Sunday, May 31, 2009
I’m going to say something shocking. Prepare yourselves.
I think I might go and see Pedrito Calvo. OK, stop laughing, I’m serious. He has this new song that I’ve been hearing on the radio - all percussive strings and swooning trombones - it’s so cool. And I’m just back from the Egrem 45th Anniversary concert where he did it and brought the audience to its feet. It was heaps good.
Anyway. I’ll let you know.
So tonight, I had three options - but Pupy at the Sevilla was cancelled, and in its place popped up the chance to see Klimax in Matanzas - this would have made it easier to choose between them and Havana D’Primera tomorrow night, but, Matanzas. And it had rained quite a bit, and I thought, what if we drive for two hours and it’s raining there; then I knew that we would get there and have to wait for hours before they played, then get back at 7am or something. Yeah, I know, I’m a lightweight. Son Yoruba were apparently at La Tropical, and even though the rain stopped about 8pm, I thought that might be off too, and anyway, I was quite keen on the Egrem show at Teatro Karl Marx.
So off we trooped, without a ticket. We met a lovely lady outside the box office who said her kids weren’t going to show and she wanted to sell two seats for what she paid for them - $25MN each. I gave her $3 CUC and felt stingy in the process. After I paid I realised that as extranjeros we probably should have had a $5CUC ticket but me and my companion just shut our mouths as we walked through and it was all good.
I had wondered how so many different bands/singers could play live (Duni had told me that everyone would be, but I have my doubts about that) on one bill without changes of instruments. The stage was set ingeniously for such a scenario: there were two places set up for salsa bands; one that served for those with a pop/rock line-up; a rumba set-up and a grand piano. The changeovers were seamless. Anyone looking for expert stage managers/live show directors should headhunt here: these guys are total magicians.
It started about 40 minutes late, which is pretty normal, and opened with Pupy doing Si me quieres conocer. The set was lovely - strings of lights on a black background - sparkly without being gaudy. The same could not be said of the dancers’ costumes which were fluorescent pink (boys and girls) and riddled with frills. Los Que Son Son were up the back and Rusdel braved the fluoro dancers to near the audience, who were enthusiastic and sang the coros avidly. The next act - a guitarist and singer - received a huge roar from the crowd. I had no idea who they were. I knew the next guy though: Pedrito and his band, all in white, who brought the crowd to their feet. He has three violins and two trombones. How awesome. That was heaps of fun.
The acts appeared and played with no announcement of who they were - this was the only drawback. Of course everyone there probably knew who they were, but they had three video screens going, one of which did almost nothing but display Egrem logos. Wouldn’t have killed them to put the artists name up.
The next big hit was Leoni, who appeared in the middle of the audience and almost had some girls in hysterics. I’m amazed he’s still popular. I don’t know why. I just thought his audience would have outgrown him by now. I realised not everyone was performing live when his song faded out. That’s a tricky thing to pull off en vivo.
There was a nice rumba from Rumberos de Cuba, the girls wearing cool yellow and orange fringed dresses, a reggaeton band I didn’t know; a quartet of sax and flute guys; a couple of pop girls; a balladeer and Osmani Garcia.
There was a violinist with a sassy pianist who wiggled in her seat as they played a lovely sambafied version of Son de la loma. I hate that song, but mostly what I hate about it is the mariachi trumpet - which was missing here and replaced by some awesome string work.
The last third of the show had all the big stars: Arnaldo y su Talisman, who, it seems have finally had a hit with a reggaeton number, got a big reception, but not as big as the guys that came after them, La Charanga Habanera. The place went off. They did the espectacular entrance, coming onto the stage in little groups, with Dantes and Aned last, as if they were the biggest stars. Dantes, really? After all these years? They did that Miami song, which, I am ashamed to say, I find quite catchy. It’s a hundred times less obnoxious than Caratula - if I hear one more song about women being money-grabbing bitches I’ll ... I’ll ... well, I’ll think of something and get back to you.
After that they did a fun Michael Jackson-esque dance routine.
Then, what I had been waiting for, mi reina, Vania. Man she looked bad. She looked like a frump and sang like a fucking angel. She has such amazing control and such beautiful tone. First she made the hairs on my arms stand up, then with her final note, she brought tears to my eyes. She was followed by Omara - also pretty amazing. She was wearing silver Birkenstocks under her long robes. Such a powerful voice still. She’s about to go to Europe I think. Worth catching. Also I hear Rodney Barretto will be playing drums with her - bad news for HdP fans but an added bonus for those seeing Omara.
She got a standing ovation. Goddamit, Vania deserved one too.
Manolito closed the night with La Habana me llama and Control.
It was a great night’s entertainment. Bloody outstanding in fact. I can think of few other cities in the world that could pull off something like this without a hitch (there a couple of minor sound glitches, and that was it). And these guys do it here all the time. The only drawback was that afterwards, we were all hyped up to party on, but the only things on offer were Bamboleo and Adalberto.
I opted for home and an Australian horror movie about a killer croc. It’s obviously shot as fiction, but all crocodiles are killers. Dudes, deal with it and stay out of their fucking way. End of story.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Thankfully this house leaks less than my house in Australia, so apart from having to find something to do that didn’t involve going outside (I watched a couple of episodes of In Treatment), it wasn’t that big a deal.
At 5.15, there was a black out. This was a possible plan buster for the evening, as I wasn’t sure if Pupy’s matinee at Galiano would be affected. We decided to go down anyway and if it wasn’t on, go to Manolito at Cafe Cantante.
At 6.15, the street outside was filled with uniformed athletes and their buses - there was some sporting event at Teatro America I think - as well as a much smaller group of musos from Los Que Son Son, drinking beer and waiting for the call to go inside and start playing. Six-thirty arrived - the time they usually start - and passed without incident. At 7pm, they finally got the nod. Then I realised why there had been a delay: the rain, although it had stopped a couple of hours earlier, had affected the size of the crowd. Pupy hates playing to small crowds and was obviously waiting to see if it got bigger. But by 7, he had to give in and get the show on the road.
It was the usual intro of Que cosas tiene la vida followed by Yoruba Andabo; the female dancers dressed this week in outrageous ruched leopard print leggings and high-heeled sneakers. The good news was that there was no 30 minute interval of reggaeton after their set: Los que son son filed onto the stage after Yoruba Andabo’s last song and just got down to business. Pupy was dressed head to toe in orange - including his shoes.
There were two new songs in the set - well, old for us, but new for the singers: Rusdel took the lead on El pregonero, which sounded great - love those vicious brass stabs; and Michel sang Yo sea feliz, which I thought was an odd choice even though it had a lovely lazy groove. I guess Pupy is trying to expand the repertoire, and give the new singers practice at performing songs they have never done before ahead of the European tour.
The crowd wasn’t big but they were enthusiastic dancers as they almost always are for Pupy (the people of 1830 excluded) and Pupy was actually smiling - a good sign that things weren’t that bad.
