Back to Havana… and the colorful and captivating Callejón de Hamel, in Barrio Cayo Hueso. (For a more in depth and fascinating history of this neighborhood, see Neighborhood as Refuge: Community Reconstruction, Place Remaking, and Environmental Justice in the City by Isabelle Anguelovski.)
It was our first full day and serendipity and synchronicity brought us Dayan, an enthusiastic guide with boundless energy and pride.
Without hesitation, Dayan immediately made a beeline to this alley — the creation of self-taught artist, Salvador González Escalona. It is a living, breathing gallery and studio, where artists were welding and painting as we stopped to watch and wonder at their creations.
The cultural character of this community cannot be separated from its religious traditions and practices — a syncretism of African religions brought by slaves and Catholicism brought by the Spanish conquerors. Salvador Gonzáles Escalona explains, “I am talking about the religion known as Santería, which comes from the Yorubas; Palo Monte, which comes from the Congo; Abakuá, which has to do with Calabar [the Cross River Delta in Nigeria]; and maybe some manifestations of spiritism, a cultural expression of working class people, the ordinary folks in our country.”
Callejón de Hamel is also home to a vibrant musical scene. “In this alley many years ago, in the 40’s, a cuban musical movement was born, known as ‘filin,’ songs of feeling, with our friend Angelito Díaz and his now deceased father, Tirso Díaz. There were figures such as Elena Burque, the late Moraima Secada, aunt of Jon Secada, Omara Portuondo [featured in Buena Vista Social Club], César Portillo de la Luz, and many others.” — Salvador Gonzáles
On Sundays, around noon, the street comes alive with musicians, dancers, and the sights and sounds of Cuban rumba. Alas, around that time, we were in the midst of changing hotels. Next time, for sure!