Sunday, June 20, 2010

A guarachar en el campo

Before this trip, I never thought I’d be grooving to moña (more about that in the next post) and dancing to Maraca’s Castígala. But Havana can make you do some crazy things.
Celine, Maraca’s wife and manager, had invited us to go with them to a gig for Carnaval in Bahía Honda, formerly of Pinar del Rio, now in the new province of Artemisa.
We went to their very pretty house in Nautica and met their lovely cat and waited for the bus to arrive.
It wasn’t a long trip. When we turned off the highway, the roadside was punctuated by stalls selling bright yellow-orange mangoes. Finally the temptation proved too much and the bus stopped so its passengers could disembark and buy one stall's entire stock. They were very pleased with their day’s business. When are you coming back? they asked.
In Bahía Honda, we drove past a sign saying beware of horses and carts. The horses were pretty sad; half-starved things with protruding bones. :(
There was a stall selling rolls with roast pork; with what was remaining of the pig stretched out on the counter. People were in the town square, where there were trucks selling rum and beer (BYO 1.5 litre empty soft drink bottle) and rum, a couple of carnival rides and a free disco.
Maraca was going to be playing in a small showground a mile away, with a 5 MN admission, but first there was dinner of chicken, congrís and boniato to be had at a local restaurant. Celine had though it would be a pretty rustic affair as far as the gig went, but when we arrived at the ground, there were not only a good set of lights, but also a video screen.
We had arrived early - unheard of - and had some time to kill before the band went on. So we stood around talking and slapping at the dinosaur-sized mosquitos. A bug flew into my eye. That was fun. At 10, a group of raperos was supposed to start the show, but nobody had arrived. We got back onto the bus and waited. And waited. On Thursday the public had waited for Alain; tonight it was the band waiting for their public to arrive. Everyone got twitchy.
Road manager Juan Carlos said: For once, everything went right: the bus arrived on time, we bought mangoes on the way, we have lights for the stage, a video screen. But we don’t have people.
I listened to the horns tune up with Maraca, and to Lester and Andy (piano y teclados) sing a new song with a pretty melody to him. At 10.30 people started to trickle in. I felt sorry for the raperos, who I thought were playing to an empty field, but when they audience participation kicked in, I realised there were quite a few people there, and by the time Maraca came on, it was pretty full of people ready to party.
Maraca’s band is small for a salsa band - only 12 - but they’ve all got the chops, and they sound great. On bass is a pretty young Camagueyano who knows a lot of the people I do. His cousin is on batería and he works very well with the conguero, a beefy guy who looks like he could move a fridge on his own. The horns are great - it's always a pleasure to hear a baritone sax.
The singers I wrote about last week. Lester and El Nene were in great form, the latter particularly during an outrageous cintura competition, which started raunchily with three girls and turned into something akin to a mass orgy when three guys jumped up to join in. The photos from that are really something.
I was dancing around the stage and taking pics - it actually sounded quite good from there. Now I know why Kevin always love to take video from the behind the percussion - it’s really something to stand behind a baterista and conguero and see - and feel - them working together close up. I should try and scam my way backstage more often.
They finished, I dunno, 2-ish, and even though I could have sworn the trip out didn’t take that long, by the time they dropped everyone off, we didn’t arrive back at our casa it was 6am - and us with a double header at Casa de la Musica at Galiano that day. It's a hard life.
It was a great night though. There is nothing like seeing the bands here in Cuba, and nothing like seeing them with the pueblo. Of course it helps to get there in an air-conditioned bus.

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