Rhythm and Heartbeat of Cuba: An Interview with Andre Mallinger

Posted: Monday, April 29, 2024

Rhythm and Heartbeat of Cuba: An Interview with Andre Mallinger

Step into the soul-stirring rhythms and vibrant hues of Cuba as we delve into an enriching conversation with Andre Mallinger, a trailblazing adventurer and percussion virtuoso. Through her keen insights, we unravel the captivating allure of Cuba's cultural mosaic, from the syncopated beats that pulse through its streets to the warm embrace of its people.

What drew you to Cuba initially?

Before becoming an adventure travel guide, I was a career percussionist, and I have always been interested in the role of drumming in women’s lives in traditional cultures. Cuba has a long history of African-derived drumming traditions, and this is what inspired me initially to travel to Cuba.

On my first trip, we studied with dynamic older women drummers and dancers paving the way for young female artists, and it was so inspiring to get to know these women and witness the positive effects they are having on their communities. Over subsequent trips, we explored more of the pan-arts of Cuba as well as the countryside, and I just fell in love with the country, its people, landscape, history, and ingenuity.

What changes have you seen in Cuba over your time there?

I visited Cuba six times between 2014 and 2019. On the first trip, we learned how difficult it was to communicate remotely, so we spent 10 days traversing the country and meeting our hosts, teachers, guides, and performers in person. Few people had cell phones, and even fewer had access to the internet.

By my last trip, most people had cell phones, and the Cuban government had established “hot spots” all over the country where people could pick up internet service, so you would see dozens of people hanging out in public places, checking their emails and communicating with family and friends all over the world.

There was also considerable building development over that time and a historical change in governmental leadership when Fidel Castro died. Most notably, there was an increase in privately owned small businesses like family-run bed & breakfasts (called “casa particulares”) and privately owned restaurants (“paladares”). There are now about 150 categories under which Cuban people are allowed to run a private business.

Another momentous change has to do with money; for 20 years, Cuba operated on a dual currency system, utilizing both the Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). It was incredibly complicated, and you really had to pay attention to what you were being charged and in which currency. Now, Cuba only uses the CUC, which is much simpler.

What impressions has Cuba had on you?

Despite living under conditions of adversity for so long, the artists and musicians in Cuba have maintained a flourishing cultural arts tradition. From salsa and rumba to bolero and danzon, Cuba has influenced the entire world with its music, and its government provides considerable support for the arts.

Cuba also has an extensive history of small-scale farming and traditional farming techniques that are still practiced throughout the country today. The beauty of the country is indisputable, whether you’re exploring the coastline, the limestone jungle-covered mogotes, the mountains, or the historic centers of the cities.

Some of my best days in Cuba have been spent visiting small farms, hiking from site to site, sitting on the veranda of a modest home in the mountains, sipping strong coffee or fresh juice or the local rum. Cuban people are warm, open, kind, friendly, and so generous. Communities really work together to support one another to make sure everyone has what they need.

What have your past participants particularly enjoyed about Cuba?

Everything! Cuba is so close to the U.S. and yet vastly different. Many people's high point is traveling in a developing country but in the comfort of a group with outstanding guides and teachers to show them the way. Many visitors are surprised by how good the food is, from simple black beans and rice to plátanos, yucca, fresh fish, and, of course, mojitos!

People enjoy learning about the history of Cuba, which most Americans know very little about. Hiking is always a highlight, as the dry jungle mountains are a beautiful and unique ecosystem. Dancing to street music is great fun, and the historic Spanish architecture in the towns is lovely.

Cuba is also a place that feels safe for tourists and where women are respected. On my first trip to Cuba, we happened to be there on International Women’s Day, and as we walked around Havana, countless men wished us “Felicidades,” meaning “Congratulations.”

What are you looking forward to about going back to Cuba?

I am really eager to see what changes have transpired in the five years since I last visited Cuba. I’m excited to see some very dear friends, visit familiar places, and explore new spots in the mountains. I’m also looking forward to meeting new Cuban teachers and guides, learning from them, and improving my Cuban Spanish! And it’s always nice to have a bit of Caribbean warmth and sunshine before the long Colorado mountain winter!

Andre's reflections linger like the echoes of a beloved melody. In the tapestry of Cuba's vibrant culture, we find a timeless resonance that continues to captivate hearts and minds. From the bustling streets of Havana to the tranquil valleys of Viñales, Cuba beckons with its enduring spirit and boundless warmth.

Are you ready to experience the magic firsthand? Join us on an unforgettable journey to Cuba, where every step is a symphony of discovery, and every moment is infused with the pulse of the island. Let the rhythm of Cuba ignite your soul and inspire your next adventure.

Leave your comment