Music seems to be everywhere in Cuba. It is as if it’s in their cultural DNA. The first day I spent in Havana consisted of wandering the vibrant streets and sulking in the smell, the sites, and the sound - especially the sound. After a hearty meal of Cuban cuisine my friends and I stumbled upon a band rehearsing their set in a large building, and as they saw us enjoying the free concert from the outside they invited us in. I immediately strayed from the group because I saw a man sitting by himself playing the guitar.
Me gusta tocar la guitarra, I said to him in what little Spanish I knew. He lent me his guitar and as I started to finger pick “Tears in Heaven.” He smiled and said, “Ah, Eric Clapton.”
I then asked, ¿Te gusta Led Zeppelin? He gave me a confused look, and knowing that I he probably had a difficult time understanding me due to my Californian accent, so I started to play the famous blues riff to Black Dog and he immediately knew what I was referring to.
Cuba and the United States restored diplomatic relations back in mid 2015 after five decades. Regardless of that 50 year gap, and regardless of the language barrier I had with this man, I felt that I was able to connect with him because of something that transcends all national barriers: music.
Music is the universal language of human beings. It’s celebrated in nearly every religion, whether it’s the hymns of the Roman Catholic Mass in the Vatican or the Muslim call to prayer in Mecca, all religions express themselves through music one way or the other, and all cultures share the joy that music brings to the human experience.
Maybe that’s why the Shropshire foundation – a nonprofit dedicated to peacemaking through music education – is finding success in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Uganda, and Syria: because music can heal individually and collectively.
Even where conflicts have seemed to be forgotten on the international level such as the relationship between Turkey and Armenia, or where conflicts seem to be impossible to solve as is the case in Israel and Palestine, efforts are being made by NGOs to fight extremism and strengthen polarized communities through music.
Music heals because it brings us together. So many musical genres have a way of finding their way into all cultures, regardless of where it originated. I think that’s why I find it so incredible that Hip Hop, which was born in New York City, has reached all the way to Moscow, or how Norwegian Black Metal has somehow seeped into Saudi Arabia. Because no matter where it started, the combined use of vibration has the potential to be enjoyed anywhere.
Music brings us together because it shows us that we are all the same. It doesn’t matter what we eat, whom we pray to, or how we identify – the ability to relish in the sensation of music is in all of us, and it’s not going away.
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