Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Pa' carnaval con La Revé
The thing about going to Havana for a holiday, is that you really feel like you’ve been somewhere. And for some reason, when you look back over the time, days feel like weeks. For a trip to Trinidad with Orquesta Revé, take that and times it by a hundred: we only went for two nights but I feel like I’ve been gone from Centro Habana a month. It seems impossible that it was just four days ago that we were at Cafe Cantante grooving to Combinación de la Habana. It’s something to do with the fact that nights seem to stretch into weeks when it’s carnival and the band doesn’t start till 3am and doesn’t finish till 5.30am; then the band wants to stop off for snacks on the way home at six and sit around eating them in the fluoro-lit fast-food joint rather than get on the bus; and also that when you finally get home, and into bed, the house and reggaeton at the hotel for Cubans next door starts pumping out an hour later at 8am.
We were told to meet in Parque Central on Saturday at 12.30. We arrived punctually: we were the only ones who did. First on the scene was tresero Jorge. Others dribbled in. Two old ladies on the stone park bench told Aisar he was a “bombón”. What excellent taste they had. That'll be me when I'm ancient: sitting on a park bench ogling handsome young men. I might have to move here; seems more acceptable somehow.
At 1.30 we were ready to leave. The bus was old, it had no air-con and Elito would not be taking it with us: he would be driving in his Merc and would arrive hours beforehand. We had to go by Cienfuegos to pick up timbalero Andy, trombonista Yamel and pianist Pachi. There were also the obligatory stops at roadside fruit stalls: the pineapple stall in particular was a big hit and we stayed there for almost 30 minutes. At a roadhouse, various bandmembers had their first drink of the day.
We passed a prison in Cienfuegos and lots of people with nothing to do on their Saturday afternoon but stand in the doorways of their tiny houses in their small towns and look boredly at the passing traffic. It reminded me of weekends in Brisbane when I was growing up.
We stopped abruptly at a level crossing when we heard a train tooting as it approached, the bus lurched forward a little, as if the driver was thinking of speeding quickly across, and there were cries of “no hay tiempo!” from the musos, just as the train drew up to the road, which, it turned out, doubled as a station.
The road was long and bumpy. It rained a little but when we finally arrived in Trinidad, it was sunny. The band was staying in a resort for Cubans just outside of town. The digs were what could be described kindly as basic. But they were about 30 metres from the sea, which was kinda nice. When we got home at night (or more accurately, the morning), the house was teaming with wildlife: ants, cockroaches, spiders and crabs.
After we arrived, we showered and went to the dining room for fried chicken and congris, followed by little square cakes with blue and white icing - these would appear at the end of both lunch and dinner.
The bus took us 6km into Trinidad at 12.30am. There was a timba band - probably local - with a female singer with blonde plaits playing on a big concrete stage to about 3000 people. They weren’t bad, but their songs were a little derivative. The people were pretty into it, though. A stroll through the crowd showed the usual goings on: people drinking rum and beer; young boys grinding with their aunts. Underfoot, the ground had been concreted - I can’t imagine how dismal it must be during daylight without its joyous revellers.
The changeover between bands seemed to take forever. Even when Reve were almost set-up, I realised I still hadn’t seen Elito yet, which didn’t bode well. My feet hurt and I was ready to drop. Then at 2.50, the started playing Fresquecito and I immediately perked up. The new line-up features Emilio, ex of Tumbao Havana (he sang Padrino) and Suzel, ex of Sello LA on vocals, and Gretchen, Elito’s daughter on keyboards. Not sure she contributes all that much yet but she looks nice and she can despelote. After Emilio joined the band, the pair became an item. That could cause problems for someone down the line. But I guess everything’s en taller right now.
I had already heard a handful of songs before I got to Cuba and Aisar had played me the rest on the bus: it was good to be acquainted with them, as the set had lots of them in it.
My favourite is the title track - De que estamos hablando. My least favourite is the radio hit, Chichi, practically a novelty track with its coro “Chichi, Chichi, como te gusta la Toyota, y tambien el Mitsubishi”. (If only they lived in a capitalist society they could make some real money off that.) It was played towards the end and the crowd loved it, even though it was nearing 5.30am. There were six year olds asleep in their father’s arms at the foot of the stage, and still the band played. The trombonistas, who I think had spent most of the day drinking, were dancing round like mad and fooling around. They got into trouble from singer Dagoberto during Jonrón though, when they didn’t just miss a cue, they hadn’t even picked up their trombones to play it.
I acquitted myself admirably under the circumstances by dancing until the last half hour or so. By then it was a miracle I was even upright. Afterwards we filed into the bus - many revellers stayed at the ground as the sky lightened - but “home” wasn’t as near as I had hoped. First we had to stop at a Rapido, so the guys could buy drinks and pastries and ugly looking little pizzas, and sit down at the laminex tables and eat them. Zzzzzzzzzzz. Once on the bus again - by now it was 6am – some spontaneous singing broke out, with Dagoberto and Andy trading improvised verses and the rest of the bus responding with a coro of “si si si, si si si si” or “no no no, no no no” according to what was appropriate. It was pretty funny but I was astounded that anyone had an iota of energy left.
