I met Barbara Oliva in California tenement house, where Luciano (Chano) Pozo, was born. After sipping her steaming coffee, she brought to the present ancestral memories of this icon of Cuban percussion. They were short stories about the drummer and composer born in Havana on January 7 1915 and deceased in New York on December 3 1948.
The woman traveled back in time and tried not to miss a single detail. She pointed at the majestic ceiba tree that stands at the doorway of the tenement. With her eyes fixed on its roots, she said, “Right there, Chano Pozo, my father and other neighbors played rumba. Those who met Chano personally would not only speak of his dexterity for the art of beating hides. They would also talk about a righteous man and good friend, who never lacked rum in his revelries.”
Barbara stroked her temple and said, “In those days, the ceiba was just a seedling that grew in a lard can. Some years later, it was transplanted to the center of the patio, after Concha Mocuyu, oldest local sorcerer and owner of the seedling, died.
She stopped and stressed, full of the humblest pride, “California tenement has always been a very special place. Perez Prado, Celeste Mendoza and Merceditas Valdes were all here. They came, shot their scenes and the visit ended with an infectious rumba, a habit that has lingered until our days. Imagine, every month we have a party here, where rumba is the host!
California is not only known a great exponent of rumba and part of Cuban most autochthonous traditions. In 1995, its neighbors became leading characters of a socio-cultural project sponsored by the National Association of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC) and other institutions.
Barbara said, “This is a cultural novelty that came to stay where internationally famous artists are involved. Painter Diago, for instance, gives painting classes to the children of the community. This arouses the smaller ones’ interest for the art of paintbrushes.
“Every year, neighbors celebrate the project’s anniversary project with a party where everyone is welcome. “Clave y Guaguanco” and “Yoruba Andabo” bands have played in these parties, just to mention some. This year we marked the 17th anniversary with a splendid party. The famous Cuban designer Raul Castillo and his fashion group were our special guests.
The neighbors of California tenement carry rumba in our blood and the socio-cultural project in our hearts. Its achievements have made us more sensitive, educated and humane people. We never forget our roots, whose symbol is the ceiba tree standing at the doorway of the tenement. It is a tree worshipped by the followers of Afro-Cuban religions”, said this woman that sometimes sees Chano wandering around the patio with his broad smile and his drum on his back.
By: Maria Regla Figueroa
Translated by: Pedro A. Fanego