La gente de la Tropical
Calling La Tropical on Sunday to try and find out what time El Charangon would be playing (as Elito is so capricious, and even the musos often don’t know, I wasn’t holding my breath), I got, hilariously, an incredibly well-spoken and talkative chap who spoke as though he knew exactly what was going on and, even more amazingly, turned out to be right. I asked what time the matinee finished (figuring I could work back from there) he said, 9, then gave me a very funny radio-style spruik for the gig, then told me, when I asked, that they would be on at 6 (they came on at 6.30).
I’d done fuck all for the day. Duni had tried to get me to go up to the feria on Carlos III at about 2, but the thought of cheap fruit and vegies wasn’t enough to get my out of my PJs and I ended up watching a Latifah rom-com on TV and fucking around the flat.
Me and my friend Yarima and her friend who has one of those Cuban names it’s impossible to grasp the first time you hear it, left a bit after 5.30 and got up there just before 6. There was the generic timba of some nameless band blaring out and a queue to get in, even though the cover was the same as it had been for Pupy the previous night. Guess it’s just easier for everyone to get home at 9, instead of 2.
The first band finished as we made our way through the throng downstairs, where we tried to get inside the hallowed gates of the backstage area. I didn’t see Aisar - no doubt living large on the upper balcony. I did see their productor (I don’t really know what means - it’s not producer in the sense that we use it), Candido, who is a lovely guy and always looks after me. He said he would get us in after he went to fetch Elito from - guess where? - the balcony. After he left, drops of rain started falling and the crowd started to scatter. Not that there is much cover on offer at La Tropical. I just stayed where I was. It passed. For the moment. Candido came back, Elito-less - guess the rain put him off - and ushered us in.
A bit after 6.30, the band came on, mercifully - the reggaeton was doing my head in - without Elito, starting with 1999.
Dagoberto was fantastic, but then, he always is. I don’t give him enough props. His voice has a beautiful rough timbre live, and he uses it really well and knows how to work the audience. He has a nice natural presence on stage as well. There is something going on with him and Emilio, but I don’t know what it is - there is always a little onstage sparring between them. Seems good natured enough, but who knows. Emilio hasn’t been there long, but it looks like he throws his weight around a bit. I guess you can get away with that when you’re the boss’s son-in-law.
De que estamos hablando was next - this was supposed to be the launch of the eponymous disc apparently, even though it seems to have been around for six months or so. At the moment in the song when Elito should have arrived (they usually play it first) the band was left hanging, with the singers looking around. He finally turned up without his trademark cordless mic, and started yelling his catchphrases. The crowd went wild for some reason. The band has four great singers and he doesn’t really add anything. The work of the directors here is sometimes a bit of a mystery, on stage, at least. Aisar is the one who pretty much directs the arrangements en vivo. (And on record, I believe, as well.)
The set, regrettably, didn’t include Ya se cantar or Open the door, which meant it was all high energy (with the exception of 1999): Dale agua al domino, Niña relajate, Mi salsa tiene, a potpurrit of oldies, Madrugada, Jonron, Chichi and Agua pa Yemaya, which is the closer now, as I guess it has become something of a hit.
The negrita spies her true love
A 50- or even 60something negrita in a bright pink top and white flip skirt clambered on to the stage to dance - specifically with Emilio. He managed to get her to get back down. Then she got back up again. And again. And again. Security was called. She got back down. She got back up. Emilio was really bothered - well she did keep rubbing herself up against him, and it was clear she wasn’t getting the message that he wasn’t interested (and that his GF was right behind them on keyboards). He pleaded with her to get off the stage and let him sing. She did. Then she got back up again. “Seguridad!” he called, in a mock comic fashion, but by now he was pretty exasperated. They weren’t really that interested in helping him. But they finally came and got her again and helped her down - she started hitting them. Then, uh-oh, she was up again. Emilio had been talking in her ear, but finally, during Niña relajate, he improvised a guia saying te portaste mal negrita, among other things. I didn’t get it all but judging from the expression on pianist Pachi’s face it was a bit full-on and highly entertaining.
When it was over there was the usual palaver getting transport - a street full of people and no cars to speak of. One bus stopped, but I didn’t really want to be another sardine in that tin, so I led my companions down to Casa de la Musica - it was a bit further than I remembered. It’s the kind of walk that’s fine when you’re on your own but you feel a bit embarrassed about when you have people in tow. Of course Bamboleo had just ended so there were mostly illegal taxis and my friend wanted to go down to 31 so we went down there and waited and talked about the rise in gun crime in Havana until a taxi came. (Took a wee while.)
Ate some rice and pork in my friend’s solar then came back for a brief rest before the midnight sojourn to Miramar for Havana D’Primera. Didn’t get there until about 12.30 which would be a good thing normally but they didn’t start till about 1.30 - I don’t know if Alexander had played the closing night of the jazz fest but whatever the reason it was an hour of excruciating reggaeton and strobe lighting which just about gave me a migraine before the band started. I saw a girl at the bar with glasses. I assumed she was a foreigner and said were you at La Tropical today? She said, yeah. I said, I saw you there. Her friend said: she was the only white person there. And I said, well, and me. And I could have added: “And Suzell (from Revé).” And I’m sure there were a few others, but whatever.
They invited me to their table. Turns out they were Cuban, but there was an Italian boyfriend buying mojitos and Añejo especial. I couldn’t stay out there long though cause of the luces, and retreated back to the bar area. After an eternity in the inferno, HdP hit the stage. Thank fucking christ. Lucky I’m so zen when I’m here - once the shit is over it’s over - gimme the good stuff and let it work its magic. Got some good video of one of the new songs that has the refrain “Ella está con su carrito passaporte”. I hope to do an interview with Alexander soon and talk about the new songs, among other things. (Maybe get the lyrics right.)
Speaking of passports, this is the week I have to go and spend all day in immigration renewing my visa. Fingers crossed I only have to spend one hour there instead of five.
Anyway, back to the gig. Yandy had bass trouble, which was a bore. The electric only worked for part of the night so there was less funk than usual, less slap and less of Alexander yelling “Yaaaandy!!!!”
BTW I think I forgot to say that Rodney Barretto is absent cause he broke is finger, and the doctor has told him he can’t play at all if he wants to recover properly. The current gang is doing a swell job though. The new guy, on bongo/bell and occasional conga looks like a fucking Italian model. Not sorry to have him on stage.
Azucar Negra’s Ailyn was in the audience with Salsa Mayor’s Yasser. They were alone together. Shall we start a rumour? Salsa Mayor are on this Saturday, finally. Alas: HdP are playing La Tropical!! Talk about all my Christmases coming at once. Having said that, if transport is an issue, I don’t know if I can go. Maybe it’s worth braving the lone walk down to 31 at 2am. Sigh.