Finally we arrived at out house - aka the wildlife sanctuary - got into bed, and went to sleep, only to be woken an hour later by the thump of reggaeton and house. Earplugs FTW.
I woke at noon, completely shattered - or hecho leña as they say here sometimes. We walked up the hill to have lunch - weirdly, they’d saved breakfast for us as well, so on offer was an omelette with slices of some kind of pressed meat and mashed malanga; as well as chicken with a rice with pork through it and plantain chips. And cake.
It was fucking hot. When we got back to the house and turned the fan on, we discovered why the reggaeton had stopped booming out: apagón. Beauty. We went down to the beach and sat under a tree a while. MFF, who’s a bit of a beach bunny; went swimming in the lukewarm water. I paddled, then we went back to the house and I hit the hay for another go at sleeping.
Aisar meanwhile, entertained MFF with some of his new work, including a son project with Sinsonte, Andy, Jorge and trumpeter Mirabal called Barrio Tres.
Once the evening arrived, the whole thing began again; though when we arrived for dinner, we were told it wasn’t ready yet, and when we asked why, it turned out Elito had complained to someone in the government about the food (I thought it had been pretty good), and so they were now preparing more, and presumably “better” food for us all. We didn’t have long to wait - previously we had arrived and food had appeared instantly, as if by magic. This time we had a mountain of it: a giant plate of plantain chips; a plate of boiled potato with onion, chicken that tasted like it had been roasted rather than fried (riquísimo), pressed meat and rice with pork. Dagoberto had been into town during the apagón and picked up some tamales as well. There was also cake, of course, which was rejected by five of those at the table. Tresero Jorge ate them all. Yikes. After dinner I had a nap. I felt like I could never get enough sleep. Then it was back in to Trinidad at 1am. No waiting this time; “Qué bien!” said Aisar when he found out they’d be playing immediately. As everyone disembarked, the trombonists were asked to stay on the bus by Elito and their manager: possibly a ticking off for their behaviour the previous night.
The ground seemed as full as the day before, although the crowd seemed slightly more into it, maybe due to the less soporific hour. The set kicked off with Dale al agua al domino. Goody, I thought, I get to see a different set. Most of the new songs were the same: De que estamos hablando, Chichi, Niña relajáte and Suzel’s song Ya sé cantar, a midtempo number that reminds me of Despues de todo, only in that it takes the energy down for a bit. There was one new addition, which was Emilio’s Nueva explosion. The oldies were Mi salsa tiene sandunga - and I suppose one day I’ll get tired of hearing that - and some songs from Fresquecito. For Agua pa Yemaya, Elito got up on the speaker to address the crowd. For the snippet of Se sigue comentando, which always closes the set, he got some ladies up, and there was much controversy afterwards among the musos because one of them was a cross dresser. There was even more commotion when the response from the Australians was, “So?” Or words to that effect. We come from a city that has a gay parade that has 800 participants and sees more than 500,000 spectators line the streets to watch it (it’s also televised).
We left the ground, made a brief stop at the Rapido, and were in bed by 4am. So it was an early one then. Some people got up early to watch some football game. I slept till midday. It was glorious.
I was pretty keen to get back to my casa in Havana, which was positively luxurious compared to the Trinidad digs, but a dude from the Sancti Spiritu goverment wanted to treat the orchestra to a lunch, so it would be some hours before we would see Havana - the Combinación de la Habana matinee at Miramar (they've finally fixed the air-con there so matinees are back on) was receding into the distance.
We stopped at a small building in a rustic street that bordered on deserted. Out the back was an outdoor area to eat with lots of chickens wandering around. Inside the food, though basically more of the same, was pretty good. The red snapper steaks were excellent.
MFF was thrilled to find some cajitas of rum - since the deal with the tetrapak company went belly-up, not only has the fantastic Cuban juice disappeared (I used to live on the jugo de pera) but you can’t buy the little boxes of rum either. What we had here seemed to be old stock, including some that were a mojito mix that I’d never seen. No idea what they’re like but I’ll report back.
At 3.15, the trip back commenced in earnest. There was an early stop for mangoes, and the fruit here that looks and tastes like custard apples, but appears to be something different; the drop off in Cienfuegos of Andy and Pachi, who are recording something there, and the obligatory 30 minute stop at the by-now famous (or rather infamous) piña stall. As we neared Havana, rain fell impeding our process further. As we reached the outskirts, the drop-offs of individual bandmembers began, and I realised Parque Central was further away than I had anticipated. We finally arrived, totally shattered, at 10.30.
It was an amazing adventure, but next time, remind me to hire a car.
Posted by Yemaya at 1:36 PM