While on holiday in Havana, Cuba, I was looking for a concert, something local that wasn’t Salsa (which you hear everywhere). I wasn’t aware of any Cuban rock music, but like any tourist interested in pop culture, I visited the statue of John Lennon in a small park named after him (Parque John Lennon).
When leaving the park, I walked past a building with a colourful façade called Submarino Amarillo (after the Beatles song, Yellow Submarine). I went inside, but unfortunately, they weren’t open yet, and I was the only one there. But they let me have a lemonade in the darkened room with images of The Beatles on the walls and tabletops. The bartender at Submarino Amarillo recommended that I visit Casa de la Amistad on a Sunday evening if I wanted to hear rock music. That just happened to be my last night in Havana, and what better way to end a holiday than to see a local rock band?
Arriving early in the evening, about twenty other people were already sitting outside, waiting to get in. People were friendly and happy to talk, and one man said he had seen The Rolling Stones when they played Cuba a few years ago, but he preferred ‘harder rock’. Judging by his Metallica t-shirt, I can see why The Rolling Stones may not be quite hard enough for him. It was nice to see a proper ‘rock crowd’ in Havana. Rock is very much alive in the Cuban capital.
Casa de la Amistad is a massive mansion with a big garden, with a stage set up at the back of the garden. There’s a small bar and scattered tables from which the audience (of about 100 or less) watch the three-four bands of the evening play. I could only stay to see the first band of the evening, but I would happily have stayed the whole night.
Luces Verdes is a local band of six musicians who play solid rock and roll. I later read that they often play at Submarino Amarillo, playing mainly covers of British and American rock bands.
Many Cuban rock bands have to play mainly foreign cover songs by bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, because owners of the few local rock venues in Havana demand covers rather than original material, probably to please foreign tourists like me. However, Luces Verdes also play a couple of terrific songs in Spanish that may be their own (I’m not sure), and I would love to have heard more of their songs in Spanish and fewer of all these played-to-death English and American songs. The Anglo-American rock influence is evident: two band members wear Nirvana t-shirts and, the drummer, who looks casually fashionable enough to be a member of The Strokes, wears a Beatles t-shirt.
Luces Verdes have two singers, one female (Deyana Pérez) and one male (Reynier Robles), who also plays the guitar. I must admit there were songs where I wasn’t sure why Pérez was there, and I wished that she had an instrument to play or more songs to sing, so she wasn’t reduced to dancing around. Having said that, when she sings, she sings good, whether it’s Venus by Shocking Blue or Oh Darling, by The Beatles, where she does an excellent job of screaming out the word ‘DARLING’ just like Paul McCartney does on the original.
As the band plays another Beatles song, Back In the USSR, it’s hard not to think of the poignancy of a song written when Russia (or The Soviet Union) was still a communist country. And now, on a Sunday evening in April 2018, a local rock band in one of the only still existing communist countries in the world covers that particular song. Of all the Beatles songs, why that one? Whatever the reason, they do a good cover of it.
After Luces Verdes’ one-hour gig ends, I have to leave as I want to see Plaza de la Revolucion at night (I know, touristy stuff). Hence, a few songs after the second band of the evening has taken to the stage just after the sun has set, I reluctantly bid Casa de la Amistad goodbye, knowing very well I may never return. But if I ever come back to Havana, I’ll be back for another evening of rock and roll at Casa de la Amistad.
Luces Verdes setlist