• Andrew Bell

The Rum Shorts

Updated: Feb 4, 2019

Chapter 1 - Havana.

Part 1 - The Concert

It’s late, but not too late; Mr Jones and I sit on the terrace of our Havana apartment sipping rum and quietly mulling over the day. It’s been a long hot one and the gently breeze that’s rolling up from the sea is a welcome one. Now is the time to relax and reflect, gather our thoughts and plan for tomorrow…

A sound floats through the streets, over the rooftops and onto the terrace; it is familiar and yet unknown at the same time. It is the sound of music, but nothing that is recognizable to either of us. Without comment we’ve both stopped talking and started listening, we’ve both stood and moved to the edge of the terrace to better hear the music, if it is music… Fast, Latin tempo, heavy and light percussion mixed with a melody that’s just too far away to fully make out.

It’s coming from up the hill, no down, along the road perhaps? Maybe there’s a party in a neighbouring house or street. Without thinking we grab keys and a camera and head out into the night.

On the street it becomes clearer, the music is coming from down the hill towards the Malecon; “of course” Malecon nights must be in full swing.

We head down the hill, following the rhythmical beat but before we reach the famous beach-front strip we arrive at a fence, the music is coming from beyond it, we glance around but can see no obvious way in.

“Where’s the entrance?” I ask. He smiles, “tradesmen’s entrance” comes the reply, and just like that we’re inside and moving through a throng of people.

There's a band on the stage. Or at least there are singers and percussionists. I see no stringed or woodwind instruments, just an assortment of drums and things being hit, in front of this people singing. The vocal harmonies are like nothing I've ever heard, melodic, musical and blended together in ways I can't begin to fathom. Behind them the percussion seems in complete contrast; loud, sometimes aggressive, varying in tempo to the point the two appear to almost be in conflict, but somehow it all fits together to create something greater than the sum of its parts.

We move towards the stage, nobody questions or comments; I start shooting, getting closer to the performers. People smile and move so I can get a better view, a clearer shot. Some younger men near the stage pose for pictures, grinning, happy, they smile and clap me on the back as I move past to get even closer to the band.

The camera passes back and forth between Mr Jones and I, like Olympic relay runners passing a baton and without hesitation he climbs on to the stage; close ups of the percussionists, their instruments and hands working in harmony, the sound of the shutter completely inaudible over the raucous and furious drumming.

I walk round to the front to get a better view, again people move aside to let me pass, gliding and sliding around me, not breaking their step as they continue to dance. He’s on the other side of the stage now, photographing the singers, who seem oblivious to his presence and continue singing, four voices, together in perfect harmony, sometimes working with the percussion, sometimes not, but always creating incredible music.

The camera comes back to my hands, I feel more comfortable, less exposed. I crouch down to shoot low up to the stage and across the feet of the people dancing.

A crowd has formed around a young man in-front of the stage; he is dancing, moving in that relaxed, easy way only Cuban and Caribbean people can, twirling brightly coloured silk scarves or handkerchiefs around above his head, behind his back and between his legs. He finishes with a flourish and presents the cloth to another man; a challenge – the second man is cheered by the crowd as he swaggers into the clearing to take up the contest…

The show in front of the stage continues, the two men fighting, but with dance, not with fists. They take it in turns to perform for the excited crowd, their movements more and more elaborate; others join in now; young men keen to prove their hips can sway as much, their feet can move as fast. The crowd cheers them on and I keep shooting and shooting.

I stand up and pass the camera between two people; mimicking the dancers so Mr Jones knows it’s his turn to take up our challenge, but like the performers on and off the stage, this isn’t a real competition, it’s motivation to push myself harder.

I relax and turn away from the stage to take in the crowd, next to me is an incredibly beautiful lady with jet black skin, wearing a figure hugging yellow dress. She towers above me so that my eyes are in barely above her chest, I glance down before looking up, a movement that doesn’t go un-noticed, but as we make eye contact for the first time she grins broadly, this lady is far from shy. It’s at this moment I realise that whilst I was quick to remember the camera, I was slow to remember any money.

As if reading my mind, she smiles at me, links her arm with mine holds out her hand towards me.

“Rum?” She passes me a large drink and gives me a knowing wink as she dances out in front of me, it’s not just the men who are keen to show off tonight.

The camera is back in my hand and now it’s me who’s grinning, warm rum flows through, the night is hot and the party has just started. I give her a little wink back as I raise the camera to my face…

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