A Violin and a Bicycle in the Streets of Havana

Reniel travels long distances on his bicycle to play in the streets of Havana /14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Espinosa, 27 February 2024– Of everything that Reniel carries with him, on his miles-long bicycle trips through Havana, there is nothing more important than his violin. With the case open and the bow taut, the young man of 30 from Havana performs in all kinds of improvised settings in the capital: squares, parks, boulevards and roadways. There is only one place, however, that he resists — Old Havana, where only those with a “special permit” from the Office of the Historian can perform.

The old town, where Eusebio Leal injected multimillion-dollar sums, continues to function under the commandments of the late Historian, glossed in the city’s Master Plan, and violating those rules has consequences. “If they catch you playing without a permit in the historic center, the fine can be up to 4,000 pesos,” says Reniel, who aspires to bring joy to passersby with his music within the limits of the old wall, on Mercaderes Street or in the area around the Cathedral.

“I have tried to request that permit and I am in the process of applying for it, but first I need to have the papers from the Onat (National Tax Administration Office), present my work project and, if they accept it, then I can work there,” he explains. the musician. As he remembers, they have “talked him down” several times, but this time he hopes the response will be positive.

Meanwhile, the rest of Havana’s streets are a free map in which Reniel can play his violin and earn some money to help his mother, a job that he combines with a more stable job, such that he can only do it in his free time.

This Monday, in the portal of the old building of the Museum of Fine Arts, in front of the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, the young musician played for passers-by, who from time to time dared to leave some bills in his case. A few steps to the right, a man with a statue of Saint Lazarus asking for offerings and another with a saxophone were competing with Reniel for the attention of the Havana residents.

Reniel, who accompanies his violin with the music from a speaker connected to his phone, cares little about the competition because, as he explains, the museum portal is just the temporary stage that he must share with other street or needy artists, and it is not even the fixed site for his performances.

A man with a saxophone competing with Reniel for the attention of the people of Havana / 14ymedio

“I work in different places, I don’t always play here,” says the musician, who insists that he has never performed with orchestras or played the instrument professionally. “When I was about 14 years old I had the opportunity to have a violin, and since then I learned music self-taught and with private lessons,” he says. State music schools, he adds, “are difficult to access at the age I was. Children start playing from the age of seven and if you don’t enter at that age it is very difficult to be admitted later on, ”he says.

For about five years he managed to get several restaurants and bars in Havana to hire him to offer live music to customers. “I have played the violin at the Los Mercaderes restaurant, at the La Makina bar, which is closed now, at the La Cocina de Esteban restaurant in El Vedado, and at the Iranian food restaurant, Topoly,” he lists.

Playing on the street, despite having to travel by bicycle from Boyeros to different parts of the city, became a means for Reniel to earn extra money for his home. This time, however, the meager loot was not just for the musician. An old woman, not far from the museum, asked him for “10 pesos to eat.” He couldn’t say no.


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