Beatlemania in Cuba, as Lively as Ever
By: Charly Morales, Photos by: Prensa Latina
Having been adrift in a dark abyss for many years, the Yellow Submarine has come up beneath the Cuban sun, in a nation that feels that the Fabulous Four are also partly theirs. The crowded book-launch of The Long and Winding Road of the Beatles once again proved that the legendary foursome from Liverpool is now an integral part of Cuban culture with inalienable rights to sentimentality.
The Yellow Submarine nightclub on 17th street in Vedado was filled with a wide generational mosaic anxious to acquire a copy of the work by journalist Joao Fariñas who, as he intended to do, has written a book that goes beyond the Cuban scene.
“It’s a book for the whole world, maybe not to be read in just one sitting, but to consult and discover what lies beyond the songs that are timeless”, the author said. Although the book took five years to research and write, Fariñas considers it the fruit of a lifetime defined by Beatles music.
The work is a musical Bible, inclduing facts and references on the group made up of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr.
Guille Vilar, the 2014 National Cultural Journalism prizewinner, praised the maturity and depth of the analysis and the extent of research undertaken for the creation of the book whose title is derived from one of the band’s songs.
Vilar recommended the work as a book that brings Cubans even closer to a band whose universal impact also left a musical, sentimental, and cultural mark on this Caribbean country.
This, however, was not always the case, and even though Beatlemania did not fill Cuban TV and radio in the past, it touched the youth that always managed to find a way to listen to such revolutionary sounds. For this reason, when a statue of John Lennon was unveiled many years later in the Havana park on the corner of 17th and 6th streets, close to the Yellow Submarine nightclub, many felt that a cultural and human debt was finally settled.
That may have been the first, but it is by no means the last, Beatles statue in Cuba.
Nowadays, almost every main provincial town has a venue dedicated both to the foursome and to Anglo- Saxon rock in general.
Cities such as Bayamo, Holguín, Sancti Spíritus, Varadero and Santa Clara, have remodelled buildings or derelict plazas in memory of the Beatles and thereby established an oasis to quench the thirst for good music. Significant dates related to the band are also remembered in Cuba, where, last January, the U.N.- instituted World Beatles Day was celebrated.
In 1996, an International Colloquium on the impact of Beatles music in Cuba —a forerunner to the present day Beatlemania resurrection— was held, made up of essays, books, and even a fan club.
Among the researchers who stand out the most is Ernesto Juan Castellanos, author of the books The Beatles in Cuba, a magical mystery tour, Sergeant Pepper came to Cuba in a yellow submarine, and John Lennon in Havana with a little help from my friends.
There are also numerous covers of the greatest hits of 1960 and 1970 that include tracks by Lennon and McCartney.
Beatlemania has impacted not only the fans, but also giants of Cuban music scene such as the Grupo de Experimentación Sonora of the Cuban Film Institute, the Van Van band, and singer song writer Silvio Rodríguez, among others.
The Beatles, ever ready to experiment with new sounds, were similarly seduced by the richness of Cuban music manifested in the use of maracas, bongos, bells, and high trombones, in many of their songs.
Cuban grandparents, parents, and children have kept these feelings alive, the way one might treasure a valuable inheritance or an inexhaustible legacy of peace, love, memories, and good music.