I didn’t go to see Trabuco on Thursday, cause I don’t like them so much at El Cafe, and now there is the option to see them every Monday at Galiano instead, which is like one big happy party. So you know what happened: their Monday gig was cancelled. Of course it was. The replacement was PMM Light. Yay. Not. Los Confidenciales were on at Miramar and Jota G, the son of the late revolutionary Juan Almeida who is a fixture in the audience at the Capri, was playing with his newish timba band at Cafe Cantante. A few of the foreigners headed off to that but I don’t really feel I can support him (also he is shit, not surprisingly), so I decided to sit the matinee slot out.
Around 1 in the arvo Ricardo from Combinacion de la Habana turned up, which was a nice surprise. Haven’t seen him yet this trip. He really is such a nice chap. So unassuming. I was pleased to be able to burn him a copy of Mandy’s recent album cause he is a massive fan, and let’s face it, it’s not bad thing if a young singer wants to immerse himself in the work of a master like that. I had some live stuff with Mandy too that I threw his way. He said he would bring me some new demos CdlH has recorded. They have done one with Tirso. I said I didn’t understand why tecladista/arranger Eugenio was singing one of the new songs when they had three excellent singers. He was defending him, but really. Eugenio doesn’t have much of a voice: it’s a weird choice.
Anyway, I had planned to see them the previous Saturday and they weren’t on and he said it’s cause they were playing the Monday night and they couldn’t do two gigs at the same place so close together. When it was confirmed that Trabuco - who had played there on Saturday night - was suspendido for the day, he said, See?
Pupy y los que Son Son were doing a radio recording for transmission for the end of year festivities and later in the day I went looking for Duni at his house. He wasn’t there but Marbis was there cooking dinner - she wasn’t waiting for him cause she said she was dying of hunger and bless her cotton socks she fed me - awesome congris and chicken and a great salad and yuca. Anyone who has been here will understand: homecooked meals are the best.
I transcribed the English lyrics to a Juan Luis Guerra song she wants to do with her band. She has a gig at Hotel Panorama. They have to do some dire songs (Yesterday, among them), but it’s work, so you know, whatever.
Duni finally came home and I told him I had eaten his dinner (mentira: there was plenty) then he went to watch Raul’s extra-long speech on television. He was talking about the imminent changes and why they have to happen. He’s right. Not sure why he had to take so long to say it. I thought he was famous for short speeches. Adalberto Alvarez was among those in parliament listening to it. Duni says he is a “consejo”. A council member I guess. Not sure about the political ins and outs here.
The previous Friday, the phone at the casa had been fuera del servicio for about 24 hours. When Etecsa did nothing about, the landlord had a go at fixing it himself. Now the internet functions so well it’s almost like having broadband. Well not really. But the pages load and they don’t take forever, so you should be seeing me around more and I won’t have to bottle up the posts for days. Be a bit easier on the eyes. I came home and was so happy conectada that I didn’t realise it was 12.30 already and I needed to get my ass down to Galiano for CdlH.
I shot down a near empty Neptuno - pleased to see the lights all working now.
Down at the Casa the band was already on, playing to a modest but enthusiastic crowd. The sound wasn’t awesome. It showed up Eugenio’s weakness singer even more markedly, as the others, singing coro, all overshadowed him. His is a good song though. This band has oodles of funk. Too bad Egrem won’t give them a record deal. Guess they don’t know the right people. Oh hush my mouth.
Ricardo had gone from my house to the barber and was now sporting a kind of reverse Elito: all shaved on the top with like a wedge at the base of the neck. Wacky. Ricardo has kind of an edgy, new wave look. I like it - it isn’t that common here. Good to see someone thinking outside the square.
They wrapped up about 1.40, so I saw almost an hour. They’re back in their Saturday afternoon slot this week but it’s a monster day: as well as their gig, there is Azucar Negra at El Palacio, HdP at La Tropical and Salsa Mayor at Galiano. Not long ago there used to be fuck-all on Saturdays: Waldo Mendoza at Cafe Cantante and Bamboleo at Miramar and something totally crappy for the matinee at Galiano. WTF happened?
• • •
Tuesday. Sigh. A great Spanish class with my awesome teacher, then a fucking headache and after a visit from a friend, a liedown in a darkened room. I was pretty determined to go to HdP at Miramar though. Probably wasn’t a very good idea. Went with La Rubia, a fellow farandulera in town for a while who has a car (awesome!) and got there late - 7.30 - they hadn’t started, so thank fucking Christ we didn’t get there earlier. It was jampacked, as usual. Tony Rodriguez was absent. I always miss him. I really love his style. It’s so spare and, I don’t know, almost idiosyncratic. The guy in his place was the same one who had played in his absence a couple of weeks previously, and I now know who he is cause he was on Donde si no last Saturday: his last name is Pacheco (maybe Jorge Luis, but don’t hold me to that). He’s OK. He’s no Tony Rodriguez.
They started, puzzlingly, with corista Jannier on congas - doing a pretty good job too - and Napoles playing guitar and singing coros. Halfway through Resumen de los 90, the conguero arrived - regrettably not the Italian model from Sunday but a much less attractive chap. Oh well.