I had thought it might not be as rabidly insane as last week when it was Osmani Garcia’s birthday, but both Jacob and Alexander from Gente d’Zona were there again (at separate tables) and I think they bring in extra hangers on. The crowd really has to be seen to be believed - one girl with hip-length white-bleached blonde hair sat on the step in front of the speakers and played with her iPhone for the duration of one song.
Jacob got up again to rap his bit on La Miky - he did a better job of it than the previous week when he forgot the words - but to be honest, the trombonist, who takes over when Jacob isn’t in the house, is better, and less self-aggrandising. El zorreo made an appearance - it’s good that Alain is mixing stuff up from gig to gig, like a lot of the bands this time - it’s a real treat. Though sometimes when you have favourite songs, you just want to see them every time. Life is hard. Pa’ que no sufrieras pa’ que no lloraras - another one I like - is a regular in the set, which is weird considering he didn’t put it on either the 4-track EP Bendita Locura or the album Vestigios. Lazaro Valdes got up and the did that ballad again - I think it’s a Bamboleo song - just Alain, the awesome bajista and him. Usually I think he overplays (there is a touch of the Rick Wakemans about his style), but his solo on this was pretty amazing. I wished I had recorded it.
I still dug the show, but maybe less than the previous weeks, cause I’m just so over that fucking scene. If I had the money, I’d pay Alain to play somewhere decent - like a matinee at La Tropical. That would be awesome. He has another gig somewhere (couldn’t catch it) on Wednesday, but it is all romantic ballads apparently - that’s a must-miss.
I’m just back from Havana d’Primera at Galiano. Pupy was at La Tropical - it pissed down again today, and I’m guessing from Lazaro’s appearance at the Capri, that yesterday’s deluge suspended Bamboleo’s regular Thursday gig there. I’ll find out tomorrow if Pupy played or not. The other big gig was Van Van, but they are no match for HdP. The crowd was smallish, though not as small as Monday, and lots more fun. The band had been rehearsing most of the week and had one new song, Ahora que buscas, which sounded great, and a couple of new coros in some old ones, which was cool. Cuando el rio suena was mighty as always. The studio version is compelling enough but the live version just blows your mind. It’s going to knock the socks of you Europeans in about two weeks. !Preparense!
Unfortunately the set was criminally short - Alexander spoils his audience - he usually plays for an hour and 45 minutes. Tonight it was little over an hour. When he finished the show with Rio, I was like, wtf? But apparently they were all just really tired. I guess Alexander has a lot of stuff to organise before the tour as well.
It was a light day as far as ligging goes, as Trabuco were replaced at Miramar by Rumberos de Cuba. Probably no bad thing after the Capri - or Daniel’s inferno, as I like to call it.
There is another Egrem anniversary concert on tomorrow night at Karl Marx - a ridiculously long list of people is on the bill, all doing one song each apparently. I haven’t been out to Miramar, so I don’t have tickets, but I’m sure we could pick a couple up out front if we are so inclined. Vania is on the bill, so I’m keen, even if it’s only one song. We’ll see if I can get my shit together. I was going to go to the rehearsal for it today, but it clashed with Spanish class.
Pupy is meant to be playing at the Sevilla swimming pool tomorrow night but I have heard it is going to be cancelled. Duni however, thinks he still has a gig to play. Guess I’ll have to wait and see about that one as well.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
We jumped in a taxi and made our way out to what almost seemed like the country in comparison to Centro Habana - there were horses grazing by the side of the road and mango trees laden with fruit.
We knew the house by the sound of the metales coming from the front porch; the percussionists, along with coristas Jannier and Enrique were out the back, and Alexander’s wife Gretchen was pottering around in the kitchen.
They were going over Ahora que buscas, one of the songs from the album I have never seen live which Alexander wants to do on the European tour. (They will debut it this Friday night at Galiano he says.) He was teaching Yuliesky, who didn’t play on the album, the hornlines. Must be pretty daunting to play trumpet in a band led by one of the world’s best trumpet players.
It was pretty hot out there and I had a moment of panic when a guy downstairs held up an iPod he had found on the ground - yes it was mine, and my tool to record the interview. Jeez Louise. No idea how it slipped out. Very grateful he found it.
When they finished, and had a bite to eat, we interviewed Alexander (it will go up as soon as I return to broadband land). As usual he had lots of astute things to say. Most important, I guess, is that the album, Haciendo historia, is apparently coming out this week.
Then we repaired to his house a block away. In his street, just over the road from his house, I spied the legendary mamey in its natural habitat; swinging from enormous trees. There was so much fruit on the branches I wondered why it was so hard to get in Centro. Gretchen’s mum must have sensed my longing, because while I was showing Alexander some video I had taken of the band, she entered the sala with batido. Bless her cotton socks.
We came back to the city and headed down to Galiano only to find the Azúcar Negra matinee cancelled because, according to a random dude outside, there was no electricity. The chick in the CD store next door confirmed it, but there was electricity there, so that’s slightly perplexing. I bought my real copy of Exceso de equipaje (it comes with a DVD!) and went and drank rum at a friend’s place off Prado. We have two big days ahead of us (if nothing is cancelled): Pupy matinee followed by Alaín tomorrow; then Trabuco matinee followed by HdP on Friday. I’m bloody exhausted - and very happy - just thinking about it.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Long time no blog. The good news is I’m still alive. Although barely. A month of faranduleando in Havana takes its toll. The bad news is that death by guarachar is looking unlikely as in less than two weeks I will be on a plane and on my way home. Of course not long after I leave, the summer exodus starts, with Havana d’Primera, La Revé and Pupy among the first groups to leave Havana for Europe, so my three favourite bands will not be around anyway. This will be cold comfort when I’m in cold Sydney no doubt, and feeling the añoranza.
Since I last wrote I have seen Havana d’Primera four times. Seriously. Friday afternoon at Galiano; Sunday at Miramar; Monday at Galiano and today back at Galiano. I also managed to take in a jazz concert on Saturday for Cubadisco at Teatro Amadeo Roldan, which featured some timba luminaries, including Havana d’Primera’s sometime piano player Dayramir and their first trumpet Yuliesky, Pupy’s timbalero Miguelito and legendary pianist Rolando Luna. There were many others on the bill, a lot of whom I didn’t recognise - it was basically one song by each band, though some players turned up in more than one ensemble.
The first was a duo - piano and cajón. Sorry I didn’t get either of their names, because they were both amazing. They had scruffy hair and were wearing sneakers and jeans and T-shirts - the jazz guys here dress like slackers and play like overachievers. Other highlights included a fantastic tap dance/rumba featuring a couple of Muñequitos - such an obvious marriage of two art forms, yet one I had never seen before - an old harmonica-playing blues guy, with an outrageously pure and powerful voice who managed to work yodelling into his scatting; and an 11-year-old prodigy on the timbales; as well as Ritmo Oriental founder Enrique Lazaga on guiro for the show’s finale.
The theatre was musty - I could smell spores growing I was sure - and far from full, but the audience was enthusiastic and the entertainment outstanding.
