The heart of Cuba - the people
Words: Emily Georgieva
Photography: Isaac Ibbott
20 January 2019
It was an early evening when I met Emilio at a Cuban party in the South of England. He was making an impression because of the way he looked. He wasn't eccentric, nor did he try to attract attention to himself. Later, when I thought about it, I thought he had the looks of somebody who had Cuban blood running through his veins. He was from a mixed descendant. His mother was a Cuban lady, his father - Irish. Emilio seemed to have more features typical for the northern Caribbean country. His skin had the smooth colour resembling olives, his hair was black and curly. He was tall, polite and curious about other people.
When Emilio started talking to us, he wanted to know as much about my friends and I as he was willing to share about himself. The more he talked, the more we wanted to listen. The party was at its peak and there was Caribbean music that was so powerful in its purity, it was making everybody happy. People were dancing around us, moving their feet fast -the kind of thing one will see happen only in a few places outside the Republic of Cuba. I could hear Emilio’s voice loud and clear above the music. He was raised in places like this where people knew how to have fun and there was no wrong time to start playing music on the streets just so you can make others want to forget the rest of the world for a while. Emilio, subconsciously or not, knew how to charm everyone around him. He felt comfortable in a place like this. It was only natural for him to know how to capture our attention despite the whole party going on at the back.
His father was an artist, a painter, who was selling his canvases on the streets. ‘The way you will see people do in the movies’ Emilio described, laughing a little and I could tell that he was proud of his father. After some years of doing this, his father decided to start making furniture, combining art with practicality. He was using old Japanese furniture, spending the time to find the vintage, original designs and recreate them, adding a hint of his originality in the process.
He illustrated his childhood by vivid impression of Cyprus, which lived in his memories. His mother took him there when he was around 11 years old. ‘She travelled with her music’ he shared with us, smiling to the memory. ‘She took me with her, we got on a boat that took us to an island and I remember it as if it happened yesterday.'
A few years ago, Emilio went back to Cyprus once again. This time he travelled with his friends to Nicosia. They stayed there for a few days, didn’t sleep much as they were craving to explore the wonders of the island. When they found themselves close to Limassol, Emilio and his friends stopped by the Kourion to watch a show there. The amphitheater with its centuries-long existence left the sense of respect in him. They saw as much as they could, travelled long distances, met some local people and tasted traditional Souvlaki for the first time on their last day there.
When I asked about his passion, he stopped for a second to think about how to phrase it. ‘It’s going to sound stupid, but my passion are people. I am very interested in them and how they express themselves and approach others. Most of them have kind hearts.’
When in Greece, he remembers locals’ generosity. They have spent hours walking and wondering around, ended up getting lost. Some locals, people, who knew nothing about Emilio and his companions, took them in their house for the night, fed them some nice, home-cooked food and didn’t want anything in return.
This is something, typical for the Cubans as well. Emilio described them as warm and giving people, always ready to help anyone and make them feel at home. Emilio had seen this happen in Cuba multiple times. It was the land of generosity where locals take nothing, and they turn it into something special. Music is loud and sounds like flames burning with desire. People dance on the streets, igniting happiness in the souls of those, who pass by. Cubans feel the music with their whole bodies, and this is easy to see when looking at them dancing, having fun, without thinking of who is watching. They just want to invite everybody in the fun, share their culture, their land’s traditions with whoever wants to learn.
The night went on. The musicians kept strumming their 12 string guitars, the singer’s Latino voice, made everyone listen to the Caribbean sounds. Orders for the rum-based drinks kept being delivered at the bar.
For a night, it felt like we were at the heart of Cuba. We hadn’t travelled kilometres of distance to get there, Cuba had come to us instead. And I was being reminded of an important life aspect that night - the vital human need for sharing, connecting and learning from one another. We all carry our roots within ourselves wherever we go and inspiring others through it is a commonality for Cubans. It is what makes the nation so special, beautiful and heart-warming.