Monday, June 14, 2010
Dancing in the rain
So I found out from Facebook that Paulito was playing the Capri last night, but I didn’t log on till 12.50am and I hate the Capri anyway and it’s a bugger to get to from my place so late. He was utterly disappointing when I last saw him in 2008, but still sings well, and I like his song Este año and his duet with Trabuco. He does matinees sometimes so maybe I can catch him at one of those. If not, maybe next week at the Capri, when I have steeled myself for the prospect.
So Facebook turns out to be another source of info for gigs in Havana - if you have a connection that functions well enough. I have greeked the pictures in Firefox but it still takes forever to connect and often the pages take ages to load and then time out so you have to retry. I’m thinking of going to Hotel Plaza and paying a fortune for their speedy server.
Ricardito, who was singing with Son Yoruba last year, came by yesterday - mainly to make sure I was going to see him sing with his new band Combinación de la Habana at a Galiano matinee later that day. Not long after we left last year, he got a call from the group asking him to join. As Son Yoruba didn’t work very much, and CdlH have the Saturday peña at Galiano (they were doing it last year too) and sundry other gigs, he made the move. I was waiting for My Fellow Farandulera to arrive from Sydney via Santiago de Chile, but when she did, she was (not surprisingly) in no mood to rush out to a matinee. So I skipped out on my own. The bitumen on San Miguel has been razed, but new tar had not yet been laid down, so Neptuno seemed like a better option, even though it seems like a longer walk when you can see your destination from about 700 metres away.
I arrived late and they were already well into what I imagine was their first song. The dance floor was busy and it was mainly Cubans, who had paid the 60MN entrada ($10 extranjeros). Ricardo is one of three boy singers, and not only are they all good performers and improvisers, but I was shocked to find that not one of them sang out of tune. They aren’t the prettiest singers I have seen in Havana, so there is a trade off, but this is the way I would rather have it.
They have an electric bass, and their sound is bottom heavy so Galiano is not the best place for them, but I liked what they had to offer. Not sure that they have any truly great songs yet, but they’re certainly entertaining, and what’s more, the fact that they blend successfully non-saccharine elements of pop with salsa/timba is very refreshing. The musical director had a familiar face - he’s a stocky negrito with corn rows called Eugenio who Ricardito says used to work with Michel Maza, among others. Ricardo has been given their big hit to sing, El avion, and he totally nailed it.
Walking back up Neptuno, two cops were checking the carnets of a couple of young chaps. One of the cops was sitting in the passenger seat of the police car running their names through a laptop. Pretty high-tech stuff!
Went and got something to eat (pargo!) then chilled in the casa, watching the action on Belascoain, which included a group of about six teenage boys doing a rumba in front of the carniceria. That’s what you come to Cuba for!
Cops turned up here too, and took a couple of guys out of the unofficial parada downstairs, put them in handcuffs, loaded something of theirs into the boot, and drove them away. Not much of a fun Saturday night for them.
Today there were two possible possibilities: Maraca at the Casa de la Cultura in Vedado, and the matinee at Los Jardines de la Tropical. I found out the reason they weren’t answering the phone last week at Salon Rosado - it’s closed for renovations. Beauty. Anyway, Los Jardines is picking up the slack, apparently. I almost made it out there on Friday to see Azucar Negra - I had planned to see Klimax at Miramar, and as I had heard from the pianista that it was on, I thought that it was actually happening, but I decided, on a whim, to check at about 5.30, only to be told that there were was no one on there after all. The problem with switching to Los Jardines is that it’s an earlier finish (8pm) and it’s harder to get to - at 6pm, there are no cars, and I had no idea where to get a maquina. I was probably cutting it too fine anyway, and after 20 minutes of fruitless waiting in the streets I cut my losses and accepted a music-less Friday (still don’t know what happened to Klimax).
Anyway. I called Los Jardines at about 5pm today only to have a hilarious conversation with someone who had no idea who was on as he said he had only picked up the phone because he was passing by when he heard it ringing but, he told me, “it’s full of people!” He told me to ring another number. I was then told that it was “cerrado”, ie there was so many people that they weren’t letting any more in. Maraca it was then.
He was slated to play at about the same time as the daily storm and we got there at 5.30pm to find the band playing their electrical instruments, in the rain, on an uncovered stage. Terrifying. There were some people standing on the periphery of the Casa’s courtyard and others dancing near the band, but after that song they stopped playing. About five minutes later the sky cleared and they hit the stage again for a full set that went off without a hitch and, I must say, it was an absolute delight. I had completely forgotten - in fact I’m not sure I knew - that Maraca has Lester (Bakuleye, Azucar Negra, Salsa Mayor) and El Nene (NG la Banda, Revé) singing with him - two of my top 10 favourite Cuban singers (currently residing in Cuba) - if indeed I could even make it stretch as far as 10. If it was disappointing to see Jose Miguel leave - another great singer, who is back in his hometown of Cienfuegos apparently - the two new guys more than make up for his absence.
It was free entry and it was the usual wonderful mix of people you find at La Tropical - young and old, ladies dancing with enormous bags, people in their Sunday best. Man I love that shit. You dress up because it’s a special occasion, because it bloody is (says the woman wearing a denim skirt and tank top).
The band itself was probably the chic-est looking Cuban group I have ever seen - not a sparkle anywhere, and everyone - except for Maraca, who was wearing a white shirt - dressed in shirts in varying shades of lilac and purple, some with checks, some block colours. Very nice and subtly co-ordinated. I could take a guess and say that Maraca’s wife/manager/all-round beauty Celine might have been behind it.
Honestly, I’m not familiar with a lot of the band’s recent stuff, so I can’t name the songs - I know they did the one they play on Disco Fiesta most days (Lo digo yo, maybe), and it sounded great; they did A la hora que llamen voy, and a mambo by Beny Moré. Other than that, all I can tell you is that the band was cooking and the singers were smoking. I’ve never seen either El Nené or Lester before; only heard them on disc - and they were both full of energy, great improvisers and could hold a tune beautifully. Something that can’t be said of a lot of singers here, though having said that, I’m on a roll, cause the three boys yesterday did a pretty good job as well. The metales were in tune and played with panache, and Maraca graced us with some pretty solos. There were a few musicians there, so there were a few sit-ins. Everyone had a grand old time.
Afterwards I introduced myself to Lester and told him I was a fan, and he thanked me for saying so and told me he was very touched to know it. Bless. I asked Maraca how he got two of the best singers in Cuba, and he made that rolling of the fingers motion they make to indicate someone has stolen or snatched something. I said, I thought Lester had gone to Mexico? He said, he did, I went and got him! He was joking around. Everyone was feeling pretty good I think. It was that kind of gig.
It’s their only Havana gig before a European tour next month. They have a couple of gigs in Pinar del Rio and they invited us along on Friday. Probably the only thing that could keep us in town would be Revé, and as they’re likely to be playing the arse-end of the country, we’ll probably take them up on the offer.
Posted by Yemaya at 1:22 pm