when we decided to open the new Fajoma Bar in la Compostela, we had yet no idea about the scale of the historical responsibilities we were about to face.
After almost three years of research regarding the actual site of our Bar, we stumbled onto various documents, newspaper articles, photos, diaries, etc. that would link our project to a glorious and at times fantastical past. Some of the material was passed on to me by my late grandfather, Leonardo Leguen Casares, when I was still a little boy.
Other documents we found in archives strewn around the globe. Others yet came into our hands by pure chance.
But most peculiar of all, when digging out the cistern in the basement, we found an old iron plated wooden box with further documents, amongst them an odd looking object – a mixture between book and mechanism with something like a litte moving black hole on the front cover. The contents of that object proved to be even more surprising to us. But more of that at a later point.
We are very happy to share our findings with you.
Please enjoy our Bar and keep the history alive,
The home of Avantgarde Punk Music, 1969
Jeff »Jeopardy« Jennings, Melody Faker Magazine Unpublished interview for Rolling Stone Magazine, 2012
Hi Jeff, great honor meeting you. Let’s start with the basics: Where and when?
»Hi. Cuba, Havana, Club Backstage Nirvana, Compostela 313, 17th of june 1969.«
So how did it all begin?
»It was certainly one of the stranger assignments that my employer, Karl Knudsen, editor-in-chief at the infamous magazine Melody Faker had ever sent me on. Avantgarde Punk (the term wasn`t even coined back then) in Cuba? Sure, man. What the f*** have you been sucking on, comrade? I was certain the voltage they had on their wall plugs there wasn’t even sufficent to operate a kitchen blender, let alone an amp to power an electric guitar and solid base strings to last the intro of a song. »Mate, just get your arse over there«, he nonchalantly replied, »this thing is so underground, not even the neighbours in la Compostela know about it. They think the building is posessed by electric generator demons, and now they avoid the whole block after 9pm. Not even the bands that performed there know it exists, ahm, somehow«. Bollocks, I said. Then again. Bollocks. Then, not saying it out loud for the third time, only thinking it. Bollocks.
Why did you go, then?
»You know, almost instantly another thought befell me: 2000 quid and an unlimited expense account for 2 weeks was something I could not turn down at the time. The weather here in the North of the Kingdom was shite around that June, my childhood sweetheart just gave me a legendary dumping. So what the f***. I packed my desperation, sun tan lotion, and…vamos.«
What happened in Cuba?
»Upon arrival, still confused by jetlag and my own personal in-flight »entertainment«, my eyes got hit by a wave of multiple patterned black tights, worn by the female Cuban airport security (bearing in mind my recent break-up); then, exiting Jose Marti International airport, the rest of my body got steamrolled by a wall of temperature and humidity never exprienced before. Just imagine somebody dumping the contents of an empty sauna onto you. Even though everything seeemed like travelling to a near distant past, the smell and sound of freshly burned gasoline and the flash-bright light promised a hint of the future. A promise about to fulfil itself.«
In what ways?
»As chance would have it, I arrived overseas on the final night of the venue. After freshening up in my hotel room at the Nacional and zigzagging through the damp and olfactorial streets of Havana Vieja, I eventually arrived at the discrete iron door in La Compostela. Well prepared by my editor, I bent down and whispered the code word (Mesopotamia) into the ear of the tiny fruit-shaped bouncer. The door opened, and, still to the present day, has never closed since for me.«
»The crowd inside was a rather versatile who-is-who sound orgasmathon from around the globe, producers, studio people, songwriters, musicians, you name it. The atmosphere was soothing. The concert was about to start in a matter of minutes. I made my way to the bar, downing a couple of Mulattas, making friends with two sympathetic weirdos. Herr Juhnke, or Harry, apparently a German actor of some sort, who kept trying to order something called Eierlikör for his female friends, getting strange uneuphoric looks from the barkeepers instead. The other scrawny kid, a dear friend of mine for years to come, was claiming daiquiries were the best hair styling product on the market. Let´s call him Sid. The rest is history. Never mind.«
Wow. Can you tell us about the concert?