We had arranged to go in the guagua with Pupy to Regla that night, but when the time came, it turned out the bus was too small, and we couldn’t go. I wasn’t that sorry, because I was knackered. There were other options - Trabuco at Cafe Cantante, Pachito at La Tropical; a full performance by Dayramir and his jazz combo at Cine Acapulco - but I was happy to hang out at the casa for the night and take it easy.
The final concert for Cubadisco was on Sunday and featured Adalberto Alvarez, Andy Montañez and “otros invitados” according to Disco Fiesta. It was at La Tropical instead of La Tribuna, which seems to be all shut up. (Apparently the last gig there was Van Van in early April.) I was bored out of my mind last year when I saw Adalberto at La Tropical last year, and in any case, a ginormous storm came over about 5.15 and it pissed down till 6pm.
We went looking for food then prepared for the late night excursion to Miramar. The jineteras were out in force, which was unusual for an HdP gig. Apparently the Casa was completely empty at 11.30 and the band was worried it would be a shit gig, but by the time we got there about 1am it was pretty busy, and the girls were all there drinking Buccaneros and desperately despeloteando. The trombonista who had dueted with Alexander on Tuesday was there again. I forget his name, which is unfortunate, because apparently he is a luminary who played with Alexander in Paulito y su Elite. The duet was really kicking - much better than last week’s. Too bad I didn’t get the camera rolling.
The Galiano cartelera had had “Los Cuatro” down for the Monday matinee, instead of Revé, much to my disappointment, and in Disco Fiesta’s giglist that day, there was no mention of any matinee there at all. At 5.30, on a whim, I decided to call, just in case Revé were playing. Good call (hoho); because yes they were. This put a crimp in our plans, as we were dying of hunger. A trip past Galiano at 6.15 showed that the guys were already there and swearing blind (as they went into the greasy spoon next door) that they would be on at 6.30. I knew there was no way they’d play before 7, and we rushed off to stuff some food into our faces. Back at the Casa at about 7.10; the house was still blaring out, and the band didn’t come on till about 7.25.
I had had a very late night, and it was all I could do to drag my sorry ass around the floor to Mi salsa tiene, not to mention Jonrón. But as always, Revé brought the joy. Also something weird happened with the sound: during El telefono, the tres could suddenly be heard. It was a bloomin’ revelation. That guy (forget his name) is a genius! It could be heard pretty much the whole show too. Put a whole new spin on their sound.
Even though they hadn’t had a another group on before them, they still did the usual short set - guess Elito doesn’t like to work too hard. Pupy doesn’t either - except at the suburban gigs, where you can’t get him off stage.
The Havana d’Primera gig at Galiano that night was a bit sad: I think Mondays are always hard - Salsa Mayor’s regular pena at Cafe Cantante seems to be the only one bringing in the bodies that early in the week.
There were quite a few invitados at HdP: Leonel Limonta, Tanya Pantoja and Angel Bonne, all over some girl. Because I was going on my own (MFF went to Salsa Mayor), I got there early. Yikes. Two guys in sequinned red tights did handstands on each other for a while. Then some girls came out and sang ballads and R&B to backing tracks - each of them could have blown any American Idol off stage. Then a guy hit the stage with a laptop and three guys came out doing what seemed to be almost a parody of Backstreet Boys (speaking of which, I saw a guy wearing a pristine NKOTB T-shirt in the street today).
There were few people there overall, and myself and one of the GFs of a bandmember and her friend were pretty much the only people who danced all night. Too bad. They still totally rocked.
Today’s matinee was “otra cosa” as they say. I don’t know if people are tiring of seeing Van Van, or if they just don’t have the $250MN to spare, but the Tuesday HdP gigs are getting busier and busier and today’s was much busier than I would have liked - leave some room down the front please, guys, this is my band. The only disappointment for me was that they didn’t do Mi música; but Cosas de un amigo made an appearance. It’s probably my second favourite - it’s totally explosive live - even though I just about have a heart attack dancing to it. Maikel Blanco jumped up and played piano, and Tony the pianista took a turn on the trumpet. These guys are such rank amateurs. Not.
Ricardo from Son Yoruba had stopped by the casa beforehand, and said he had never seen HdP, so we took him along, and of course when we turned up he knew everyone there, which is pretty normal.
When they finished, there was a big bottle neck of people in the lobby waiting for a huge storm to pass. There was lightning and thunder and buckets of rain, but we went to the bar next door anyway and drank some rum under the thatched roofs.
Then a bunch of us went to Dimar - a cheap seafood joint on the Malecon in Vedado for something to eat. Lightning flashed in the distance in the bay, and Yuliesky played his trumpet and his mate Bebo played percussion on the table and sang, adding comical guias to Como fue. A group of young white Cubans sat at the table next to us and were soon joined by a couple of guys with guitars, so Yuli tried to get them to play the chords to a song it had written (and was playing). But a girl complained and told him to play something well-known, so they played Chan Chan, but it was some hip-hop version I didn’t know. It was all fun till they started playing a mariachi song. Then I asked for the bill and got the hell out of there.
It’s looking unlikely that I will see Van Van, and I feel slightly guilty. I’d quite like to see Yeni sing some of the songs from the new album, but other than that I don’t really care. There is a rumour they will play the Tribuna soon. Priorities before I leave are more Alain Daniel and un poquito mas de Pupy.
And every HdP gig that comes my way. After all, it’s going to be a whole year before I can see them again.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
No long concert report today - I went to see Havana d’Primera and you all know how that story goes: they were awesome; the end. Actually I could say more (I can always say more). There weren’t many people there and the sound was shit. (I think those two things maybe connected, as it was much better for Pupy - which was packed - yesterday.)
I’m still knackered from my 5am finish last night and spending two hours at immigration today. That was fun. Had a tiny nap, but Havana d’Primera practically finished me off by forcing me to dance all afternoon, of course.
Actually they weren’t completely firing on all cylinders because their regular bongosero/timbalero sometime conguero Miguelito was out of action with an injured finger - it was all purple and gross. He came to the gig with his brother Michel, an 18 year old trumpet player who is sitting in with the band to get experience. Miguelito looked a little concerned by the percussion. The bloques weren’t as sharp as they usually are, but then, neither was I. I need to get some rest in preparation for their next gig. Guitarist Napoles gets a kick out of my dancing for some reason (he gave me a big hug and kiss this arvo and said he was looking forward to it - sorry I let him down ...), so I feel like I need to be in top form.
Tomorrow afternoon the Latin jazz combo of Dayramir, Klimax pianist and sometime HdP pianist is playing at Teatro Amadeo Roldan in Vedado. Might make it, might not. Tomorrow night a bunch of us are going to Regla in the Los Que Son Son bus - be great to see a band out of a smokey club. Hope it doesn’t rain.
This year the big Cubadisco concert is at La Tropical instead of La Tribuna for some reason. It is (according to the radio - it might have already changed since I heard it earlier today) Adalberto and Andy Montanez. I could live happily without ever seeing either of those two again, and in fact AA bored me senseless at La Tropical last year, so I might skip it and hope for something better there the following week.
