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So long, Jimmy Cuba

September 20, 2010
by the gentle author

Yesterday, Jimmy Cuba left the market for ever. He is a widely respected and popular figure who has traded here continuously since 1992, after the fruit & vegetable market left. This Sunday, as Jimmy packed up his stall of Latin & World Music for the last time in Spitalfields, the other traders came over to shake hands and make their regretful farewells. Old friends of Jimmy and a string of musicians had been turning up all through the day to greet the man who has become a legend in the Spitalfields Market.

It was an emotional moment, but everyone maintained a dignified composure and let the soulful lyricism of the music express what we were feeling. Yet when Jimmy increased the volume and took the rhythm uptempo, a party broke out spontaneously as people submitted to the irresistible Latin beat, with couples dancing in the market. There was a surreal delight to this extraordinary spectacle, which incarnated the passion and idiosyncratic poetry which Jimmy brought to this market that he loved over all these years.

We shall miss his mischievous good natured presence, his witty slogans on cardboard signs and, of course, we shall all miss that Latin pulse which has been the soundtrack to market life for the last two decades. We learnt something from Jimmy Cuba, because through his open-hearted manner he constantly reminded us that Spitalfields is more than a marketplace, it is a community of people and an arena for cultural exchange.

Months ago, Jimmy summoned me for breakfast to Dino’s Cafe in Commercial St to reveal his sober intention to quit on the last Sunday of trading before the stallholders are temporarily moved out of the market into the street while another event takes their place in the building. It was the last straw for Jimmy who has endured the whims of successive managements in the market over two decades. Growing up in Romford Market and beginning trading in music when he sold his record collection in Leather Lane thirty years ago, Jimmy has a strong feeling for markets as a collective human enterprise. He understands the drama of chaos and banter that brings the best markets alive.

With an inborn sense of levity, Jimmy is an unrepentant free agent who is never afraid to speak his mind. An innately decent person, he has a personal sense of justice that has led him to stand up for the traders on innumerable occasions over the years. And the corporate style of the new management – with executives who stick to their offices and will not even make eye contact with traders when they walk through the market – was too much for Jimmy. They did not like his cardboard signs, they thought his music was too loud and they did not like his attitude. Jimmy rolled his eyes in outrage to recount a recent incident when the traders arrived to set up their stalls in the morning, only to discover that the management had “forgotten” to tell them there was a promotional event happening, and they were sent away, losing a day’s income. “The market management, they only care about making money and they don’t see people, they are just interested in pounds per square foot. Spitalfields Market had so much more than that, but it’s been sanitised,” he admitted to me reluctantly on Sunday, as if it hurt to speak this way of a place that meant so much to him.

“I’m going to buy a boat and live on it for half the year,” continued Jimmy, looking to the future with brave confidence, “And I’m going to get back into DJing.” Because, as everyone who knows Jimmy Cuba is aware, he has become friends with many of the legendary performers of Latin Music, creating a mutual respect that has led to some dropping in on his stall in Spitalfields when they come through London. “I’m going to be spending a lot of time in the States because that’s where the artists are going to be.” explained Jimmy with a sprightly grin, looking forward to being able to travel once he is not stalling out every week, and can spend more time pursuing his three passions, boating, fishing and Latin Music.

On Sunday, Jimmy had a double size stall with all his favourite record sleeves on show and it made a fine display. I stayed on with him as the crowds thinned out and he went through the modest routine of packing up his CDs in their boxes while the music played and all around him other weary stallholders were closing up at the end of a long day. Jimmy cast his eyes around taking in the familiar picture, privately gathering his memories and emotions to carry them away with him. We all wish Jimmy Cuba well – one of the great characters of of Spitalfields Market – even if we regret that a little of the soul of the place has gone too. As one of the market traders said to me, “It’s going to be quiet without him around.”

Jimmy Cuba packed up his stall in the Spitalfields Market for the last time on Sunday.

Off Long Beach, California, 1986. An image from the past that gives a vision of Jimmy’s future.

Jimmy’s copy of “Tito Puente & the Making of Latin Music” autographed by Jose Alberto, Giovanni Hildalgo, Davie Valentine, Alfredo de la Fe and Jimmy Bosch – all legends of Latin Music.

Teddy Manhood & his wife at Romford Market, 1974. Jimmy worked on their stall from the age of twelve and Teddy, who became a second father to Jimmy, used to bring him up to Spitalfields to buy stock.

23 Responses leave one →
  1. September 20, 2010

    He is leaving the market for reasons that illustrate all that is wrong with modern business and business manners; but maybe the tide of boorish greed is turning…?

