Retrospective Havana post #2
Los Van Van, The rehearsal
Los Van Van, The rehearsal
Prologue: About a week out from my departure from Havana, I heard a rumour that Los Van Van would be playing in Australia in August. After saying "wow" and "really"? I put it at the back of my mind and forgot about it, thinking: that's never gonna happen.
On the following Monday morning, I was listening to Disco Fiesta. Juan Formell was being interviewed, and I heard it with my owns ears: a tour to Japan then gigs in Australia. Holy fuck! I went to the Van Van website and emailed their contact, Americo. About 5pm that day he called back and gave me a barrage of phone numbers to call to arrange interviews - curse my Spanish! I wrote them all down wrong, except for Juan's - the crucial one you might think. But I spent all that night and the next day calling him with one of two dispiriting results: an answering machine or a chica that said "no se encuentra. Llama más tarde." I had four days to get something together for a newspaper back home. A panicked email to Americo elicited no response - next stop: Masako; Vanvanera and chum of trombonist Edmundo. I explained the situation to her in my terrible Spanish and asked her if she could call him and ask if it was OK if I went to a rehearsal at La Tropical. She called back at 11pm - all set, she said. (Or the Spanish equivalent.) They'll be rehearsing tomorrow at La Tropical from 10am. Go there. Here is where my diary picked up the story:
June 7: Van Van ensayo
Fine sunny day - luckily, La Tropical being outdoors and all. Got out there a bit after 10. There were a bunch of guys hanging around out the front, and, not being 100% sure I would be welcome - or even allowed in - I had prepared to have to talk my way in. One of the guys came over, but no sooner had I said "soy periodista de Australia" than he said yah yah, and led Helen and I into La Tropical and down the stairs. Juan Formell was there with about four other musos (the rest arrived rapidily after us). He was standing next to an amp with his bass hanging off his shoulders, and he acted as though he was expecting me, even though I hadn't been told officially about the interview. He said he could do the interview then, but I wanted Martin to translate - my Spanish being little more than servicable. I explained this, then went to call Martin and beg him to come. He squared it with his boss, and said he was on his way.
By now pretty much all of Van Van was there except for the second violin and Mayito - who it took me a while to miss. The group was set up on the left side of the dance floor, as you face the stage, in the shade. To their right, was a group of guys playing dominoes. (How come women never play?) Robertón and Lele joined them when they arrived.
Yeni was looking cute in a cap and sunnies; when Mayito arrived - about 12; he was wearing a purple bandanna and lilac t-shirt. The band spent an hour and a half doing what I thought was a new song - it had all the hallmarks of one of the live modern epics, but later in the interview Juan said it was a song from the 70s (turned out to be Dale Dos). Even though I wasn't familiar with it, it had obviously been given an overhaul. They're doing a medley of oldies at the moment live, but those songs still sound old - this one sounded like something from Chapeando.
They played it bit by bit, stopping to sort things out, then starting again, before playing it in full twice. Roberton was really firing. It was totally swinging. Classic Van Van and very hot. It got Masako up and dancing - with the whole La Tropical dance floor to herself.
It was interesting to see who was doing the musical directing. At the beginning, Juan was playing bass; then the bass player arrived, and Juan directed from his plastic garden chair with his old-school mic. Also directing the action: Roberton; the grey-haired tombonista who plays with a synth in front of him; and, when he arrived later, Mayito. I wrote some questions fast; then rewrote them so Martin could understand them, then Martin wrote them in Spanish.
Juan came up about 11:30 and asked if it was OK if we could stick around till the rehreasal finished at 1. Of course. Helen spent the whole rehearsal walking around taking pics and video.
After they worked on Dale Dos for about 90 minutes, they rehearsed a medley - I didn't recognise anything in it until they got to Que cosas tiene la Vida.
Juan came over almost immediately when they finished. He seems reasonably healthy. One side of his face is a little immobile from the stroke; but otherwise he seems pretty good. Martin translated my questions for me and I did my best to understand. He spoke for about 30 minutes. Then we all went our separate ways. Thanks Juan! Thanks Martin!
Epilogue: When I returned, I pitched the story to a section on the newspaper where I work and got it accepted. When it's published, I'll post the link here.
Note: I jumped the gun a bit on tickets for their Australian shows, but it is happening, and tickets for the Sydney show are now available from the Enmore Theatre or Ticketek. Tickets for the Melbourne show can be bought here.
Copyright © 2006 Gabriel Wilder
All pics by Helen Ferry