By Alexander Britell
HAVANA — If you’re wondering where the background is, you won’t find it. Because it’s you.
The jazz singer’s voice is muted by the mic, slowly rising with the bass and the keyboard.
She is looking at the small crowd, but not singing for them. She is just singing.
Because in Havana, there is no background music. Everything is live, everything is now. There is nothing recorded, no wall speakers, no piped-in sound. That’s true at the smallest bar and the toniest hotel.
It’s a rarity to ever hear recorded music in a bar or restaurant. And if you do, it’s probably a sign that you should leave.
Because in Havana, the music isn’t played for you, meant to be part of the landscape. You don’t listen to it — you watch it. You feel it.
This is the way music sounds in the capital, the way jazz sounds in Havana. It is a different way of experiencing music.
And there is no better place to hear as good a jazz group as you’ll hear anywhere than nighttime at the Casa del Habano at the Melia Cohiba. There is a good bar, a well-stocked humidor and a prime performance space filled with musical virtuosi.
Tonight, it is Luz D’ Habana, a terrific ensemble led by Vivian Perez Leon that even has its own YouTube page and played with Wynton Marsalis when the jazz legend came to Havana to record an album a few years ago.
That is the level of jazz you find inside a hotel cigar store in Havana. Four times a week. Think about that.
Because this jazz singer would be singing whether you were here or not, maybe not in this bar, maybe at her home for her friends with a bottle of Santiago de Cuba.
Because in Havana, there is no background music. There’s real music. And you’re the background.