»Alright. The concert. The band was called Kiffbetter & the Architects. Imagine Sex Pistols meets mid-period Kraftwerk meets The Large Hadron Collider in Cern, Switzerland, and you`ll get the idea. This was the year 1969. It changed music forever.«
The band’s equippment looked like it was dreamed up by crazy kraut scientists on industrial strengh amphetamines, the power generator in the basement of the club might as well have been a retro-futuristic ship’s engine
Hm, I understand. How did the night end?
Fatalistic bliss. During the encore, the lead singer of the band, who`s face was coverered by a rusty iron mask, turned up the amp once again and the generator blew up in what years later became known as Dolby surround sound. The power failure that resulted reached from Vinales in the east to Varadero in the west, all the way down to Santiago di Cuba. We are talking about 35% of the country. They had to shut the club after. What a shame.«
»The very next I left Cubas as a changed man.«
Well was it worth it?
»Oh yeah, baby.«
The home of Avantgarde Jazz
The very last night at the Onyx, La Compostela 313, La Haban or «The purple panties for Norma B.»
F. Zihar, one of those rare unknown diamonds, without whom modern jazz in it’s today`s form would not have been possible, first set foot on Cuban ground in the spring of 1946. Born and raised in Lebanon, he had already been a superstar in the Middle East and Southwest Asia region where every little kid knew the rhythms and melodies he composed and played on his tabla.
Trying to break new grounds on the other side of the world, one humid night in downtown Havana he ran into Dizzy Gillespie, and together with other great influences around that time, they would take bebop jazz and transport it into the future. The band that he formed in Cuba only lasted for one performance, but they not only changed the game – they changed the ballpark forever.
Off Note Records proudly presents the first pressing of that live performance in La Compostela on the 21st of December, 1946: The Blanco Zihar Sextett, »The Dangers of Mystification, live«. Please enjoy.
John Birks Gillespie, Autobiographical Notes, 1982, unpublished
Havana, Cuba, April 1946
This mad cat was hot as a Louisiana chicken wing. He collided into me during one of those typical warm, humid and floral Havana nights at my little regular hang-out in La Compostela. I’d come from New York myself just recently, trying to shake off a little habit of mine that I had mismanaged to control for some considerable time. Not that Cuba was the right place to attempt this in those days. But hey
He introduced himself as Franco or Francesco Zihar from Beirut. An Egyptian looking guy with the hair of a brother and an Italian first name? Dazed and confused as I was, measuring the intensity of his hairdo, I would adress him and refer to him as Blanco ever after. Sit down and have a glass with me, Blanco.
Everybody here had a story. After a few drinks he told me his.
Apparently he was what you would call a superstar tabla virtouose in the Far East (one I’d never heard of) but his new compositions were too far advanced for his people’s ears and he felt misunderstood on his home turf. Bringing only his tabla and a suitcase full of hope he signed up with the King of Hookah Shipping Company and left Tripoli as a dishwasher aboard the SS Algonquin in the winter of 1945/46 in search of the New World and new sounds. Within 3 weeks ocean time, he worked himself up to salad boy, then busboy, then head waiter. As those stories go, a French widow (la ›Comptesse de Truffe‹) fell in love with him at her dinner table over a Cordon bleu, they married aboard the ship (her idea), stormy night, slippery deck, over the railing she went (not his idea), then eaten by sharks. Adieu.
Medium heartbroken but a man of the world now, he reached the northern glittery shores of Cuba in the spring of 1946, on the day of our first encounter, about to change the future of Jazz music.
That’s all the information I got out of him on that first night. After a dozen daiquiries he started mumbling in his mother tongue, which to me sounded like German radio transmissions spoken backwards.
I said good night.
He said: "Be aware of the dangers of mystification. See you tomorrow, Dizzy."
Thus our friendship and collaboration began.