Walking home from dinner tonight up Neptuno, a couple of Manolito tecnicos stopped us and invited us to Pinar del Rio on Sunday. (The Trabuco gear is all kept in this building just down from Galiano apparently.) It’s carnival there this weekend, so they got Pupy tonight, someone else tomorrow (forget who) and Trabuco on Sunday. But the roadies are going out at 3pm - that’ll be a long day. And anyway, HdP are at Miramar that night. I haven’t overdosed yet - still waiting to get tired of them. Hasn’t happened so far. They still put a great big grin on my face.
Reve are not on at Galiano on Monday which is disappointing. Might have to go to Trabuco in the night instead.
Friday, May 22, 2009
It’s interesting going to see Pupy and Yoruba Andabo at Galiano and Alaín Daniel at the Capri/Salon Rojo on the same day - the two gigs are so different it doesn’t feel like you are in the same time zone, much less the same country.
Both gigs are packed, but by completely different crowds: the Pupy/Yoruba Andabo gig is a mostly black audience, dressed for drinking and dancing. Alaín’s farandula is mostly white, and dressed for posing - though they drink just as much; but it’s more likely to be Chivas Regal than Buccanero. The difference in dancing ability couldn’t be starker either.
It isn’t Alaín alone who is responsible for this - I remember a couple of years ago at Cabaret Las Vegas he had a really mixed crowd - black, white; mostly Cuban, the odd foreigner. But it seemed like almost everyone was there to dance (I could be wrong about that). So it seems like it’s mostly the venue - Salon Rojo is one of the few surviving habitats of the glammed-up jinetera. There isn’t much dancing going on at all there, which is a total waste when Alaín is tearing the roof off the mother with tracks like Un loco enamorao from Vestigios. This is my favourite cut from the album, and tonight it was slammin’. It was the best song of the night - and it was the second. Alaín and his combo are an awesome sight (and sound), but their gigs have a tendency to be highjacked by reggaetoneros and raperos, and tonight it was even worse than usual because it was Osmani Garcia’s birthday. Osmani is a chiquitico white boy who cut his teeth singing coro for Paulito, among others, but has broken out with a solo career of crossover stuff, including singing the choruses on reggaeton songs (either that or the reggaetoneros rap on his - I get a little hazy when we leave timbaland). So anyway he was there, as were both Alexander and Jacob from Gente d’Zona - sitting at separate tables. (Shall we start the “Gente d’Zona in shock split” rumour now?)
About five million of these guys and their mates got up during Se pegan - it was dull as, except for the kick ass bass player and baterista, who held the groove; and the veinte y pico trombonista who insisted on flirting with me from the stage. Bless.
I will absolutely be there the next two Thursdays - all I have left (sob!). The place may be a zoo, but this is one of the funkiest, tightest and most entertaining bands in Havana.
Backtracking to Pupy in the arvo, the set was criminally short, as usual (I think this means I need to take the trip with them out to the burbs on the weekend, cause I know they play longer out there - as long as it doesn’t rain!). But they had a new addition to the set: Seis semanas, sung by Michel. I was a bit unenthusiastic when it started, but Pupy has made it much tougher than either the Van Van version or the one he recorded whenever the hell that was. It sounded great and the audience loved it. It had a nice, albeit brief solo, from Oyuni (aka Avon Barksdale), the trumpeter who replaced the guy who replaced Chocolate, after he stayed in Canada last year. The only bad thing was that Timba a pogolotti started straight afterwards and it was only 8.15. Wtf? Guess Pupy had somewhere better to be. It’s the first matinee I’ve been to at either Galiano or Miramar that has finished early enough to put recorded music on after - usually the fluoro lights are going on while the band is still playing (that’s usually Havana d’Primera). A bunch of musos stood around outside buying beer from the hole-in-the-wall shop next door to the Casa and deciding what to do. Oyuni had his not-as-swish-as-Elito’s-but-still-pretty-swish car there, and he and Rusdel and a bunch of others were going to see Bamboleo at La Tropical. Maybe they saw them; maybe they didn’t: last week they didn’t play because the police didn’t go to the venue and, according to Duni, there is no band in Havana that will play La Tropical if the police aren’t going to be there. Pussies. (Just kidding.)
Backtracking to Pupy in the arvo, the set was criminally short, as usual (I think this means I need to take the trip with them out to the burbs on the weekend, cause I know they play longer out there - as long as it doesn’t rain!). But they had a new addition to the set: Seis semanas, sung by Michel. I was a bit unenthusiastic when it started, but Pupy has made it much tougher than either the Van Van version or the one he recorded whenever the hell that was. It sounded great and the audience loved it. It had a nice, albeit brief solo, from Oyuni (aka Avon Barksdale), the trumpeter who replaced the guy who replaced Chocolate, after he stayed in Canada last year. The only bad thing was that Timba a pogolotti started straight afterwards and it was only 8.15. Wtf? Guess Pupy had somewhere better to be. It’s the first matinee I’ve been to at either Galiano or Miramar that has finished early enough to put recorded music on after - usually the fluoro lights are going on while the band is still playing (that’s usually Havana d’Primera).
A bunch of musos stood around outside buying beer from the hole-in-the-wall shop next door to the Casa and deciding what to do. Oyuni had his not-as-swish-as-Elito’s-but-still-pretty-swish car there, and he and Rusdel and a bunch of others were going to see Bamboleo at La Tropical. Maybe they saw them; maybe they didn’t: last week they didn’t play because the police didn’t go to the venue and, according to Duni, there is no band in Havana that will play La Tropical if the police aren’t going to be there. Pussies. (Just kidding.)
Thursday, May 21, 2009
There was quite a decent crowd, and no guest stars, just HdP’s awesome musos kicking arse and their regular farandula dancing their arses off. Most of the foreigners in town were at Van Van, of course. Though when we arrived an Italian promoter - possibly the guy who runs Latinomericando in Milan (though I’m not sure - I wasn’t introduced; I was kind of eavesdropping) - was talking to the group’s coristas Jannier and Enrique. The Italian and Jannier were telling Enrique what it’s like - Jannier was there last year with Pupy, and of course in 2006, when I was there on my Timba Geek Summer Camp (jeez I wish I could make that happen again). It sounded like Enrique hadn’t been to Europe in a while. He’ll probably be happy to get home after this year’s trip - HdP will be there for almost three months I think.
After I danced and got sent to heaven, we repaired to the bar next door for a drink with trumpeter Yuliesky and his mate Bebito, who plays bateria with Ritmo Oriental - Yuliesky moonlights with them too - and about a 100 other bands, it seems. The mosquitos were out in full force - the recent rains have seen them quintuple in number - and ’80s videos played on the TVs while we chatted.
Back at our place there was a great deal of rum-imbibing and salsa dancing in the tiny sala. Both musos were excellent dancers - and Yuliesky in fact could not be stopped. We danced to Resumen de los 90, half of Tranquilo que yo controlo, Michel Maza, ’90s Issac, old Manolito (Y ya para que, Linda melodía), Earth, Wind & Fire, Bar-Kays and Parliament.