The band lifted me for a while, but the people and the lights and everything was too much. I saw other people leaving and I wanted to go too, but my choffer was down the front dancing her ass off. I went up the back: it was darker and bit more low key up by the DJ booth and Alexander got me into it again.
They actually sounded a bit ragged on some songs - the beginning of one of the new ones was all desafinacion to my ears, but no one stage seemed to notice so maybe it was my headache. The horns were completely messed up on the intro to Historia Verdadera and everyone on stage did notice that.
Some foreign chick got up for a bit of a trumpet solo at the end of Cuando el rio suena and Alexander joined her. We might not have even got one if it weren’t for her cause I noticed he borrowed one from the metales: he hadn’t even brought his to the stage.
• • •
On Tuesday night I spoke to Jelien, the violinist, and he told me would be recording his parts for the Alvarez project the following day. I went down to Egrem very late - spent more than an hour in the bank waiting to buy stamps for the visa extension - oh joy - and when I got there, the Alvarez peeps weren’t down there - and hadn’t been there all day. But Duni was down there with pianist extraordinaire Rolando Luna, and Havana D’Primera’s Yandy and trombonist Carlito, among others. They were assembled to record a project for a Cuban muso who lives in Japan now. Pretty cool crew to have on your record. They were doing a tropical fusion thing. Yandy was playing bass in the control room while Duni, a guirero and Rolando recorded in the studio. Yandy is the bomb. I may have said that before.
Carlito is this old guy who looks like a teddy bear. He has been to Australia twice with Cubanismo and was eager to talk about it. Later Duni said he used to play with Irakere. Doesn’t surprise me given the calibre of Alexander’s musos. Don’t think there are any slouches among them.
Afterwards, Duni and his ex-pat mate went next door for a cerveza, Duni seemingly forgetting that he had a matinee with Pupy and had to be there at 6. We got to Miramar about 6.50. Early enough for my liking, that’s for sure.
It was busy, but not uncomfortable. Band sounded great. There was not enough Dayan. They did La fiera, which is one of those Pupy songs that starts off lame, then later, in the live version anyway, has some vicious funk grooves in it. I was going off my head. Been turning my external drive inside since then trying to find the live version I was sure I had, with no luck.
When they do La fiera, there isn’t much time for much else - as well as a bunch of motivo grooves, it has a piano solo - I don’t know how long it goes for, but it’s a long time. So the selection was a little limited - there was no Pogolotti for example.
There were some low spots: Seis semanas bores me, and having Noro sing it isn’t going to endear it to me. Parece mentira was borderline: a prieto asked me to dance and I said yes, on a whim and I think that was the best way to spend that song, as he had some good moves and it probably made it a bit more interesting than it would have been otherwise.
I’m revising my opinion of the new song I heard at La Tropical. When it started, I meandered away from the front back to where Alexander (that’s Abreu) was sitting, but the solid funk of the groove drew me back to the stage and I got some video. The vocal isn’t much more than some shouted words, but the groove is to die for. The whole thing is pretty shambolic in a totally awesome way.
As well as Alexander, Elito turned up - so now worries about missing any of Revé’s “matinee” at El Palacio then. He got up towards the end to shout some inanities and spruik the Palacio gig. We went more or less straight there: big mistake. We got there about 9.30 and the same rumba band was on that had played when I had last seen Revé there. They played. And played. And played. Sigh. A local came up to me and said, “Do you like rumba?” I said, “I hate it.” He looked at me and said, “Are you Cuban?” That’s a big LOL right there.
(Before I get flamed: I don’t hate it - I appreciate the role it plays in timba - boy do I appreciate it - no rumba; no Si me quieres conocer just for starters. And scratch half of Revé’s set. But when it’s not mixed with a swingin’ piano tumbao and some bateria and a grooving bass … it’s not my thing. And when it holds up the arrival of one of my favourite orquestas, Senora Cranky emerges.)
El Charangón finally came on about 11.30. Shit. Some matinee. They played till almost 1. I’d been freezing in the air conditioning and stiffening up from dancing to Pupy then standing around bored. But they got me to my feet with De que estamos hablando, Niña relajate and the rest. La boda de la bicicleta was a nice addition. Great song I haven’t listened to enough. There is a great vibe at El Palacio. It has its own farandula - the rumberos who call it home - and it’s nice to see different faces. In Niña relajate - which is about a jealous girlfriend - Emilio improvised a guia to his GF, on keyboards, which had everyone laughing. It was a bit unfair I thought. She bore it as best she could, given she was on a stage and she didn't have a mic and isn't a singer anyway.
At the end Elito said they were playing the Miramar matinee on Tuesday - donde estará Havana D’Primera? Don’t know that I mind. I’m a little over the HdP matinee. It’s too much. I can’t believe I’m saying that.
I left to walk through the legendarily peligroso Cayo Hueso, and singer Dagoberto accompanied me as far as Neptuno. He’d just seen the movie Australia and was raving about its beauty and had some questions about our heritage. Oh, bless. Seriously. We said good night; he went off to find a maquina and I walked up the narrow black street to my house.