By Guillermo Vilar, Critic (Cuba)
Perhaps many British citizens wonder the reason for opening the Yellow Submarine club in Havana. No less than in Cuba, the so-called Island of Music.
All this is true, but it can’t be forgotten that the geographic proximity to the United States has traditionally marked not only the economic evolution of this country but also its cultural movement. Therefore, the 20th century way of life of U.S. society was felt from different perspectives in Cuba and in popular music.
However, when The Beatles appeared on the universal scene, the musical direction of the world changed. And Cuba was no exception.
Although the dispute between the governments of the United States and Cuba determined that the records made in the U.S. would not circulate in the country when trade relations between both nations were broken, the Cuban youth of that time managed to be informed about the evolution of rock as the fashionable genre of those times. Either through listening to longwave radio stations from the United States; capturing the BBC’s Spanish broadcasts or the records that people traveling abroad brought with them, it wasn’t long before we realized that rock ‘n’ roll could have been born in the United States, but the rock empire had an indisputable British trademark.
Of course, the evolution of The Beatles as the best rock group determined that many young Cubans had them among their favorites, at the same time as knowing all the incidents of their successful professional career.
And whoever says The Beatles says The Rolling Stones, with a different aesthetic line from that of the famous Liverpool quartet as happened with The Animals, The Hollies or The Yardbirds. However, I remember the first time I heard Led Zeppelin’s Volume No. 1. It was such a shocking experience that as a faithful follower of The Beatles, I said publicly that I didn’t like them, but I knew intimately that it was the next revelation of British rock. No one could sing with the passionate intensity of Robert Plant, any more than there was another drummer as powerful as John Bonham, nor a prominent multi-instrumentalist like John Paul Jones, much less have a director as daringly innovative as Jimmy Page, besides being the emblematic guitarist of hard rock.
At that time, two groups of fans were formed, divided between those who followed Led Zeppelin and others Deep Purple, a group that, although it had an extraordinary singer like Ian Gillan and a legendary guitarist like Ritchie Blackmore, Zeppelin was a devastating tsunami that didn’t give no other the opportunity to share the scepter of hard rock.
By the beginning of the 1970s, young Cuban lovers of the genre already knew perfectly well that U.S. rock had exceptional isolated figures such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, as well as some renowned groups such as Grand Funk Railroad, Crosby, Stills and Nash and Jefferson Airplane or Lynyrd Skynyrd among others. But it also became clear that, at the same time, Great Britain had become the center of a highly artistic rock that had nothing to do with the essences of U.S. rock. If for the average Cuban to mention Led Zeppelin was to talk about something as great as The Beatles, saying Pink Floyd is the prelude to a deep introspection on those cult groups that make up the Temple of the Gods of British rock.
To speak of records such as Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall, is to refer to a vibrant popular music that, for its greater enjoyment, demands to be listened to with the same respect and attention as so-called classical music. The same happens with Jethro Tull, a British group that managed to fuse Saxon folklore with rock tones to recreate the so-called Art Rock.
On the other hand, a cult British group for rock lovers in Cuba is Yes. Made up of virtuous instrumentalists who have consolidated the complexity of British rock in the upper echelons of the genre, we had the privilege of having one of its members perform in our main theaters in 2005: keyboardist Rick Wakeman.
I hope this tight synthesis on the footprint of British rock music in Cuba helps to understand that the existence of a statue of John Lennon in a park that bears his name, is not at all the pretext to attract tourists, but was erected in perpetual homage to one of the most relevant contemporary musicians.
In the same way, the fact that the Yellow Submarine club was opened just meters from Lennon Park not only means the homage of Cuban rockers to the work of The Beatles, but to the entire enormous stylistic universe of rock, preferably British, with covers of classics that delight our visitors.
I’m certain that not too far back in time, the Yellow Submarine will become for rock in Cuba what Ronnie Scott is for jazz in London, and along those lines we direct our efforts in the Best Cultural Center of Cuba, thus named by our clients.