  2. Rosie Antrobus permalink
    September 20, 2010

    Goodbye & goodluck Jimmy, I too left Spitalfields Market less ceremonially 2weeks ago after trading there since the year 2000,for the same reasons so meaningfully expressed by you.
    I had possibly one of the best costume jewellery stalls in London, from Camden Passage, to Camden Lock to Spitalfields over the last 37 years, from vintage to craft to punk to grunge to ethnic and back to retro vintage, been there ,done that.
    I admire the current innovative traders who can hold their own ,hopefully as creatively as possible,against the new phillistine onslaught.
    I will enjoy visiting friends and colleagues on my wonderful free sundays.
    I can now be found in the once derelict, now locally run Broadway Market on Saturdays .
    I wish that the dream could come true that everyone’s local market could turn around like Broadway so creative people could make their crust within walking distance in the traditional way.
    Rosie Antrobus (antrobeads)

  3. Alan Gilbey permalink
    September 20, 2010

    Souless. Heartless. Corporate. Dead. Congratulations to the market management on making the Horner building a grey shadow of it’s former lively self. A few weeks ago I was asked by a pair of Spanish tourists standing the in the Old Spitalfields Market where the Old Spitalfields Market was. Good question.

  4. September 20, 2010

    …I haven’t managed to get to Spitalfields for a while now but absolutely loved talking to him and of course buying his music. I got some amazing stuff from him and some of it he even gave me for free, just to illustrate he wasn’t all about taking people’s money.

    This guy has influenced my music collection no end introducing me to things I probably would’ve looked over.

    I shall certainly miss him as for me, it was the only reason to go to Spitalfields – he did tell me a few years ago how he wanted to get into making compilation downloads. In the hope that he reads this, please get in touch and let’s talk!!

    Best regards and love from Solskala
    Martyn

  5. Jez F permalink
    September 21, 2010

    Goodbye Jimmy.

    This is just another sad example of how the “new ‘old spitalfields market’ is slowly but steadily sucking the life blood out of this truly historic and wonderful place.

    The traders make the market and the market makes the traders

    Why are unnecessary shiny commercial events taking the place of actual spitalfieldslife?

    I am livid. The Wellington Market Company Plc has decided to rip the heart of this historic , friendly and loving community out and temporally rehouse it in pop up soulless tent down the road. How dare they! When will it end?

    I started this comment with sadness, which led anger (pitchfork wielding anger) , and now I am resolved to action!
    This is madness – A market association must be formed and traders must stand up, step up and claim their market back.The time is now people!

    Jez F

  6. September 21, 2010

    Hey Jimmy
    Money talks and bull shit walks, I hope that your change in routine gives you a chance to experience more of the world. The amazing and tough experiences of Old Spitialfields Market will always be a honor. All glories goes out to Eric the Viking! *Ivor Lyons- Organic Juice bar – traded – 2000 to 2010

  7. Donna permalink
    September 21, 2010

    I’ve known Jimmy Cuba and his passion – for life, music and people – for more than two decades. I met him in the United States in Long Beach, CA and also had the opportunity to visit him in his element – Spitalfields Market.

    We traveled in Mexico together one summer, enjoying the beauty of the ocean, the heat, the locals and wrestling about politics. Jimmy loves to talk politics. He’s a man of the people and the street, but he is so well-read that he’s no blow-hard. His arguments always are logical, intelligent and thought-provoking (if not aggravating : )

    I love Jimmy like a brother. He’s the kind of person to whom devotion and respect really mean something. I couldn’t ask for a better friend. I believe there will be a hole in the soul of Spitalfields Market, where Jimmy and his music used to play. I imagine leaving has left a bit of a hollow in Jimmy’s heart, too.

    Jimmy, I hope that the serenity of the sea and a new life spinning the music of those you love for those you love assuage any ache in your generous, open heart. There’s a spot waiting for you here in Oakland mate.

    love & gassho
    - Donna

  8. September 22, 2010

    Spitalfields without Jim’s stall will be a darker, sadder, quieter and less soulful place. It’s their loss – dead geese and golden eggs come to mind. Good luck on your travels mate, although it sounds like you’re better off elsewhere now anyway! Thanks for all your help over the years (and for the T-shirt based plug in the photo!)