In the coming months we saw a lot of each other and I learned quite a bunch from him. He taught me the roots of Oriental and Maghreb music, he taught me about women and he also taught me how to prepare an insane Cordon bleu (which I later rechristenend Cordon Blanco).
It was the year after the big war, the jazz scene was ready for a change and that change was about to happen then and there in Havana.
Within three months he put together a band consisting of Cuban musicians and a couple of crazy birds from overseas. A legend was about to be born
The Diaries of Leonardo »Cinderella« Leguen Casares, Havana, 1976
Translated from Spanish by Valentina Flores Guadalupe
»…Brother, I remember the night as if it was yesterday. It was the 14th of September in the year 1944, the big war was still raging on the other side of the Atlantic. It was also the night that changed my fortunes until the end of my days, which is drawing nearer and nearer as I’m writing these lines. So be it, let the final sweet oblivion wash over me like the waves crash over the Malecon – I will die a happy man!
There was a second night about to come that I will always (a few more weeks? Days, maybe?) remember like it happened a few hours ago, a night that will provide me my final thoughts and images on my death bed, but more of that later. Indulge!
On the night of the 14th my wife sent me downton to buy meat for our dinner party which, as it later turned out, I eventually failed to attend. We had invited my in-laws and my sister plus husband. I was supposed to buy three chickens at the 24 hour butcher’s shop in La Compostela, but after my sister’s husband excused himself due to spousal disagreements of some sort, and after counting my coins, I decided two and a half chickens would have to do.
I realized some of the custumers of the butcher shop that night were extremely well dressed, some of them disappearing through a door in the back of the shop.
After putting in my order at the counter, I was courtiously motioned to follow two very chic dames through that very door in the back, the gateway into my new life.
Only later I found out that two and a half chickens was the secret code word that night, the key to my future. Brother, what are the chances?
What I saw upon entering blew my simple mind. The jazz club on the ground floor was packed to the last corner, the Cuban band on the stage played sounds I had only dreamt about until then.
Having been an amateur jazz man myself (with a decent record collection, though; the sax was my weapon of choice), I instantly knew I was in the right place at the right time, there to stay. Only a hundred mules from the mountains of Vignales could have pulled me out of there.
Well, just two minutes after, the one hundred mules materialized in front of me in the shape of a very angry looking waiter, slapping me across my cheek with his white gloved backhand, shouting at me to rush to the backroom and get dressed already.
What can I say? Yours truly played along. Weak in resistance and guided by higher forces I went to a small changing room and put on the clothes prepared for me, a clean and starched (!) white shirt, bowtie, dress pants and apron. Due to my shabby wardrobe upon entering, they thought I was the missing busboy for the night. Finest with me, I would have played a broom, as long as I could stay in the enchanted building.
I was led to a small hidden bar upstairs, beginning to fulfil my duties. The room was bursting, the crowd exuberant, the dresses were long and shiny, the tuxedos immaculate, the cocktails plenty. Thus began my first day of »work«, it lasted well into the morning hours.
From that day on, come nightfall, I returned every evening for two years, joyfully plunging into my Cinderella enchantment. After six months I became waiter, then head-waiter after another six, manager of the place by the year of ’46 and in the summer of that same year I spilled all my earnings on the heavy mahagony table in the back-office to become part owner of Onyx, the hottest underground club in Havana, Cuba. Darling, I was a made man, a member of society, a wearer of custom-made leather shoes. I drank champagne with Rita Haywood, Martinis with Dorothy Parker, more champagne with Ava Gardner, more Martinis with Dorothy and Scotch Whisky with Gregory Peck; I exchanged whispers with Lauren Bacall and cigars with Blanco Zihar. I met all of them.
Our Christmas Party on Dezember 25th of 1946 was approaching. Expectations were as high as the sky over Pinar del Rio. Even though my head and body were mostly in the clouds of the glamour and glitz of the upstairs bar, my heart’s true place lay 5 meters below, downstairs with the jazz.