Today Azúcar Negra played a Galiano matinee. They had a pretty good turn-out, although with all the hype the gig had on Disco Fiesta, I had thought there might be more people there.
I have been very keen to see Dayan, the spunky and energetic former Charanga Forever singer who took Rusdel’s place when he left for Pupy, with them; as well as seeing the band do songs from Exceso de equipaje, which is a very solid album.
The DJ music beforehand (Pedry DJ his name is, and he gets way too much work in my opinion) was playing all reggaeton, which had me sitting, resting my cheek in my hand.
AN came on about 7.10 or so, with an old song that I know that don’t remember the name of. Ailyn was once again sporting very little, though more than at last week’s Alaín Daniel gig: skinny jeans, unfeasibly high gold heels and a top slashed to the waist, which she kept adjusting, to make sure nothing was falling out. She looked pretty good I must say, though she is probably the skinniest girl I have seen in Havana, after the one I saw in the street who clearly had anorexia. I don’t think we need to call the medics on her yet, but it’s something of an unusual sight here. Glad she’s ditched the cornrows from a few years back - I prefer the untamed mane.
Con un canto en el pecho made an early appearance and as I have said before, I love this version. I was grooving on it when a guy asked me to dance. I thought, what the hell - first time this trip that attitude hasn’t paid off. He was way ahead of the beat, ruining the song’s lovely laidback feel (and the dance). I managed to tie him down to the tempo but his lead was all over the shop. I had thought he was Cuban, but looking closely, I realised that he was dressed like a foreigner. He didn’t speak to me (thank god for small mercies) so I don’t know where he was from, and I don’t care. I thanked him at the end of the song and moved on.
The absolute high point for me came when Dayan and Yordis (formerly of Salsa Mayor, apparently) sang my favourite, La identidad - never has such a great song come from such bitterness. It sounded great - the singers did a great job; and it fully rocked. Rusdel - Ailyn’s fella - jumped up and sang coros. Also good was Exceso de equipaje and Que pasa con las mujeres: I like Ailyn - she’s not dynamite, but she’s pert, cheeky and fresh. Not bad qualities to have. She only did three songs though. Don’t know if she usually does more - I could stand to see more of her on lead.
Dayan is outstanding. Every bit as good as he was with Charanga Forever - tons of energy and charisma and a great communicator. I would follow that guy to just about any band I think. Did I mention that he’s also gorgeous? Added bonus.
The were only three horns - two trumpets and one sax, which could explain the slightly anaemic sound; but the percussion was super beefy - the conguero and baterista doing a good job of cranking out those thumping gears.
The only problem for me with Azúcar Negra is that among the great songs are some exceedingly ordinary ones - and they oddly finished with one. Don’t know what it was - maybe Mi barrio; which didn’t sound like it was worth bragging about, quite frankly. It wasn’t meant to be the closer - they meant to finish with Cola loka, which I was looking forward to, as this also features Dayan, but they ran out of time. They said they’ll be back next Wednesday - maybe I’ll see them do it then.
Tomorrow the timba posse is split between Pupy and Manolito matinees. Sometimes you have to make the touch choices, although in my case, a not-so-tough choice. I’m gonna plead with Pupy to let Norberto sing Dicen que dicen again.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
There is a big European contigent in town. Lionel is back, and his compatriot, Patrick, armed with a big lens. There are Italian DJs and Japanese - the whole world is here. I hope they’re not all hoping to find awesome things to do for Cubadisco, because if there is anything special going on, it’s the best kept secret in town. I have heard that Havana D’Primera are playing with Gente D’Zona, which would be good, cause aside from that, I am only seeing them three times this week, and I’m not sure sure if that’s enough. That’s not a joke.
They were on at Miramar for the night. The place was full of Colombians - possibly connected with the Colombian group that had played with Yumurí yesterday at La Tropical. The DJ played a Colombian salsa megamix. I felt like I was at a lame club in Sydney. In between, he played Sandunguera and I danced with MFF, then a guy came up and asked to dance, and the DJ put on the megamix AGAIN. I felt obliged to dance, but once the handclaps to Micaela started, I just told him I was very sorry, but I couldn’t possibly go on.
HdP didn’t come on till after 1 - about 1:15 - same as the Cafe Cantante gigs. I would say that seems to be the new time for night gigs, except for Trabuco’s 12:45 start at Galiano a couple of weeks back.
At the band’s entrance I squealed and slid to the front of the stage, coming to a rest at the foot of Tony’s keyboard - Lionel and his posse were up the other end, at the foot of Harold’s. Alexander was wearing a new shirt: it’s black with silver thread. Very spiffy.
I love Alexander (in case you haven’t figured it out).
They started as always with Resumen de los 90 - a little heart-starter - then went into Confiesale, which Alexander raced the band through, cutting all the different parts of it short, so it was a little unsatisfying. Cosas de un amigo was Confiesale’s opposite: long and filled with delicious funky presiones. I danced to every one and I thought I would die - both from happiness and the exertion.
Then they did Despues de un beso - this is the son from the album that they played last year when I was here when it was still a work in progress. It’s the first time I’ve heard it live in its entirety and it sounded great: the album version augmented with lots more catchy coros and presiones for despelote - rather unusual for son, but quite usual for Alexander - it’s pretty much his sello.
The glorious Mi música followed. I don’t really know what I can say about this that I haven’t already said, except that this live song is reason on its own to go and see them play: get on a plane, cross borders - do whatever you must to see this song live. It always sounds great. Tony did a very clever and interesting solo on the piano that resolved into a fantastically chunky tumbao that had everyone in grins.
Niña bonita is a sweet tropical fusion song, but it’s not really in the same league as any of the others I don’t think, but it has its place in the set, because it segues into Rodney Barretto’s drum solo. I’ve become a little blasé about this, partly because he does one every show; partly because everyone goes on about him so much, and I am Australian, and we are tall-poppy cutters from way back. But I have to say, his solo tonight was outstanding.
(As I write this an incredible storm is brewing - great slashes of lightning and cracks of thunder - but so far, no rain. Actually the lightning was showing off when we went into Alexander at midnight.)
I don’t know if Rodney had had a bad day or just felt like excorcising a few demons but he attacked the kit as if his life depended on it. He broke a stick at one point but just scooped up another and kept on hammering away without missing a (ahem) beat. It was ferocious.
This (after Harold, Tony and Yandy, on bass, start and lovely simple monotone groove) always segues into one of Alexander’s heavenly solos, but tonight there was a star trombonist in the house (oops, didn’t get his name/recognise him), and they traded licks. He was great. Alexander was better.
Cuando el río suena was a bit shorter than it has been - he has been singing a coro in it that Revé and Tumbao Havana also quote (something about a palo - I think it might be rude) so it’s obviously from a well-known song, and probably recent, but damned if I know what.
There was the utterly fabulous Historia verdadera to close - it’s completely volcanic live. This song is probably the second reason to see them live - apart from all their other songs (no, really). It sounds great on the album, but live it’s a whole other beast.
(Alexander really needs to do a live album.)