    Steve (Gutter Brothers)

  9. Charlie Lineham permalink
    September 23, 2010

    Goodbye and all the best of luck to you Jim,

    Like Covent Garden market, where I think I probably first met you in the mid Eighties, Spitalfields market changes again and sadly not for the better………….
    Sorry to hear that you are moving on Jim but so glad to hear what you are doing next, things that you love and you are good at, with people that you want to be with
    you are a top man and will be sorely missed
    much love and all the best now and with whatever comes next
    Charlie

  10. September 24, 2010

    Thank for all your support and the great music over the years, it aint gonna be the same.
    Best from the Nasha records family 2010. :)

  11. Evelyn Corcoran permalink
    September 24, 2010

    Best of luck Jim and thanks for all the great CDS over the years

    XXXX Evelyn

  12. Rudebelly permalink
    September 25, 2010

    A sad day. What will it be like at Spitalfields without Jim Cuba and the whole vibe he brings to the market. I could spend hours checking out his assortment of fine and rare discs.
    Keep it real Jim and enjoy yourself.
    See you in New Orleans some day.

  13. fabio permalink
    September 25, 2010

    CIAO JIMMY, i use to come from Rome just to buy and listen your soul and your magic way of recomend music.he came in rome to be the DJ for my wedding and people still talking about you ,thank you and remember MUSIC IS FOR EVERYONE .

  14. chris energy permalink
    September 26, 2010

    another quality person and music man moving on ,pleasure to know you and deal music with you…great to see and speak to you today in bricklane…enjoy the boat and latin music in the states…i wish you well jimmy…one more deal maybe…goodluck and enjoy…keep in touch…cheers chris…no kisses…

  15. September 29, 2010

    So long Jimmy. All good things come to an end. Good luck with the next chapter !

  16. Peter Phillips permalink
    September 30, 2010

    Sad to see this iconic, charming London landmark destroyed – no not you Jimmy – Spitalfields Market.
    Once the fruit left some very imaginative people turned the place into a lively space which felt local and retained an authentic market feel not to mention passionately valuing it’s historical significance.
    Now it’s just a mall and the glittery corporate offices on top of it truly symbolise the crushing of Independent Spirit underfoot – a spirit well represented by Jimmy and his stylish delight in the Latin vibe. Ah well – they did try to fight back but those big guns are just that – BIG. And not for the first time – Covent Garden folks – YUK.
    Time to move on Jim – well done for having the courage (at your age!!!!!!) (It’s OK folks – he knows I’m kidding! NOT…)
    Best of Luck – you won’t need it – if ever there was a survivor it’s you.

  17. Jane Dutton Kohli permalink
    September 30, 2010

    Ravi and I are so sorry to see this. Jimmy did the world music for our wedding in 2003 and we all danced the night away to his great sounds. His experience and knowledge was second to none. The hideous corporate stamp is creeping in everywhere.

  18. sonni permalink
    October 20, 2010

    Jimmy is the best in the business. He has knowledge of the those special tracks that are so hard to find. After a while he gets to give you what you want, even before you ask for it. He is a big loss not only to the market, but to music lovers who are looking for that bit of speciality. Good luck Cuba.

  19. October 30, 2010

    Very sad to hear that Jimmy has left the market, he has been a strong supporter of a number of bands in the UK and abroad for many years, something that has always been enormously appreciated by everyone in the music community. The very best of luck Jimmy, hope to see you soon!

    The end of an era. Spitalfields won’t be the same.

    PS if anyone is interested, check out http://www.kingsalsa.co.uk or http://www.weaverecords.com – new album just been released by 13-piece London latin band on a small independent label…..was hoping Jimmy might have been interested in it for his stall…….damn.

  20. jeff beals permalink
    January 21, 2011

    Sad but sweet congratulations to you Jimmy. Honestly, when I saw the email from Melkerson (Goodby Jimmy Cuba) I thought the worst. So even though your sweet scene there is ending, I’m breathing a happy sigh that you’re safe and sound. I love you and I’m glad you’re part of the world. You’re a good soul.

    Whenever you get to So Cal let’s get together. Things have changed here for the better. Hope the same for you Amigo. Tonight me & a pal are playing a tiny bar in Long Beach. I’ll think of you and be glad for what’s in your future.

    Cheers Jim!

  21. April 14, 2011

    jimmycuba gives a big thanks to everyone for the lovely comments

    I am now travelling the world having another adventure i am heading to the carribean soon to work on a boat,

    you can check in on face book to see where i am ,jimmycuba99

    IF Anyone ever needs a DJ you know where to find me

    celia cruz rocks

  22. Vicky permalink
    June 11, 2011

    I’ve been moved enough to email The Wellington Market Company Plc

  23. September 24, 2016

    Imagine my surprise at discovering Jummy Cuba’s shop now located down an alleyway off Hart Lane in Henley-on-Thames recently. A splattering of jukeboxes and all those great vinyl covers adorn the walls of his small shop. Whether he’s trading in the right place remains to be seen and think somewhere like Camden would suit him better but Jimmy is still that happy go lucky chap as he always has been so if your in the area, do pop in and say hello.

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