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Bethany Freudenthal / The Garden Island
Members of Kauai Voices celebrate at Lihue Airport Wednesday after returning from a tour of Havana, Cuba.
LIHUE — The Cuban people, said Liz Hahn of Waimea, are like the people of Kauai.
“They’re very loving,” she said. “The aloha spirit abounds.”
Hahn was one of the Kauai Voices members who returned home Wednesday following a weeklong tour of Havana, Cuba. The sentiment, “we are all the same,” was echoed at the Lihue Airport during the joyous homecoming that included a proclamation presented by Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.
For Hahn, one of the most touching moments of the tour was when they sang the song “We are the World.” Because Cuba has been isolated from the United States due to the embargo, that song often made audience members cry.
The world, Hahn said, needs to be one.
“We shouldn’t keep people from interchanging or interacting and sharing their talents and skills and learning about other cultures,” she said. “We have to take down the artificial barriers between people and just be human beings on one planet.”
About 20 singers, joined by friends and family, left Feb. 5 for a tour of the island nation that had been isolated from the United States through an embargo since the 1950s, until President Barack Obama lifted it during his time in office.
“Put aside our differences of political views and religious views and such, we are one people,” said Kauai Voices Director Randy Leonard. “We have the same blood surging through our veins.”
Music, Leonard said, is an international language and supersedes everything. He said the group found the Cuban people to be warm and welcoming.
Leonard said in this politically divisive times, they wanted to “reach out and use the music and aloha of Hawaii to help promote the positive side of the United States.”
“Hawaii is special. We have a special spirit and they just lit up and it just opened the doors and we want to do the same here,” Leonard said.
The Cuban government, he said, fully funds and supports the arts, so the musicians the group met with were all professional.
“They’re meeting five days a week and that’s their job, so they travel all over the world and we got to exchange with them,” Leonard said. “But more importantly, the power of music bringing people together was the amazing thing. People’s preconceived notions of one another were totally disarmed.”
Kauai Voices singers, plus three musicians, performed in venues in and around Havana — joining with two choral groups for combined performances.
When not performing, they stayed in a historic Havana hotel, which is perfectly situated for touring the city, visiting the national art galleries, schools, historic sites, cigar factories, markets and finding locations for spontaneous music and dancing.
The tour, for Kapaa woman Amy Lin Thomas, was remarkable. She loved the compassion of the Cuban people and how freely they shared their love of music, dancing and life.
“They were very welcoming to us,” Thomas said.
The group’s tour guide, she said, told them they were ambassadors of hope.
“That’s really what it felt like. It felt like we were mending burnt bridges between the U.S. and Cuba. It was really beautiful. Amazing,” Thomas said.
For Thomas, the most profound moment of the trip was when the director of one of Cuba’s most esteemed choirs cried after she heard them sing.
“She was trying to tell us how much it touched her heart that she could feel our love for sharing the music,” Thomas said.
The tour to Cuba was fabulous, said Lawai resident Fran Nestel. She said it was like a dream to her.
“We did things like going to see waterfalls and we went to the Palace of Arts and Culture where we saw ceramics being made and paintings being done and talked to the artists themselves,” Nestel said. “We just fell in love with Cuba and the people.”
You do realize it was a Cuban who just slaughtered 17 students at a high school in Florida.
What an incredibly stupid remark Jake Liggett
Yesterday. A coach died, sheilding others as well as students. Sentimental. Well noted. From me.
That’s nice the people of Cuba are like the people of Kauai. Do the people of Cuba have freedom of the press like the people of Kauai? Do the people of Cuba have freedom of expression like the people of Kauai? Do the people of Cuba have the freedom to travel wherever and whenever they want like the people of Kauai? Do the people of Cuba have freedom of speech like the people of Kauai? Do the people of Cuba have freedom of assembly like the people of Kauai? Do the people of Cuba have the freedom to protest on the streets and hold up anti-government signs? Do the people of Cuba have the freedom to vote for a new leader every four years? They do? I didn’t know that. That’s amazing!
Kind of bizarre how Jake Liggett and Eddie Lopez COMPLETELY MISSED the whole point of this article, and Sunrise Blue’s comment was, as usual, pretty much unintelligible. Meanwhile, it sounds like the singers had an absolutely wonderful trip to Cuba and met some awesome folks there!
At the beginning of the story, it says: “LIHUE — The Cuban people, said Liz Hahn of Waimea, are like the people of Kauai.” So when I saw that, I thought, hmm, the Cubans are like the people of Kauai? And that’s when I asked my question above. I was just wondering that’s all. I was wondering if they are like the people of Kauai, and the people of Kauai have those freedoms, do the Cuban people also have those freedoms? After all the article does start with “the Cuban people are like the people of Kauai” Of course I know both peoples live on an island. Of course I know both people like music, art, dance, singing, etc, etc.
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