Our day of live music started with the Revé supermatinee I had no advance notice of the band playing before them, and they were already on stage when we arrived. It took me a moment to realise it was Sur Caribe, who I probably haven’t seen since 2004.
(Rain is here now. Smells great. I love ozone.)
This is a great way to see bands you can’t be bothered to see otherwise. So now I know how Sur Caribe sound, and I didn’t have to go to see them at their regular Thursday night gig at Miramar. And on this performance, I won’t be seeing them again. They were OK, but their songs all sound the same - just fast, unremarkable salsa. That’s with the exception of the big hit, Añoranza por la conga and the other one they do which sounds just like that. They had a very cute girl singer on vocals though, who was wearing an even cuter polka dot shorts and bib ensemble.
I was happy to see Revé hit the stage. It’s great to have the opportunity to see them play every week, because they don’t usually play much in Havana, but gee I wish they’d play for more than an hour and 15 minutes. They’re sounding great - like bottled happiness. Still mixing different songs - they did some bicycle song this week - I didn’t know it, but it was good. And El teléfono, during which Alexander (Reve’s cantante) borrowed Lionel’s iPhone. Mi salsa tiene was back - with Ulises coming down the front to play the trombone solo, which was pretty cool - do you think he gets sick of playing it note for note, every time? Also Ya no te doy mas na - that could stay in the set every week and I’d be happy. Jonrón was the closer. Missing was A Sancochar boniato. Sob. I’d be happier if that were in the set every week too, but like I said - I’m not complaining, cause they’re playing every week.
Bass player Aisar was introducing me to various people saying - and she comes every Monday! Like it was a surprise. I’m just like, d’uh - why wouldn’t I? That’s a total no-brainer. One of the best bands in Cuba, hands down.
Afterwards Elito drove off in his unbelievably posh black Mercedes. It immediately brought to mind Alexander’s rant in the middle of the new version of Mi música. If you’ve got it, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven’t, buy the album when it comes out later this month or pay attention when you go and see them play.
I asked someone here if what he said in these new lyrics was controversial, and they said no, because he’s telling the truth. Since when has the truth not been controversial?
Monday, May 18, 2009
Also clarification is needed re El Noro’s rendition of Linda melodía - apparently it was his idea to sing it. He is, according to Chino “fresco”. Jaja. Sure is...
Another clarification: when we walked into Galiano with Ricardo he didn’t say he was tired of Galiano, he said they (the people there) were tired of seeing him there (damned conjugations!). But what I want to know is, if he goes there so much, how come I never see him there?
The big news today from last night’s Cubadisco awards, is that out of a bumper crop of salsa releases that included Pupy y Los Que Son Son, Manolito, Klimax, Adalberto Alvarez, and Maraca, the winner was ... Yumurí.
Huh? Wtf just happened? I mean, seriously.
Yumurí played a La Tropical matinee today with a Colombian salsa band. I passed.
I didn’t make it out last night: the thought of the asinine PMM DJ’n’dancing girls road show and the late start; combined with nowhere to sit or stand without being bumped around, made me decide not to go to Salon Rojo for Ng la Banda. By the time I’d made that decision, it was too late to see Trabuco at Galiano - they would have gone on early-ish, as there was a PMM show on afterwards, starting at 2am and going till 6am. The mere thought of that is cringeworthy on so many levels. PMM is taking over Havana it seems. It’s not pretty.
No matinees today worth speaking of (Disco temba at Galiano) - curse Bamboleo for hogging Miramar (Saturday night and Sunday afternoon) on weekends and taking a perfectly good venue out of the running.
So far, I've done not very much at all, though I did make an excellent batido de mamey this morning, which is something.
I can still make it to NG la Banda at Delerio Habanero. It’s only 1.30am. They probably won’t hit the stage till 2am. Oh dear god.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Havana d’Primera’s regular Friday gig wasn’t on at Galiano. It was still on the online cartelera apparently (I’ve pretty much given up on that, but someone else told me it was there); but both the radio and the cartelera outside the Casa had Sello LA. Still, hope springs eternal and I called Alexander just to be sure. He confirmed the bad news. The good news is that they are playing Monday night at Miramar, as well as the Tuesday matinee. Weeeeee!
Whenever they mention Sello LA on the radio, they always mention Alexander Abreu as well, and I asked Alexander what he has to do with them. He said, “Nothing. The director of this band is also called Alexander Abreu.” I felt a little foolish, but he very kindly said that this causes a lot of confusion for everyone. I had thought it odd.
This meant that today’s matinee would be Manolito at Miramar, which has become a regular for them.
It was pretty busy inside. And pitch back with fluoro and strobe lighting as usual. It didn’t get much lighter once the band came on, so most of my pics suck. I know it doesn’t have to be that way at Miramar, so I’m not sure whose decision that was.
They started with three Amaray songs in a row: La Habana me llama, the very ordinary Relampago from Control, and the delightful Comunicate. I’m not sure an Amaray triple is the best way into a set, but the crowd was very into it, so wtf do I know.
El Noro sang Linda melodía again. It was the short version I had already seen - mainly the cuerpo and not much else. I don’t know if that’s cause they’re just trying it out, or if this is its new form. I’m guessing they haven’t played it much since Kalunga left. I saw them do it once with Amaray on lead and it was hideous. El Noro does a better job but he still struggles with the high notes and can’t soar like Kalunga did; but then, few can.
Control next - time to go to the bar. Then Sacude la mata, a good salsa song and everyone paired up for some casino. Actually this order is all out of wack, but whatever.
Mayami also sang Caballo grande, and actually did a pretty good job. Great song. Very pleased to hear that. He was looking very fetching too: all in black. Nice hips.
The other two have a weird tie fixation at the moment. And El Noro is going for shiny shirts and suits.
The lowest point was the Camila ballad. Ick.
The three closing numbers seem to be fixed - El Noro with Llegó la musica cubana, Amaray with Locos por mi Habana, and El Noro again with Marcando la distancia. All great songs. Llegó la musica cubana is so epic and so awesome. Riverón really gets a chance to shine on the batería on that, and on Locos too. All three songs sounded great. It was almost like the old days.
When Amaray roll-called the people from various countries, he listed Australia - seems he has finally remembered where I’m from - well done! I felt obliged to put my hands up in appreciation. Some folk from Miami wanted to be included as well.
When we left, we discovered it was raining, so a bunch of us, including Chino and Pipi, from the band, repaired to the garden bar next door which has shelter of a sort: thatched roofs over the tables. Pipi is very funny. He was criticising the farandula that attends the Capri, among other things.
After a while of chat and waiting for the rain to ease, we decided to go back to the Lotus Flower restaurant in Salud. Pipi has a car (yay) so getting there was easy. It was late and as it had been raining there was no queue. Inside it was freezing as usual. I draped a serviette over my shoulders but it didn’t help much.
We order the fried whole pargo (snapper). It was bloody enormous, and I brought the rest home in a bag. It was good to chat to Chino at length, though we didn’t talk much about the band. He said only that they weren’t going to Europe till August. They are going to Venezuela this month, and maybe to Japan in July. (The trip to Mexico is off.) So they will be one of the only bands around in June and July when just about all the other first tier bands are in Europe. They will have their pick of gigs - if Bamboleo haven’t already bagsed the venue. Those guys now have five regular weekly gigs (I don’t go to any of them).
