Bajan in their blood
By Gercine Carter | Wed, August 29, 2012 - 12:03 AM
MUSIC HAS PROVIDED the passport to travel outside Cuba for sisters Jeisyl Martinez Castillo and Jemma Mirtha Rivas Castillo.
The two relish any opportunity to travel abroad and have been able to do so with the famous Cuban orchestra Pedrito Calvo Y La Nueva Justicia.
The great grandchildren of a Barbadian who migrated to Panama among the first wave of Barbadians recruited for work on the Panama Canal over a century ago, 25-year-old Jeisyl and 18-year-old Jemma were overcome with emotion recently when they got the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the land of their great grandfather.
They had heard many stories about Barbados from their Cuban-born grandmother Eumelia King-Lewis, who told them about her fine upbringing by a “very well brought up, very strict and very correct” Barbadian father.
The two young Cubans often tried to visualize life in an island where a picture had been painted of people enjoying a carefree lifestyle.
Therefore, it did not surprise Jeisyl to come here and find that Barbadians were “very formal, very correct and very well dressed”. And just as she had expected, the people with an enviable lifestyle were “so friendly”.
She was most impressed with the way Barbadian women dressed, which was characteristic of the image painted by her own grandmother back in Cuba who still liked to be “properly dressed at all times”, a throwback to the example set by Jeisyl’s great grandfather and his Jamaican-born wife.
Speaking through an interpreter, Jeisyl and Jemma’s eyes lit up as they talked about the visit to Barbados, an invitation from the Government to perform at the opening ceremony of the second Barbados Network Consultation held earlier this month at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
When they came off stage after giving a performance that received much applause, the two musicians said almost in unison: “It is very emotional. We are very happy.”
“We can hardly express how we feel,” added Jeisyl, while Jemma exclaimed with delight: “It is exactly what we had imagined – the construction of the chattel houses. It is exactly what our grandparents had told us about Barbados.”
The girls had also been told about a cotton plantation their foreparents owned in Barbados, cricket and how Barbadians had taken the game to Cuba. They did not see cotton fields on this visit but the fields of sugar cane brought back memories of the stories they had heard about the sugar plantation in Cuba owned by the Hershey Chocolate factory up to the time of the Cuban Revolution, where their great grandparents worked.
Jeisyl and Jemma’s great grandfather left Barbados for Panama in 1888. After working on the Panama Canal, he moved on to Cuba around 1924 to work on another engineering masterpiece, the Havana Tunnel. He later worked for the Hershey Sugar Plantation and eventually became a teacher of English. He died in Havana in 1962.
For these two attractive young Cuban girls, music is all that matters.
“Music is all we like. I only want to play music,” said Jeisyl, who studied flute and piano at Cuba’s most prestigious music school, the Instituto Superior de Arte (the University of Arts of Cuba).
She specialized in flute, graduating with an honours degree to teach flute. After graduation, she went to work at a psychiatric hospital playing her flute to provide music therapy for the rehabilitation of the mentally ill. However, she wanted to expand her horizons and joined the famous Pedrito Calvo Y La Nueva Justicia Cuban salsa orchestra.
Jemma is also a member of that orchestra though still a student studying violin and piano at the Instituto Superior de Arte. Like her sister, music is her great passion. Somehow the two sisters had heard about Barbadian saxophonist Arturo Tappin and were eagerly looking forward to meeting him while here.
In the absence of the Internet in their homes, these two are completely engrossed in their music.
It is their window to the world.
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