A Little Slice of Cuba

Welcome to Rancho Don Goyo, where the pork is fresh, the beer is cold, and the music is pure, rural Cuban

But the music is repetitive, and it's certainly not danceable. So while the old timers in the audience clap and cheer, most of the young people pay scant attention to the spectacle, which has the antiquated feel of a vaudeville act. Practitioners argue that the form is a high art, an intellectual pastime widely misunderstood and much maligned because of its country origins.

"The upper class in Cuba always said this is no good, but you have to be knowledgeable to understand it," says Meliton Perdomo, a dapper, moustached man dressed all in white. "Punto guajiro touches the heart and moves the soul," he notes

Unlike other genres of Cuban music, punto guajiro has remained virtually unaffected by African influences. It does not employ bongos or conga drums, and is about as black as American country and western music. "Africa, no, no, no," clucks Perdomo, who speaks with a slight Castilian lisp. "This is Spanish through and through."

Performers like Perdomo take extreme pride in the language of Cervantes. He says a true guajiro poet "has a voice, he has an ear, he can improvise, and his grammar is perfect. He has an utterly complete knowledge of Spanish." Someone, he points out, like Pablo Leon.

A native of the pastoral Pinar del Rio province who came to Miami in 1984, Leon hosts a Cuban country music radio show Saturday evenings on La Poderosa (WWFE-AM 670). He talks fondly of a national punto contest held annually in Cuba, and an international competition that took place in Spain's Canary Islands last year.

He says there are about one thousand punto guajiro enthusiasts in Miami-Dade County. Although they meet periodically at various social clubs, Leon likes Don Goyo's best because it is a more natural environment for the country genre. Goyo agrees. "This is the music for this place," he says. "It's the music I've been listening to all my life."

Leon wants to keep the tradition alive, but his eleven-year-old daughter, who has accompanied him today, wrinkles her nose when he suggests she take part in the show.

"Punto guajiro has had its problems," Leon admits. "A lot of people have looked upon the guajiro with disdain, but it's kept on. Anyone who is sensitive or intelligent will keep listening to it. It will carry on."

Manuel Martinez, a lanky 79-year-old in a gray felt cowboy hat and huge aviator sunglasses, would agree. After all, he left Cuba for good in 1953 with a $23 round-trip plane ticket to Key West. But he kept singing punto guajiro. "My parents sang it, so I do," he reasons. "What's more, it's as Cuban as the flag."

The guajiros feel the same about Don Goyo's. "This is the most authentic place in Miami," says Manuel Soriano. "It's the place that's most like the Cuban countryside."

When the guajiros finish their performance a fantastic commotion breaks out on the dance floor. The senior citizens in their cowboy hats and boots start dancing frenetic merengue, some with their wives, others with the young waitresses. Teenage couples in baggy sport clothes show off fancy steps and turns. A two-year-old girl with dark skin and a blond afro twirls in a circle, mimicking her grandfather. The baby who was dancing with her father earlier is now sitting in the corner as her older siblings stand in a line performing a practiced routine.

Away from the dance floor, the restaurant has taken on the air of an outdoor bazaar. Several vendors move around carrying toy trucks and dolls, armfuls of polyester nightgowns, and boxes of video tapes dubbed in Spanish. A towering Senegalese man proffers wooden elephants and ceramic vases. His blue batik dashiki is printed with a cell phone motif.

The music stops and a Dominican singer with a pretty face and a large, shapely behind takes the stage. She wears a pink spandex dress two sizes too small. Singing in a strong, throaty voice to the backing tracks of a song recorded by salsa star Marc Anthony, she gyrates, turning her backside to the audience. Several of the guajiros' wives elbow their husbands and get up to leave. The singer sits in the lap of an old man at a front table. When the song ends, she gets up, swiveling her hips and her throwing up her hands: "Aplauso, pleeese!"

Don Goyo watches with detached amusement from a table in the back, where he sits for a minute with some regulars. The Dominican girl wandered in one day looking for work, he explains, so he gave her a break. Goyo jumps up to cut more pork, checks on the beer supply, then runs to the store to pay a local farmer for some produce. People constantly come up to hug him, or slap him on the back as he walks by. A group of young men call to him from the pool table on the porch. He waves and hurries on.

The music continues until about ten and then, quite abruptly, the weekend is over. A young Cuban truck driver climbs into the rig he's left out in the parking lot and roars off to New York. Others head off to clock in to their jobs on the graveyard shift. The rest of Don Goyo's customers stagger contentedly to their cars. It's time to head back to Miami.

Goyo, meanwhile, retreats to his room and retires, resting up for the day of chores to come. He is soon asleep, and the only noise is the hum of a lone air conditioner over the quiet of the country night.

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