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Buena Fe

By Katie Walmsley, Director
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I arrive in Cuba via Nassau from Miami. This is a much more complex process than you would have thought.

Of course you can't fly straight to Cuba from Miami (actually you can if you're a Cuban exile or journalist and obtain permission from Washington over a month in advance of your trip, in which case there are direct flights).

So I take a Bahamasair flight to Nassau then have to buy my Havana flight there. This is a new service offered by Bahamasair and only one person I speak to at any given point during the journey (excluding the pilot) appears to have any knowledge of it. Which makes things even more difficult when you're queuing up trying to check in for a flight no one has ever heard of.

Anyway in the end it does exist and somehow I arrive in Havana. I have to get my filming permit from the Cuban press office the next day so can't start filming until then, but we decide to go out that night to the Casa De la Musica -- which is a venue/club which is famous for being the best place to see Cuban bands on a Sunday night. It's down a lot of dodgy alleyways, and about 15 people warn me to watch out for muggers. But when we get there it's a very cool atmosphere -- Reggaeton is getting very big in Cuba and there's a lot of that. But we don't stay long because I have to be up early the next day to get to the press office...

9 a.m.
I race around Havana trying to find somewhere to take out money (nearly impossible) and somewhere to get a passport photo (again nearly impossible). I then head to the CNN bureau in Havana to rendezvous with my cameraman. CNN is one of the only news organizations to have a bureau in Havana so this is very helpful for us. I meet Morgan, the new bureau chief, and Jose the cameraman and they show me how to get to the press office. The press officer doesn't speak English so we are forced to communicate only in French (my French, as I may have mentioned before is not good). But we seem to get by and everything is sorted. At which point I can start filming with Jose without fear of being arrested...

2 p.m.
We go to the Hotel Nacional; the best hotel in Havana, to meet with the band -- Buena Fe -- which consists of Israel and Yoel, plus Johnny their manager. Israel speaks a lot more English than Yoel so he does most of the talking -- he is the principal singer and Yoel is the guitarist. They have hired one of those fantastic fifties cars for the day; one of those with wings, convertible, painted turquoise. Sitting in it is actually pretty uncomfortable because Cuba is blisteringly hot and the seats are leather.

2.30 p.m.
Our first location for filming is the Morro castle which overlooks Havana. Morro is the location for concerts as well as just generally being somewhere great to look out over all of Cuba from. Israel and Yoel tell me about the time they played a concert at Morro to 3,000 people. We get back in the car and drive along the Malecon, which is Havana's ocean-front road. Along the way, past crumbling mansions, we pass the American embassy. The fact there even is one is a surprise to me. Castro -- not a fan of the Americans -- has expressed his antipathy towards them by surrounding the embassy with 100 black flags, obscuring any view they would have.

3 p.m.
We reach a bar on the Malecon which is one of Buena Fe's favorite hangouts. It turns out there is a wedding happening there on that day; and the car park is full of fifties cars -- the theme also seems to be fifties. The bride knows Buena Fe and comes out to say hi and have photos taken while a lot of people who look like they've just come straight off the set of the Buena Vista Social Club mill around.

4 p.m.
We drive to Plaza De La Revolution which is a huge square in the middle of the city dominated on one side by a giant statue of Jose Marti, and on the other by an equally giant sculpture of Che Guevara' and experiment with camera angles.

5 p.m.
We park near the center of Havana and walk through the streets of Habana Vieja. The area looks a lot like a more decayed Valencia and is full of little courtyards and restaurants. Everywhere we go locals recognize Israel and Yael and want to stop and take photos. We reach a square which is quintessentially Cuba -- a group of men argue over a chess game, dogs sleep and there's a band playing. We stop at one of Buena Fe's favorite bars; where they serve beer in columns with a central core of ice to keep it cold. We sit down and discuss how Buena Fe started and what the future holds for them.

6 p.m.
We walk back towards the ocean front where we reach a square filled with taxis like rickshaws that pull what look like bubbles behind them. Our taxi driver points out Castro's favorite restaurant to us and when I ask if it is good he tells me he has no idea; it's too expensive for ordinary Cubans. The bubble taxi takes us back through town to Floridita; the famous Havana bar where Hemingway used to drink -- and write. It looks as if it has not changed in 50 years and as the sun sets we decide the square next to it is a good place for Buena Fe to give an impromptu concert. As they play a couple of songs the square fills with onlookers. It's a great place for a gig. And it strikes me that Cuba is one of the only places where the most well-known band in the country can still play in the street and have it not be the most surprising thing that has ever happened (definitely no U2 "Where the Streets Have No Name" video scenario here!).

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