In March 2002, Jean MacColl flew to Cuba in the latest memorial activity to commemmorate the work done by Kirsty as well as the contributions gathered from fans and well wishers into the Music for Cuba fund. The National Havana School of Music’s music library was to be renamed after her, and a plaque installed complete with her photograph. This is her story.
HAVANA, March 2002
As a guest of the Cubans, I left Heathrow for Havana on March 23rd, travelling with a close friend of the family, John Dalby. We carried with us a beautiful plaque which Mme Tania Domingues-Rosas, the Ambassador’s wife, had asked me to hand over on my arrival. Inscribed in bronze on a polished base, it describes Kirsty as a highly gifted singer-songwriter who was a great friend of the Cuban people.
On the same flight, as freight, went the precious instruments and musical spare parts donated by Kirsty’s fans and friends. On arrival in Havana, we were met and I was presented with a lovely bouquet of flowers and taken to a lounge where we were introduced to our guide for the week and a representative of the cultural ministry, going by car to the Plaza Hotel. Our guide became a good friend and interpreter, as neither of us spoke Spanish.
We were given an itinerary starting that evening which meant we had some hours free (the only time!). Hearing music coming from a bar, we went in and had lunch whilst listening to a group of musicians playing guitars and various percussion instruments. Musicians were to become a feature of our eating out: it seemed that many of them had been to the conservatoire and played and sang for pleasure in the evening, earning some extra cash.
In the evening we went to a theatre to see children in a ballet programme. The standard was very high. The next day we visited the ballet school where many young students had come to study for 3 weeks from Canada and South America. Other visits included my giving a talk to the contemporary dance school and seeing some of their work which was magnificent. We watched a class of about twenty 16 year old boys in their final year of training in modern dance. Driving up to the school through the grounds, they had relayed Kirsty singing, a lovely idea.
The next day was the visit to the music school. We were welcomed by the director and his staff and were told how very grateful they were for the musical instruments and spare parts and how useful they would be. Then we were taken to see the plaque which had been placed on a wall outside the music library and next to a photograph of Kirsty. This was one of her favourite ones, taken privately by an old friend and photographer, Charlie Dickens. He kindly donated it.
Below the plaque was an enormous bowl of flowers and the director told me that there would always be flowers there. The choir was gathered around the plaque and sang the national anthem before individually placing a flower below Kirsty’s photograph. At this point, it was a very emotional time for me. John was able to take the photographs you see with my small camera.
The music library (behind the plaque and photo) is being renovated and I was told when it was finished, Kirsty’s photo would go inside. They want the children to know more about Kirsty and the sort of person she was and intend to open a book on her life story.
After the ceremony, the orchestra played for us. The Director explained to more students who I was and the purpose of the visit again. The children clapped spontaneously and asked a few questions about her visits to Cuba and the CDs. Then we were taken for lunch before going to the radio station where we were introduced on air and the purpose of our visit was explained. Again great interest was shown in the fans’ contributions to the Memorial Fund and we were again asked to thank everyone who had contributed. The programme started and ended with Kirsty singing.
Michael White (second from left), from the British Council gave a reception for us in Kirsty’s memory. He had met her on her last visit and had her CD (which he lent to the radio station for the broadcast). The British ambassador was represented by his Deputy (second from right) and my, by now, friends from the Music and Contemporary Dance Schools, amongst many others.
I asked to go to the tobacco factory as I knew Kirsty had been there. Once again, the workers were introduced to us and they showed their enthusiasm for our visit by spontaneously rattling little metal cutters against a metal plate for trimming the leaves. .
Other visits included the Museum of Art, a visit to see the boat Castro arrived in from Mexico, a visit to the Havana National Dance Company and a couple of hours relaxation by a blue sea. Other trips had been arranged but our flight was for Friday night so we had to say our goodbyes after an unforgettable 6 days. What memories do I have of this wonderful visit? So many but I will try and mention a few.
First of all, the knowledge that the Memorial Fund was a wonderful idea and the musical instruments and the spare parts are badly needed and were much appreciated. Perhaps, if there were more musicians and music in the world it might be a better place for children to grow up in.
I was amazed to learn that dance and music students (and I believe all students) get their training free as well as their equipment, also their board and accommodation. (The classical ballet school found it expensive to supply block ballet shoes as they wear out very quickly). The children are guaranteed work at the end of their training. No fear of unemployment. I know from my own work in the theatre how hard it is for anyone to get money to train in the arts and how difficult to get work at the end of their training. Then there is the health care, the sense of pride in the city and the gradual renovations. The friendliness of the people and the blue shies and warm sun that greeted us day after day.
I would also like to thank Kirsty’s fans and friends for making this visit possible. Kirsty would have been amazed and very happy, I am sure, at this wonderful contribution. We are hoping somehow to keep the fund going. I had some very emotional moments but felt surrounded by affection. It is easy to understand why she liked Cuba so much. Maybe one day I can return.
Concert in Havana
Jean attended the gala concert at the Miramar Theatre in Havana, Cuba just before Easter. She says the theater is beautiful, with great sound and ambience. The concert went well and featured many Cuban students and children playing and dancing to a really high standard. The orchestra played some of Kirsty’s songs and Omar Puente played his specially composed piece for Kirsty to much acclaim.
Unfortunately Jean has not been well since her return to England but promises to have a full report from the trip soon.
Here are some video clips shot by Hamish MacColl in the Music School and Circus School in Havana. They do not feature the Miramar Theatre, though they do showcase the young people who will be using it.