat of self-delusion usually results in madness. Any criticism is ignored in the way real drummers ignore the fact that there are digital boxes now available that plug in to the mains, keep perfect time and don`t answer back.

I like drummers but, like so many politicians, some display behaviour that suggests that they are not quite the full shilling. I include myself in this sweeping generalisation after inflicting some awful banging behind a three shell Premier in much younger days. Fortunately technology caught up and years later when an infinitely more competent flesh and blood drummer asked me who my favourite percussionist was, my reply “Roland 808” did not go down terribly well.

However, at the risk of offending the ghosts of Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, John Bonham and Keith Moon and not wishing to offend living legends Steve Gadd and Animal from the Muppet Show, I would crawl over broken glass to get to any gig graced by the genius of Billy Cobham. So when an amigo called way back in 2008 to tell me that the powerhouse behind the sublime Mahavishnu Orchestra and former Miles Davis sideman was gigging a short tour; out came the diary.

I imagined a trip to Birmingham or Manchester or London and a seat in a vast stadium only marginally closer to the bandstand than the station. This was not to be the case as Billy Cobham was touring with a bunch of young, Cuban musicians by the name of Asere and the whole show was being funded by the Cuban government. To demonstrate Cuban solidarity with oppressed peoples under the yoke of capitalist, imperialist occupation, the gigs would be staged in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Thus I found myself on the little train that goes through the mountains to Aberystwyth.

The pearl of the Ceredigion Riviera is a long way from Havana and even further away from Panama but that night in 2008 distance was no object. Spookily, Billy Cobham was born in Panama and moved to New York as a child. He and the band even played a song that night entitled “Panama”. You don`t need to take my word for it. The gig was filmed and I was delighted to discover some footage on social media and even more delighted that the cameras did not pan up the aisle to where an overweight middle-aged balding man was inflicting awful dad Salsa dancing on an unsuspecting oppressed Welsh public. Eight years later, a black American president shakes hands with Fidel`s brother.

I defy you not to dance to this.

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