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“Unlike anything I have ever seen before“

Nic Maeder has been the lead singer of the Ticino hard rock band “Gotthard” since 2011. The music clip for the song “C’est la vie“ was shot in Havana – a city Nic Maeder became enamoured with. He tells us why:

“The director who shot the video for ‘C’est la vie‘ with us is not new to working in Cuba and has also made various commercials there. Since he loved the mood, the light and fabulous colours of the island, he thought it would work really well for our song. And he was right.

Havana is unlike anything I have ever seen before. And I have seen plenty of the world! During the making of the video, I got to experience the real Havana. For instance, the film crew, the actors and the extras were cast directly on site. That worked wonderfully. We also shot parts of the clip in people’s houses. One house was particularly memorable. It belongs to an incredibly interesting, awfully nice old lady. Her kitchen has no roof – and it was raining the day we were there. The lady just stood in her kitchen, in the rain. We also filmed in a bar frequented largely by locals. It is called ‘La Victoria’ and is just a stone’s throw from the famous Malecón esplanade. The people in the bar weren’t bothered in the slightest by us, giving us a brief glance at most before rededicating their attention to their ‘Bucanero’ beer.

Photos: Edelweiss/Shane Banks

A car museum on wheels

Havana’s landmark is arguably the city’s stunning architecture featuring many colonial style buildings, of which a large number are extremely run-down, if not to say dilapidated. But that is exactly what gives Havana its untouched and authentic feel. At times, one gets the sense of accidentally walking into a movie set. During the video shoot, I didn’t see much of what tourists typically should see. But I made up for that on my second visit, when there was one thing I particularly looked forward to doing: a city tour in one of the legendary vintage convertibles that are omnipresent in Havana. One could say the entire city is a car museum on wheels!

There are three topics visitors are bound to encounter in Cuba: Salsa, rum and cigars. Latino rhythms are not really my thing. But it is fascinating to witness how music and dance happen everywhere. I also had the chance to visit EGREM, Havana’s most famous music recording studios. This is where the legendary ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ recordings were made that reached world fame thanks to Wim Wenders’ cult movie. I met Amadito Valdès, the percussionist of the band, in his favourite restaurant ‘Le Chansonnier’. Crazy, isn’t it? OK, I myself did win a ’Swiss Music Award’ – but he was nominated for a Grammy and thus for the most important music award in the world! And then there’s Salsa and rum, available on almost every street corner. The locals drink ‘Santiago‘ and add rum to practically every drink. Mojito is frequently served as an aperitif. On that note, the Hotel Nacional is a great place to enjoy a mojito cocktail in a tasteful atmosphere. I also spent an evening in a house that had been converted into a club. I wasn’t aware of Havana’s cool party scene! And on the subject of cigars: I stopped smoking many years ago. But the smell of a good cigar is still something really special. The best way to learn about how cigars are rolled is on a tour through a tobacco factory like ‘La Corona’, Havana’s largest cigar factory. Everything is done by hand – absolutely fascinating!

Che Guevara’s legacy

I was also really drawn to Cuban art. My favourite are the works of José Fuster. His house in Havana is also a museum known as ’Fusterlandia‘. I bought three pictures which are now in my house in Lugano.

On my second visit to Cuba I got to travel around the island a bit. Even in the picturesque little towns of Cienfuegos or Trinidad, there’s a sense of being catapulted back to the 1950s. When in Cuba, a visit to the Che Guevara Mausoleum in Santa Clara is an absolute must. The memorial site for the revolutionary and his combatants is also a museum. The history of the country is incredibly interesting and ultimately what makes Cuba so unique. Che Guevara is still revered as a national hero. I also think the Cubans see that there are two sides to socialism and that not everything about it is altogether bad. A case in point is Cuba’s excellent health and educational system.

The nicest beaches of the island are situated in the north with Varadero as one of Cuba’s most famous beach resorts. Very touristy, but just the place to relax and soak up the sun for a few days. I used to be a keen yachtsman and you can engage in practically every waterborne activity here, including stepping out of your hotel into a catamaran and heading out to sea, or booking a boat trip that includes swimming with dolphins.

Incredibly inspiring

By the way, I was surprised to discover Cuba’s delicious food. I had preconceived notions of the cuisine being a bit monotonous. But the culinary choice turned out to be abundant. The best food is served in private restaurants, in so-called ’Paladares‘. Some of them are really worth visiting, including ’La Guarida‘ in Havana. A typical, seemingly dilapidated house from the outside, this gem of a restaurant can be reached via a worn flight of steps. Incidentally, ‘La Guarida’ is where the Oscar-nominated Cuban film ’Strawberry and Chocolate’ was shot – a fact evidenced by the string of photographs on the walls of the restaurant.

In sum, Cuba in general and Havana in particular are incredibly inspiring. I could easily imagine spending a few months writing songs there.“

Nic Maeder’s Top Three in Havana

1. In the footsteps of the Buena Vista Social Club: A special highlight for fans of Latino sounds. A tour through the famous EGREM music studios (410 Calle San Miguel, Havana).

2. Art kingdom: The residence of the “Cuban Gaudi“ José Fuster is also a museum called “Fusterlandia” (Playa de Jaimanitas, Havana).

3. Strawberry and Chocolate: Restaurant “La Guarida” makes by far the best chocolate cake in Cuba (418 Concordia, Havana).

(Text: Sandra Casalini)