Merritone dreams of Cuba

Observer senior writer

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

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Though he died three years ago, Winston Blake's spirit will sail with his Merritone sound system on its Fort Lauderdale to Havana Dream Cruise from February 26 to March 1.

Blake died at age 75 in February 2016, days after suffering a debilitating stroke. He was passionate about music, including Afro-Cuban sounds which influenced Jamaican music and musicians.

The Dream Cruise is organised by Paul “Mr Flavours” Johnson, a Jamaican events promoter based in South Florida. It takes place on the Majesty Of The Seas liner and also features singer/musician Benjy Myaz, singer Michael Schloss (Winston's brother-in-law), and Merritone selectors Eric Cyrus, Norman Lake, and Fernando Bogle.

Monte Blake, Winston's younger brother, heads the Merritone sound system which celebrates its 69th anniversary this year. He said the Dream Cruise is more than a trip on the sea.

“The Merritone Cuba cruise is extremely important to Merritone in more ways than one. This is the first time Jamaicans and the extended Merritone family can go to Cuba from the United States of America,” he told the Jamaica Observer. “Prior to this cruise, Jamaicans living overseas had to fly to Jamaica because of the embargo, now they can visit without fear of consequences that would have been imposed on them before the new Cuba/America arrangements.”

The US Government's 55-year embargo against Cuba prevented many Americans of Cuban descent from visiting family in that communist country, which is a 42-minute flight from Jamaica.

It was not until the 1990s that the Merritone sound system played in Cuba. That took place in the city of Santiago de Cuba, located in the country's south-east.

Travel to Cuba from the US has been less restrictive since December 2014 when President Barack Obama's Administration began normalising relations with the Cuban Government, led by President Raul Castro, younger brother of Fidel Castro who died in 2015.

“I wish Winston was alive to be a witness to this seminal and historic cruise. Winston and Merritone first started to play in Santiago; this was another cruise of sorts — from Port Antonio to Santiago on the late Bunny Francis' Caribbean Queen and this was a huge success,” Monte Blake recalled.

The Dream Cruise sails from Fort Lauderdale to Key West on the evening of February 26, after a party celebrating the lives of Winston Blake and his wife Cynthia Schloss, who died in 1999. Its next stop is Key West the following day, then on to Havana.

While in the Cuban capital there will be tours of the city as well as a jam session involving Jamaican and Cuban musicians, followed by a Turntable/Waterfalls dance aboard the ship.

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