Central America Concert Tour “Report from Cuba” 9/23/10

September 29, 2010

I am on a concert tour to Central America, including Cuba, El Salvador and Mexico, a part of the Culture Program of the Japan Foundation and the Japanese Embassies. I have gone to many countries in South-Central America under this culture program, but I had never been to those 3 countries. I am at the airport in San Jose, Costa Rica, on the way to San Salvador from Havana, Cuba. Actually, I was at this airport in 2008 when I was performing in South America. I remember the layout of this airport, and coincidentally, I visited the same coffee shop today.

First of all, visiting Cuba was very exciting. American citizens are not allowed to visit Cuba, except artists or people with a special permit, but I am Japanese. So I can visit there legally. Even though I was a legal tourist, I needed to obtain a tourist card to enter to and exit from Cuba. We shouldn’t get Cuban immigration stamps on our passports. I may not be able to come back to the US.

It was very interesting to learn that Cuba has 2 different currencies, the one for Cuban citizens is set 1/24 of the value from the one for foreigners and tourists. The average monthly salary in Cuba is about 20-30 dollars, but we have to remember the currency is set very low and the average salary would be about $480-720 in the US dollars. It is still very low. Many people struggle to survive daily lives. They get food stamps to cover the basic food, but the food stamps do not cover everything. People can’t buy houses and the only chance to own the houses is to wait until someone in the family passes away. They constantly face the shortage of daily necessities. On the other hand, impressively in Cuba, people can receive any free medical treatment, including a heart bypass surgery, cancer treatment, and everything. And it is so wonderful to know the low crime rate and no drug problem. Currently, China and Venezuela are the big support to Cuba, and people speculate that Cuba will be open to the US during Obama presidency.

I conducted a master class at Lyceum Mozartiane de las Habana, inviting students from the music schools. I was very impressed by their good preparation, solid technique, and understanding of their repertoire. It was really rewarding to share their music and give some suggestion to students. Next day, I had a concert at Basilica Menor del Convento San Francisco de Asis. This is a beautiful concert hall converted from the convent. Huge appreciation to Mr. and Mrs. Ambassador of Japan, many Ambassadors and diplomats came to the concert besides regular audience.

The day before the concert, some of Japanese musicians and I were invited to the official residence of the Ambassador of Japan for the special dinner, and we had a great time sharing conversation on music. It was so wonderful to meet Japanese music colleagues in Cuba. Maestro Fukumura was to conduct the local orchestra, and he invited a guitarist and a bandoneon player form Japan. Besides us, the embassy invited the Cuban musicians as well. It was memorable that the Japanese Ambassador and I played Mozart E Minor Sonata together. He is an excellent violinist, and is a music critic for classical music. His CD collection exceeds over 4000!

Next, I will travel to El Salvador where 2 concerts are planned.

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