For the party we needed to book the best band on the island, whatever the costs. There was but one solution. I talked to my brother Dizzy G., he arranged for a meeting with Blanco and we sealed the deal. This Blanco kid was as crazy as a butterfly bat from the caves near Baracoa, his music divine. Only the man himself with his newly formed sextett could turn Christmas into history…and darling, believe me, he delivered.
On the eve of the party, the line that formed outside Compostela 313 reached all the way across the Obispo. The Hollywood crowd, the music scene, the cultured people, many sharply dressed Italians that attended some kind of convention at the Nacional, you name it. The stage was set.
Upstairs in the bar the party was in full swing early on. Marlene Diedrich, this drunken angel, kept shouting out «fuer Oma, fuer Oma» (›to my granny‹) everytime she downed a daiquiri. Apparently her grandmother had died of a rum overdose on her honeymoon cruise to Barbados. This was much to the liking of Truman Capote and his charming companions, arthouse actresses Candy Barr and Tempest Storm. »Fajoma, Fajoma« they shrieked out all night, clinking glasses and throwing back their cocktails, slurring Marlene’s words. By midnight, the whole place had tuned in. »Fajoma« became the cheer of the night, the toast of the town.
Downstairs, the concert of The Blanco Zihar Sextett was reaching it’s climax. Somehow Blanco managed to hook up his tabla to the massive power generator in the basement. The sounds, cascades, spirals and labyrinths he then played on his electrically enhanced instrument in a state of frenzy was something I’d never heard before and did not hear ever after. Try to imagine Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew meets Sun Ra meets Pharoah Sanders, only louder! (By the way, those three legends were among the crowd, too, gasping in awe.) The building was shaking. Even my shy and beautiful new friend Norma Jeane Baker, in a state of ultimate bliss, started taking off parts of herunder-garments, throwing them at Blanco, unaware. As the encore crescendoed, cracks began to zigzag across the walls, growing bigger with each beat from the stage. With the final ecstatic chords, the generator blew, heavy smoke from the basement invaded the building and evacuation was in full mode.
The party spilled all over the streets of Havana Vieja, mesmerised.
Blanco Zihar was the last person to leave the building. He was wearing a smile on his face and the purple panties of Norma B. on top of it. »Some like it hot, I guess. By the way, I like your boots. Take care of yourself, Cinderella.« Those were the last words he said to me. I've never seen him again in my life.
The building partially collapsed on January 1st, 1947. It’s spirit lives on in full.
those were one part of the sources that fell into our hands. Now it is up to us to keep the spirit of this legendary location alive and add our part to the history of 313 Compostela.
And now, things are even getting stranger…
The afore mentioned book/mechanism that we found digging out the cystern was more than a riddle to us, and it’s contents seem to be mind bending and priceless. Partly written in languages long dead or even ancient coded linguistic systems, we are just now about to have it translated and decrypted, with the help of academic friends and historians.
What we have seen so far, will be a whole other dimension in it’s own, certainly worth to be told…
»A disfigure will appear from cold crimson flash —dials in disobey— skin burned inside out— cold crimson flesh clad in copper veils reign over 7 countries …«
The song unwinds, describing the pernicious illness2 that had befallen this king of kings, turning him into a sight that »syphillic demons screechingly flee« and »no human eyes endure behold«. But then: hope. In the concluding part of the song/myth/prophecy, we hear about a place »beyondest far« to the West, where magic herbal essences (»krauts undoom«) promise physical redemption for our unfortunate hero.
…even though, here, a lot points to the exact location of the original plate which is 5 floors underground in the archive vaults of the Vatican library
This is where rational interpretations go awol. Different schools of historians and former physics turned conspiracy theorists state that the described symptoms of the illness hint to the exposure to radioactivity. A few even gently whisper the possibility of RQTB (Reversed Quantum Thrust Burn), an unwelcome side effect of time-travelling matter, observed only in endless theoretical equations: The Tuberculosis of the far future. According to optimists. Softer whisper: Was (is) Kifwele the ultimate traveller?
