Cuba is never far from my mind. The trip last spring remains still a life affirming, life altering adventure after almost a year. And the music is always in my head; I find myself humming a Latin tune and doing the salsa around the house. Attending a rooftop concert at Pablo Mene'ndez’ house in Havana was one of the highlights of the trip. Born in Oakland, Mene'ndez went to Cuba with his mother, blues and jazz singer, Barbara Dane, and never came back. The concert on the rooftop of his home at twilight was amazing. Cuban jazz and blues beats, we just couldn’t get enough.
Earlier this week, one of my Cuban trip colleagues sent an email saying that Mene'ndez would be at Yoshi’s, a popular supper club in Downtown Oakland. Wednesday night was free and the ticket price was right. It was on and poppin’ and Mene'ndez and the members of Mezcla did not disappoint. They put on a show peppered with Mene'ndez’ stories of his love for Cuba (pronounced koo-ba) and the contrast of that country with the Bay Area. How the mixture of races in Cuba is the same here; the rich diversity and love for art and music. Evidently, Mene'ndez has quite a following in the Oakland/San Francisco Bay Area as the place was packed. It was standing room only (we had good seats) but nobody was complaining; just jammin’.
He was joined by Barbara Dane, his mother, who, as an activist in the 60s, sang folk and freedom songs at rallies and sit-ins. Mama still has it in her 80s, scatting and harmonizing with the best of them. It was a great night. It wasn’t a rooftop in Cuba but it was the next best thing. Pass the mojitos.