I was complaining I wanted to go a Tropical Sunday matinee, but I wanted to see Aragon play there and so far, they hadn’t. And Chino thought this was hilarious for some reason. Sure, they are old school, but it doesn’t mean they don’t rock.
When we climbed the stairs to the casa, the little Pekingese was locked out and in a real state. We had to wake up the landlord to let his sad neglected ugly little dog into his apartment.
It’s raining today, and very overcast. Good chance Pupy at La Tropical will be off. My back-up plan is not Trabuco at Galiano, but NG la Banda at Salon Rojo. They have an anniversary gig (I forget how many years) there, with various invitados. But actually I just want to see them kick some arse on Lucha luchador. Probably an anniversary concert isn’t the best way to see them - there will be solos and lots of improvising, but I’m worried I won’t see them at all otherwise, despite the fact that the have three residencies, as none of them is very convenient - by which I mean that none is a matinee or at Galiano.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Pupy had said at the last Thursday double bill with Yoruba Adabo double bill that it would be a regular, but I had heard him talk before of residencies that never were, so I was a little sceptical - even more so when Maraca’s name went up on the cartelera. But a phone call to Duni confirmed that the two were indeed playing together at Galiano. Woo!
My fellow farandulera (MFF) and I had arranged the day before to do an interview with Ricardo, from Salsa Mayor/Son Yoruba in the afternoon, so he came round and had a beer and we talked about his very interesting career (short version: born in Russia, no formal training, has sung with a bunch of bands in his 24 short years on this earth. Long version will go up when I return). One anecdote I will reveal now is that he tried out for Pupy after Pepito left, but he clashed with Mandy and didn’t get the gig. Which is pretty tragic considering that not long after that, Mandy was gone.
Afterwards, MFF, Ricardo and I went down to Galiano. He lives literally around the corner and when we walked in he said: "I’m tired of coming to this place." Sometimes I feel the same and I’m only here for six weeks.
It was a lot busier than for the previous week’s Pupy gig and got busier still - obviously the word had got out, though I have no idea how. (Duni said, “promoción”. I said, What promotion? He shrugged.)
I had a dance or two with Ricardo - as well being an ace singer and frontman, he is a cool dancer. And he has excellent manners. You could take him home to meet your mum.
Los Que Son Son hit the stage for the curtain raiser, Que cosas tiene la vida, then Yoruba Andabo took over, as they had last week. The rumba dancers were all gussied up this week - I kind of liked them in funked up streetwear better. They had much less room, as the dancefloor was so crowded. I hate to think what it was like for them to dance on, cause as was usual for the Casa in that state there was spilt beer and rum all over the place. But they managed.
While I was hanging with Duni, Rusdel came by and chatted. Turned out he has asthma and had spent the day at the hospital. (Turned out my ex had too). I couldn’t imagine how he could sing in that state, but he did. He put on a pretty good show, too.
Pupy returned with Se parece a aquel. I had a dance with Ricardo, but the floor was so crowded that it really wasn’t much fun, and when Un poquito al reves started, I scooted down the front with him in my wake.
Norberto did a great job again (seems that it was only the first night I saw him do it that he stuffed it up) and an even better job on Dicen que dicen later. That was really beautifully sung, perhaps even better than - dare I say it - Pepito? Later on, I told him he had sung well, and he made the sign for más o menos. That’s pretty in character for him. Still, better that than the kind of person who says, “I know! Aren’t I great!?”
In the meantime the band totally cooked: all the singers were really going for it - it was probably Michel’s best performance; he was very outgoing; and Pupy was up and dancing with the singers and smiling a lot. I guess the huge crowd had a lot to do with it.
Lazarito from Bamboleo was there. To be honest I would have preferred Pupy to have kept playing - it was during Si me quieres conocer, which has been funkified no end live, and Lazaro didn’t really know the new arrangement, so it wasn’t quite as good as usual. But you know, it’s Si me quieres conocer, so it’s still fantastic.
Unfortunately Calla calla made a return. I sat down. Fortunately Timba a Pogolotti was next and I got up. And made Ricardo get up too - how mean! The dancefloor by this time was just a mess. Once Yoruba Andabo joined Los Que Son Son on stage, there seemed to be almost as many people on stage as in the audience. It was one big locura - the place was going off. It was all a bit too untamed for me - the curtain came down, and me and MFF got out. We had three hours to chill before our first date with Alaín Daniel.
Or so we thought. Turned out to be a bit longer than that.
We cooked up a stir fry and watched an Argentine telenovela, then headed to the Capri. The hotel itself is all boarded up with corrugated iron, but the lights were blazing outside Salon Rojo and there were masses of cars parked outside. The scantily clad farandula were making their way inside.
The Salon now has fluorescent tubes inside the chandeliers and lasers. PMM was on before Alain - a kind of package of DJs and dancing (I use the term loosely) girls. The music wasn’t bad - remixed R&B mostly, but there was nowhere to sit as usual. Soon Edith from the music TV show Donde si no/23 y L came out as MC. She jiggled around a bit and gave the cartelera but didn’t really say much over all. Then came a bunch of girls and one guy. They were all very thin and dressed in elaborate outfits and their choreographed moves consisted mainly of them striking poses. They went and changed into more elaborate outfits and we got the same again. The third time, they actually danced to Vogue - including choreography from the original Madonna video. I ran the gamut of emotions from perplexed to amused to irritated. The first was resolved when Edith announced a fashion show: they were all skinny and didn’t dance because they weren’t dancers, they actually were models. Qué comico!
The girls came out one by one and posed in a series of outfits, beginning with a nautical theme and ... oh for god’s sake. Clearly this is just something to get guys into the clubs. It wasn’t over soon enough. I mean, really wasn’t over soon enough: Alaín didn’t come on until 1.30. One-thirty.
Lucky for him, he and his young combo fully rocked. Oddly he did very little from the new album Vestigios - only Se pegan and La Miky. He did a Manolín medley (kind of baffled by that, on many levels) and a few songs I had never heard before. And lots of little snippets of things. But it was all good.
The band, which seems to be more or less the same musicos as the last few years (the gordita on guiro has gone - there is no guiro - now and it’s possible the baterista is new), is supertight and looks like they’re all having fun. His bass player is not only one of the funkiest in Havana, but quite possibly one of the sexiest as well. His piano player dances like mad man - I have no idea how he still manages to keep his hands on the keys. His tecladista is hepcat cool like Betty. Or Veronica. (I can’t remember which one played tambourine and which one played keyboards.) He has great coristas and good metales. Then there is the man himself: suave and hardcore timbero at the same time. It’s a great package over all.
The farandula were out in full force, including Azucar Negra’s Ailyn, who was wearing a mini dress slashed to the waist (I have photos), the usual Los Angeles de la Habana crowd; and some gang I didn’t recognise who came with their own bodyguards (wtf?).
