While most people will remember the Summer of 2007 by the insipid, soulless and electronically enhanced song "Umbrella" by Rihanna, mine will be replayed by the sites and sounds of Conjunto Guantanamo. I really don't know where to begin, or end for that matter, because Conjunto Guantanamo lives and moves within a fluid world between the past, present and future, bringing together people, sounds and memories within our neighborhood of DUMBO, Brooklyn. Anchored by conga player Ulises Beato and emancipated by lead singer and percussionist "Chino" Bernardo Ponz, their effortless and heartfelt forays are supported by an ever changing line up of musicians-musicians that can play that tune in two notes.
As we are bombarded by images of overproduced, over sponsored and over hyped musical acts and idols, it couldn't have been more refreshing to have experience Conjunto Guantanamo on an improvised stage with simple, traditional instruments and an innate, classic style of days gone by. My journey to their discovery was a wonderful path that lead to the making of new friends and reconnection with old ones through luck, happenstance or the grace of some unnamed god. But then again, Cuban music is the music of relationships with friends and community. It is the recognition of the beauty in simplicity or even the mundane. It is about embracing your circumstance and celebrating the good and difficult while recognizing that it is all life.
I discovered classic Cuban music through Cristina Garcia's 1992 novel "Dreaming in Cuban" where she made numerous reference to Beny Moré's music as being the soundtrack of the main character's life. It was only natural that I had to hear for myself what she was so moved by. Although I don't speak Spanish (many of the songs have since been translated for me), the song's beauty and meaning reached out and struck that universal chord that all artists strive to play. Therefore when Conjunto Guantanamo plays a Moré favorite, or something more obscure, I am moved and drawn into their world to experience a moment and place that is timeless and nameless.
You can catch Conjunto Guantanamo at Superfine, 5 Front and ReBar in DUMBO. Then you can watch Chino's ageless face and gold laced smile as his wire frame moves under his cheap suit and straw hat. You can hold your sweating glass and drink in the joy of musicians playing music out of love for music. And you can protect your summer memories from the downpour of "Umbrella".