More than 2000 years later, drawings were found, etched into stone plates. Reassembled together, they covered the ground of a football field. Some parts went missing, but with the remaining tables, one could reconstruct the bone chilling construction plan of a vessel, 170 brooms1 in length with an estimated weight of approximately 80.000 cheeses2, not driven by force of wind, but with a highly advanced hell machinery powered by fire, steam, acid and electricity3. (as described by an eye witness around the year 1450).
According to the drawings, due to their small hight of no more than half a broom and their exceptional crafty knowhow, 100 Mangolians from the subterranean tunnel systems in the northern lowlands around Diyabak Ir were enslaved to man the power drive’s intricate machines.
one broom = 1.18m
one cheese = 4.56kg
The Baghdad Battery or Parthian Battery is a set of three artifacts which were found together: a ceramic pot, a tube of copper, and a rod of iron. It was discovered in modern Khujut Rabu, Iraq, close to the metropolis of Ctesiphon, the capital of the Parthian (150 BC – 650 AD) empires, … It's origin and purpose remain unclear… It was hypothesized by some researchers that the object functioned as a galvanic cell, possibly used for electroplating… (Wikipedia)
Found in 1920 in … This extraordinary artefact caused many learned men unimaginable troubles translating. After decades of work, we now know for sure the piece of writing in question is yet another prophecy, this time made by the legendary seven headed whore of Babylon (»the Temptress with many tongues«), addressed to »the fried copper king«.
To find salvation, he is to build a »ship uncompareable«, sail west »beyond men’s reach« and »inhale the magic herb on a vast terrace to be build by the architect«1
Putting all of these facts together, it is safe to assume the ship in question left the port of Alexandria ca.150 BC, west-ward bound, on its improbable quest for adventure and healing.
at this point, it is worth noting that »inhale herb on terrace« in the dialect of a neighbouring region can also be translated as »everyone will die«. Remind you, we are still dealing with the good old Temptress of many tongues here and the linguistic situation around Babel was more than confusing in those days.
The Navigators Deck Log, 7th moon, approx. 150 BC
What a vessel. I’ve never seen something even vaguely similar before. Not to mention the crew and the other – let’s just call them creatures – aboard this hell machine. I don’t know how they build it, where there build it and who build it, and believe me, I don’t dare knowing. A simple man can only take in the amount of information that his mind can handle.
Why have they chosen me, on this damned drunken morning in my little harbour joint, to navigate this mission? Because I’m the Best.
What did they pay to lure me onto this apocalyptic journey? That, dear reader, will be an information that your mind won’t be able to behold.
A ship without sails! Reader, I’m not a crazy man! More than 100 brooms in length, and just the devilish machinery deep in the belly of the boat must weigh heavier than 30.000 cheeses! A whole plantation of lime trees on the upper stern of this floating beast! (Scurvy is indeed a serious matter on the high seas, protection equals life).
The curious protection of the expeditions dark master is of a whole other kind: An armoured iron suit in rusty black, like the burnt soil in the plains of Uruk. Day and night sitting on his salt crusted iron throne in the bow, always staring straight ahead from behind his iron mask at only he knows what.
The only living creature he would confer with a woman of stunning beauty, who only walks the deck in daylight. Come nightfall, she disappears, and rumour is, that with her disappearance one can hear the rattling of chains, the closing sound of iron doors and piercing screeching sounds, as if coming from seven throats, not human, from the intestines of the ship.
The Mangolians don’t take this well, easily irritated characters that they are. How the Master succeeded in extracting those little fellows from their caves of toxic fumes to work this machine goes beyond my knowledge, hard working as they are, they do like their toxics.
Today is the third day at sea, on the floating madhouse. With 30 knots eastward bound, there is no turning back. The wind, the sun and the stars are whispering to me, that I will never see the shores of my mother’s land again.