Part VII: The bands - part 2
Those of you planning trips to Havana, keep sending your questions - everytime I talk to someone about their trip, I realise there are still more things to be covered in this guide. In the first chapter about bands, I gave a rundown of some of Cuba's biggest names - Manolito, Pupy, Bamboleo, etc. But they aren't always playing - or even in town (or even in the country) - and there are plenty of others deserving of the timba geek's attention.
Elio Revé y su Charangón
I'll start this chapter with the flavour of the month. It's been a while since I saw them - they only played Havana once on my last trip, and I couldn't make it, and they didn't play at all on the trip before that. In 2004 I saw them at Casa de la Música, Miramar and at La Piragua, and they totally tore it up on both occasions. With their new explosive album, Fresquecito, under their belts, I have no reason to believe that things would be different now. If they are playing, do whatever it takes to get to that gig.
This very charismatic ex-Bamboleo singer/songwriter puts on an excellent hardcore timba show. He is sometimes referred to by locals in a disparaging manner as "el hijo de Manolín", but if you never got a chance to see Manolín live, this may well be the next best thing. Though of course, the Manolín covers aside, his own songs have their own sello and his is a very exciting show, and a must-see for any timba geek.
I don't need to tell timberos outside of Cuba about this band - it seems they are more popular "afuera" than on the island. Although I feel Maykel has some way to go before becoming truly top tier in the consistency of his output, there is no doubt that these guys fire live. The three singers I saw with the band - El Noro, Ricardito and Norberto had a truly infectious energy and managed to liven up even Maykel's more lacklustre songs. All these three singers have left now, and it will be interesting to see what effect a new frontline has on the band. If anyone sees them, can you please report back.
Ángel Bonne (pictured above, with the author)
One of the Havana music scene's great tragedies is that Ángel is so great, yet so overlooked. His albums are consistently of a high quality and live he offers solid salsa, with those great melodies (often missing in other timba) and hooks, all played with a high energy perfect for casineros. Though the crowds at his gigs are often small, there are always good dancers in attendance – reason enough to go in itself.
Charanga Habanera & Charanga Forever
Two bands; two different tiers. Many prefer the former; I prefer the splinter group. While CH have gravitated to boy-band influenced timba-pop which is really not my thing; CF have kept grinding out cintura timba. Their last album, Somos charangueros, had a bunch of great tracks and they have a charismatic frontline. These guys are a must-see for me. While CH play mostly nights and venues like Macumba (see the chapter on venues), CF can often be found playing more convenient and affordable matinees. Bargain!
Above: El Charanguero mayor - David Calzado
(Photo thanks to Pina Barberio)
Another must-see, though their gigs vary wildly. Partly it's do with the venue - Klimax's complicated sound can be hard to mix in the bigger rooms; although earlier this year their soundman managed to make them sound good at Galiano, something which had previously seemed to be impossible. Again, the singers, led by veteran Klimax cantante Juan Carlos really draw you in with their energy. Worth seeing alone for the 20-minute "potpurri" of hits Piloto has written for others (including No me mires a los ojos); they have a tendency to put liberal doses of reggaeton in their set, though it leans on the dancehall side of reggaeton, so I don't mind it. Heaps of fun.
Maravilla de Florida
Based in Camaguey in the island's east, this timba-charanga group don't play Havana a whole lot, but they are one of my favourite bands to see. Catch them if you can. (Search the blog for more reviews etc.)
Pedro Pablo y la Rebambaramba
Former CH bas player Pedro Pablo has put out two good albums with his group Rebambaramba (and one very good one with singers Mandy Cantero and Tirso Duarte, under the name Los Ases de la Timba), but his group doesn't seem to play very often. I last sighted them in 2004. Certainly worth a look.
When Adalberto Alvarez is in town, he plays his salsa cubana every Wednesday night at Casa de la Musica Miramar. As they don't often play anywhere else in Havana, there is often a queue to get in. Don't arrive too late.
Other possibilities: Haila, NG La Banda (particularly if Tirso is singing with them), Azucar Negra, Tumbao Havana, Pachito Alonso y su KiniKini, Nelson Manuel y su Corte, La Barriada, Yulien Oviedo, Mayito Sombrilla, Chispa y su Complices