Ailyn did a nice turn on the mic, and didn’t overstay her welcome. The same couldn’t be said for various other raperos (or whatever they were) - Se pegan went for about 30 minutes, and not much of it featured Alaín. Lazarito did a ballad with Alain and the sexy bajista, seemingly teaching the latter the song as they went. It was his third gig of the day: in between Pupy and Alain, Lazaro had played with Bamboleo at La Tropical (according to the radio anyway, I didn’t actually go).
Salon Rojo still has the best sound in town, and great lighting too, but it still has the worst set-up: too many tables and chairs; and nowhere to stand and watch that doesn’t find you buffeted by the passing crowd. Forget about a place to dance.
We left thoroughly exhausted at 3am, our hair and clothes reeking of cigarette smoke. Can’t wait to see him again next week. But I wouldn’t complain if he played somewhere else...
Thursday, May 14, 2009
I’ll preface today’s report with news that a lot of you have been waiting for: I have spoken to Alexander Abreu and he says the Havana d’Primera album will be out by the end of the month. I don’t know when it will hit Descarga/Prodland, but keep an eye out for it - it won’t be too far away. Also maybe Planet Records will have it as well. I can’t check the web sites from here - maybe there are already release dates listed in the outside world, so toddle off and have a look.
On Tuesday afternoon, Los Van Van were playing another matinee at Galiano but you know that when Havana d’Primera are playing I have to go: it’s like the siren’s song. Except that so far, it hasn’t led to my doom.
We were running late, ridiculously. I mean, we’re on holidays, and we still can’t get our shit together? That’s why Galiano is great for us, cause you can just walk faster. We got out there about 7.05 and thankfully the band hadn’t started - Jannier was just walking in. Inside it was the usual hell: strobe lighting and reggaeton. I had a chat to trumpeter Yuliesky, but it wasn’t long before he departed to hit the stage; so we had timed it well.
Dayramir was replaced by Tony Rodriguez, HdP’s regular pianista, who had been off playing with Carlos Varela. He said that he still has commitments with Varela, but nothing that clashes with HdP, so he can play with both. The two pianists are great players with quite different styles. I’ve seen Dayramir play with the band a bunch times now, so I was looking forward to seeing Tony play with them. He’s something of a contradiction: he has such a youthful face, with such an open, goofy smile - he looks like he’s about 14; but he plays like he’s 50.
It was the full set they have been doing since I got here, but with Ony Ony replaced by Confiesale, which I prefer. I had the full trance thing going on during Mi música as usual, but I also took advantage of the fact that we were at Miramar and shot some video (I had already shot some at Galiano but the sound was shite).
There was quite a young crowd there. I don’t know what that means. But they were all singing along and dancing. Rodney Barretto’s mum, Rosa, who is a big fan of the band, was down the front dancing her arse off as usual, and when, after his solo, Alexander said: Rodney Barretto, Rodney BARRETTO, RODNEY BARRETTO! She was like: "El es mio!" The Italian promoter from the Salsa Mayor gig was there too. Guess he’s checking out all the bands for the forthcoming summer.
Alexander was in fine form, yelling out names during songs: Titi! Rosa! Yaaandy! Gabrieeelll! There was a funny bit where he was gesticulating to both Harold on keyboards and Tony on piano and pulling a face as if to say, wtf are you two doing? Jannier is now joining him on the Gente D’Zona song. He had also sung it with Alex on Friday but he still seemed a little nervous. Alexander was doing his best to make him feel comfortable, as he often does when he’s with a muso who seems to lack confidence. Bless.
There’s not much more to say except that it was fully awesome, and I wish you could all have been there: you would have loved it too. Havana d’Primera for everyone!
Afterwards we caught up with Dayan, formerly of Charanga Forever, now of Azúcar Negra. Like Ricardito, who used to sing with Salsa Mayor and is now with Son Yoruba, I think Dayan is one of Havana’s better, and sadly under-rated singers. Though of course now that he is with Azúcar Negra I guess his profile will be raised. He said that since their three month Mexico tour has been cancelled, they are now trying to organise some gigs in Cuba, but they have no dates yet. Hopefully I can see him sing with them soon.
We sat on the fence outside the Casa a while and chatted some more to Yuliesky, who is a bit of a chanchullero. Alexander came by and enveloped me in a fantastic bear hug, and eventually, we went to the beer garden next door for a drink, where some of the other guys from the band were also imbibing. There I chatted to Alexander about the forthcoming tour and album, and also asked him why he wasn’t playing a couple of songs from the album like Ahora que buscas. He said they will prepare them for the European tour; and that they will be rehearsing them soon and try them out in Havana before they leave around June 10. He said he’s really looking forward to getting to Europe and seeing what kind of reaction they get; not to mention finally getting the album released.
Disco Fiesta had said Alexander would be one of the guests at this Festival de la Timba Joven gig with Tumbao Havana at Cafe Cantante the same night. I asked him if he was going to be there, and he said yes. We decided to go, even though Yuliesky was trying to talk us into going to some Tuesday night casino thing at a hotel further out in Miramar. Otro dia maybe.
They had four singers - all pretty good, only one of whom was singing with them the last time I saw them in 2006, and the band sounded not bad overall, despite the ragged brass. They hit the stage and the singer immediately asked everyone to get up and come down the front - and everybody did. I was amazed. The second song was Padrino, which is the one being played a bit here on the radio, and it sounded really good. The guy singing had a nice raspy voice and great energetic and slightly idiosyncratic persona. This one had me up and dancing - and thinking maybe I should listen to the demos again.
I went over and said hello to Alexander (again) and just as I did, they called him up to the stage. The band had been firing, but as soon as he pitched in, the energy level just burst through the roof. He has such a presence, and a way of directing the band in and out of coros and breakdowns and so on. It was bloody awesome. It went on and on too. Maikel Blanco joined in on piano (they were the only two of the many listed invitados who turned up) and Harold on keyboards. Yasser from Salsa Mayor took a turn on vocals as well, waving his arms about like a loony. It was all a bit mad in the best possible way.
During another song, Alexander ran past me dragging Tony by the arm towards the stage. He threw him behind the piano - I love the way these guys can change over without even breaking the tumbao. The HdP guys had been drinking solidly since 9pm (it was now about 2am) but Tony still managed to tinkle captivatingly, though Alexander had to get up and direct the percussion into building some tension behind him. Harold got up too and the two had some weird piano/keyboard duel going. All heaps good.
Tumbao Havana carried on bravely after the invitados had departed; and they still sounded good, but this was my second day of matinees and night gigs (and it was three bands the day before) and I was pretty much muerte, so I was glad when it was over. And not that sorry to take Wednesday off.
Thursday: Pupy with Yoruba Andabo (matinee) and Alaín Daniel (noche) - WOOHOO!
Twitter note: I had thought I would be able to tweet easily from here, but it is as hard to log-on to Twitter as to most other sites (and my mobile doesn't work here), so, sorry for not tweeting as often as I would have liked; and to all the peeps who have started following me. Will return the follow when I return.