Blondie lead vocalist Debbie Harry has told the BBC in an article how the group fulfilled a long-term ambition to visit Havana, the capital city of the Caribbean island of Cuba.
Looking forward to the future
The lead singer from Blondie, initially the most successful band to emerge from New York's punk scene of the 1970s, made her recent comments in an interview given regarding numerous requests for a reunion tour back in the 1990s after the group disbanded in 1982.
"I made a demand. The only way I would do it is if we were creative. I prefer looking to the future than looking at the past, so that was one of the basic principles I felt we had to have." - Debbie Harry, Blondie
The reunion was a success. The single "Maria" went straight to number one in 1999, and other songs like "Good Boys" and "Long Time" have also done well commercially. But what has been their inspiration?
Cuba: Heart of soul
Interestingly, Harry names Cuba as one of her pivotal influences on Blondie's recent music, going as far as to say that visiting the island was a "monumental" ambition for creative purposes.
So in 2019, they played two special gigs in Havana. Having long been fascinated by the country's music and architecture, the band seized the chance to visit the island as part of an official cultural exchange.
"I was just so eager and so happy to be there. I love the flavours. There was a very strong European design - the buildings were ornate and just beautiful, even though some of them were in a very bad condition. It's kind of what inspired us I think. In a way, chaos is a little bit more influential than just... buildings, you know?" - Debbie Harry, Blondie
It's not difficult to see why Cuba would have inspired Blondie. Not only is there a vibrant music scene, but the soul of the island goes deep. Ernest Hemingway wrote most of his works on the island, Nat King Cole is said to have fallen in love with the open way of life, and Billy Joel, as well as Kris Kristofferson, loved visiting too.
What's more, American musician, songwriter, film score composer and record producer Ry Cooder worked with the magnificent Buena Vista Social Club in the late 1990s to produce one of the best albums to have ever come out of Cuba.
Because of immigration from Puerto Rico and Cuba, Latin music has always been part of the feel of New York. That's what gives Blondie songs like "Rapture" and "Wipe Off My Sweat" such a Latin feel, while Peruvian percussionist Alex Acuna played on "The Tide Is High".
Another American-Cuban musical collaboration
As the BBC article states, the chance to work with Cuban musicians was a big selling point for everyone in Blondie. Esteemed Cuban musician Carlos Alfonso joined the group on stage for the two gigs, along with members of his 12-piece band, as well as pop singer David Torrens and salsa performer Alain Perez.
And was it a smooth transition? Debbie Harry certainly thought so. With just one day to rehearse, the musicians expanded and transformed Blondie's sound, with several songs transformed into long semi-improvised jam sessions.
"I was so impressed with the Cuban musicians. These people were so talented, and they came into the sound-check totally prepared. Their addition to songs was monumental. I really liked it when the girls were singing the harmonies on Heart of Glass and how fluid they were. The other thing I really enjoyed was the bongo and conga players, and how they lifted and accelerated the music." - Debbie Harry, Blondie
New releases with a Cuban twist
After more than a year in lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Blondie is finally ready to release a six-track EP collating the best moments of their Cuban adventure. In addition, there is also an 18-minute documentary entitled "Blondie: Vivir En La Habana", set for general release in the coming weeks.
Although it's always pleasant to read about the long list of creative people who have been inspired and influenced by this magical island, it really shouldn't come as a surprise anymore!