Sunday, May 18, 2008

Alaín - in the studio


Late in the afternoon today we dropped in at Egrem on San Miguel where Alaín Daniel is mixing his new album - finally, it looks like it will soon be out. I told him that a lot of people in the extranjero had been waiting for it. He said, "I know." Then seemed to realise that was a little immodest and added, "I hope they like it."
Despite the heat outside he looked cool in a crisp white shirt and jeans, but he always looks stylish. He and an engineer and an apprentice were mixing one of the songs on a Mac propped up on the mixing desk, using Pro Tools. It was a kind of hard timba cha-cha-cha (though technically it’s probably cha-cha-cha fusion, as they call it) called Un amigo en Madrid.
He was troubled by a bit where he sings “Voy a hablarte de Adalberto” which he felt he mumbled, and wanted fixed.
The album will have 11 songs, 10 written by Alaín, and he says he plans to deliver it to Egrem in about a month, and hopes it will be released in July. He wants to call it Marginal, but he says Egrem wants to call it Bendita Locura, after the four-track EP of last year, as they consider that to be a kind of preview of the album. I guess we’ll see who wins that battle.
If the group’s repertoire live is any indication of its quality, it’s going to kick ass. They have played together for a while now - as I suspected there have been few lineup changes since I was here last year - only three in fact - a new corista, trombonista and baterista. The group is very young - the average age is 23, but they play very well together and have very strong sound.
Alaín was preoccupied with mixing, then later, pizza, so it wasn’t really a good time to chat, but if I can, I will try and line up an interview with him before I go.

[I also spoke to Alexander Abreu today. I did a reasonably lengthy interview with him about Havana D’Primera - about the musos in the group; his goals for it and the forthcoming tour and disc. I will transcribe it before the group’s tour starts on June 12 - and if I have a break in the schedule, much sooner than that. He invited us to a rehearsal on Monday, so I will have more to report after that.]

Last night we went to see Alaín play again (I only got to see him twice last time - I don't want to make that mistake again) - the gig couldn’t have been more different from Salon Rojo. Whereas Alaín was at home there with his local farandula, the Melia Cohiba’s Habana Cafe was like a throwback to another era.
I had never been before - I have called on previous trips but was always told that there was no one playing or that it was under renovations. So here I am, on my seventh trip, going to the Habana Cafe for the first time.
We called first and were assured that the band would be on at 11pm, as Alaín had mentioned the previous night, but when we pulled up in our taxi it looked suspiciously deserted.
The entrada was $20; which included $10 in food/drink (but not the tip, which is 10%); and the place was very quiet. Foreigners at tables; old cars and memorabilia placed strategically around the ill-lit room; steps in unexpected places, designed to have you suddenly crumpling in a heap on the floor.
The band was set up at the back of the room; and in front of them on what looked like another section of the stage but was actually a raised dance floor, was a trio of athletic young lads doing gymnastic stuff. Seems to be a la moda this year.
As promised, Alaín y su grupo didn’t delay, and were on stage by 11.30.
It was the usual hard set but the vibe couldn’t have been more different to the previous gigs. Still, poco a poco, some locals arrived and by the time he got to No lo comentes - admittedly, a fair way into the set - the farandula was up and dancing. The set was the same as the previous night, with some added songs - the aforementioned Manolín track, which got the waiters dancing, a cha-cha-cha, and a ballad.
I was a little freaked out by the whole scene. The last time I have probably been anywhere like that was when I went to see Charanga Habanera at La Cecilia in 1999 and they were preceded by an elaborate and seemingly interminable cabaret; but even that had a lot more Cubans at it.
Still it was an interesting experience. And Alaín always rocks my world.

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