Best. Gig. Ever.
Preparate pa' lo que viene!
Yeah yeah. I know you've heard it all before - and there's a wolf over there in the bushes too - but hear me out. Really.
Manolito y su Trabuco y invitados
Cafe Cantante Mi Habana
Matinee May 18
Weird thing happening in the Habana clubs at the moment: house music. Get the fuck out! When I walked into the dank cave that is Cafe Cantante Mi Habana, there was a house mix of a Madonna song and a Cubana dancing like Madge. Huh? It was like some weird parallel universe - until Trabuco hit the stage at 6:40.
They've started playing a little funk snippet at the beginning of their sets. It's really familiar but I can't place it at the time. And I always think: I'll figure it out later. Then of course their set wipes everything from my mind.
I scurried down the front and got the last spot left - in front of Mayami (total accident, honest) and the dour tecladista. And right next to the horns, so I could hear all them in all their bitchin'ness. They did my favourite start: the Raspadura/Hablando combo. Both those songs are so frigging hot. But I've banged on about them enough previously, so I'll just say two things re Hablando: 1. They really need to figure out a workable beginning and 2. Riverón is god. And I know I've said that before (or something like it), but seriously. How does he do so much - he's like, bangin away like bam-bam - and it doesn't sound crowded or messy? It just sounds like the bomb. It's a big mystery. And one I'll be eternally grateful for. I think the musical fandom is developing into something else re Riverón - he has this rough trade look going on that I'm totally digging. But I digress.
Next was - OMG! Guiro Calabaza y Miel (from Se Rompieron los Termometros) - one of the my favourite songs EVER. The horns; the gears; the bloques! "Ay mamita no me - da-da-da-dah!!!" (er, that's sposed to be the horns. They do this weird timing thing at that moment that I love. Wish I were a bit more musically literate so I could convey a little better how fucking great this song - and all of the others - was. Mayami, who seems to like mouthing the words when it isn't his turn to lead, mouthed the entire song to a chica, stage right. "El gran problema es tuyo - te equivocaste mujer!" But he did it all with that charming smile of his that turns me to butter. (Didn't seem to work on her though. I saw her later with her arms folded. Not so impressed.)
They did the truncated Ya no hace falta again, which I love - until they truncate it, right before that great clave change bit. It lived again later in the evening; but I'll get to that in a minute.
They're billing this as a peña, which I think is why they're changing the setlist around so much. Mostly, this is good (Guiro Calabaza); sometimes, not so good: El Indio and Mayami took turns on some cheesy bolero/cha-cha-cha (possibly called Marilu) that was the only unpleasant spot in the whole evening. Seems churlish to even mention it really. Then: Diablo Colorado - what a great song that is. Fiery, melodic, choc full o'swing. Awesome. Mayami and Amaray have a weird little slow-mo dance they do in the middle. Have yet to figure that one out.
The dour tecladista played a phone ring on his keyboard, and Amaray, the big ham, took his mobile off his belt and pretended to answer it. Nice to hear this swingin' pop track as it's been some gigs since I've heard them play it.
I was standing down the front, covered in sweat; grinning like a complete mental patient. I know I look like a loca; but when you're having this much fun, who cares?
At some point, an older black chick and Tania - dressed in oodles of gold (there's a surprise) came on stage. The band slipped into a jazz thing to allow the older woman (someone told me it was Beatrice Valdes, sister of Chucho) to do her thing, which was amazing. Raw, full-throated jazz-gospel. Goose-bump material. She traded licks with the dour tecladista, while someone sat in for Riverón (huh?) and a chick took over the congas. Tania mostly stood there and watched her; then had a go at matching her. Not that successful; so the band launched into Ya no haca falta; and Tania Ethel Mermanned her way through it. Trabuco played it all the way through this time, and I noticed that Tania pretty much sings the guias as they are on the Bamboleo recording. Though she added some nice touches as the song played on. The potpourri was next (I think). Which I could really do without. I think I've said this before, but: if a song is good, play the whole thing; if it isn't good enough to be played in its entirety, DONT PLAY IT ALL. (I won't mention this again.)
They slid into Como fue, and a cantante from Tumbao Havana did a nice job, but he was completely overshadowed by the next guest: Michel. What a fucking master he is. That voice. And how has he managed to hang onto it after, ahem, everything he has been through? He sounds AMAZING. It's full, pure, bang on - he never hits a bum note. And it always seems effortless for him - it just pours out. He started with a bolero - I forget which one it was, then slowly and slyly, led the band into La Madrugada - the master showman at work. [By this time, Chispa was on bass.] There was the usual line of chicas standing at the front - three in particular were really having a great time. One was flirting like mad with Mayami and Michel got her on stage for the obligatory grinding. As she did, his shirt rode up to reveal his enormous stomach hanging over the top of his pants. The whole time she's looking at her friends snapping her forefinger and thumb together - take a picture!!! Seems like Michel has almost recovered as I couldn't see his crutches and he was actually dancing a bit too. (Why does he grab his crotch when he sings?) He would have gone all night (obviously), so Manolito wound him up after, I dunno 10-15 minutes (I was so not looking at my watch!).
They started playing Locos, which is their finish these days; when the sound cut out. By now it was about 8:20pm, so it was after matinee finishing time; and I thought that would be the end. But everyone stood around waiting; the horns were still on their stands and though the musos wandered off, none of them seemed to be leaving. The DJ played Gangsta's Paradise; and about 15 minutes later they came back on - with No te pases. Which is my go-to-the-bar/sit-down-for-a-minute song (along with the potpourri). Though as I sat watching it, I realised that the hornlines are stupendous: huge slabs of funk - and Mayami's dancehall turn is a lot of fun too.
Then they did Locos; which has a new coro on the end now:
La Habana pa' vivirla; La Habana pa' gozarla.
© Gabriel Wilder 2006