The warm weather continued into Saturday, which was nice, as all the outdoor concerts for dia primero were on. Almost all the concerts within Havana city limits were reggaeton - the salsa bands were all in the campo, with the exception of Pupy and Trabuco at La Tribuna in Vedado, and Azucar Negra in Cotorro (not much inside the city limits) and Combinacion de la Habana in Guanabacoa (I think).
Yarima and Lars stopped by at 1 to go to breakfast - a dashing new paladar has opened on San Rafael near Lealtad, in a restored old solar that has marble columns inside. The patio has some ferns and original tiles. The menu is extensive - which is a relief. It’s not a bargain, but it’s not horribly expensive either. They have a bunch of cold entradas and when they told us we could get all the of them on a tasting plate, we thought that sounded excellent and ordered two. They held tortilla, two kinds of fish, octopus, cheese, gherkins and mushrooms, prosciutto, crispy fried boniato, and some other tiny little unidentifiable deep fried balls that were excellent. It was awesome to just chill and chat and pick at the food. And not have to deal with a plate piled high with rice, beans, salad and a giant slab of protein cooked in oil. $6 a plate. Not whole lot of food on it but two were enough between the three of us, given it was early in the day. The staff are chatty without being pushy. Very cool place. Only been open a month. If you need the name it’s San Cristobal Paladar, 860 1705.
I had a couple of hours rest before the Combinacion de la Habana matinee at Galiano. With all the free entertainment on, I wasn’t sure anyone would be there, but it was busy, if not packed. Abraham from Tumbao Habana was there with a curly-haired and very friendly horn player from Salsa Mayor.
They started with the R&B flavoured Discrecion, which is one of my very favourites. Actually most of their stuff is R&B flavoured, but as I have mentioned, it’s on the funk side, not on the ballad side, so it rocks. The bass player and tecladista/composer and sometime singer together create great solid grooves and it’s great to watch them at work. Or just to shake your hips to their sound.
I missed the new song by Eugenio, cause my mates needed money to get in and said they were right outside and they weren’t outside so I had to wait and blah-di-blah I missed my favourite new song. Sigh.
The set was very short - only 70 minutes. I don’t know why - they finished at 8.10; leaving 50 minutes for obnoxious house from the DJ. I went home to make a tortilla with boniata, acelga and shallots and chives (not sure how to distinguish those last two from each other in Spanish). Then we walked down to the Malecon. It was almost 10 as we neared the Piragua and we heard Dayan: Toda mi gente preparada… I shot off, running to La Tribuna, shouting over my shoulder that I’d meet my mates at the left side of the stage. Pretty sure I’ve done that before. May have even been with Pupy as well.
It was crowded but not uncomfortable down the front near the barrier, that is like, 1 million miles from the actual stage. Duni had said he wouldn’t be able to get me inside, because there was heavier security for dia primero, but I could see there were two inner sanctums, and the outer most was crowded with any ol Tom, Dick or Harry (turned out if you slipped some guy 10CUC, you could gain entrance). Anyway, it was totally fine where we were: there were lots of people we knew and plenty of room to dance. Under the squillion watt halogen lights, the balmy night became steamy, and by the time La Machucadera made an appearance, I had to leave in search of water. Had to go back to the Piragua to get it - the shop at the nearby service station was closed; inside were people stocking shelves seemingly oblivious to the throng of people outside wanting to make purchases. Viva la revolucion etc.
They played a good 90 minutes and it was a lot of fun. I always have fun at the Tribuna gigs. It’s usually pretty chilled and there are always lots of people dancing salsa which is great to see. There was a bit of a kerfuffle when a bunch of people rushed over to the cordoned off area to get security, but it turned out someone had just keeled over - literally planchado, I suspect - he/she (couldn’t see) was rapidly conveyed out of the crowd to the waiting ambulance. It was all over literally within seconds. There was the usual imbibing - one guy danced casino with a box of rum hanging from his mouth and another in his back pocket. Preparado!
I’ve revised my opinion of Parece mentira - not much of a song for listening but it’s terrific for dancing; the singer notwithstanding. I sat down for Loco con una moto, and watched some nine-year-old girls dance crazily, with actions, to the coro. Cute.
Trabuco were up next, and even though the stage changeover was rapid, I was in no mind to stay. Too tired. I waited for Duni to emerge from the hallowed area; we picked up singer Yohan and two girls - one blonde; one brunette, both wearing short skintight dresses and heels, as befitted the companions of a singer - for the walk to Centro Habana. Duni called me abusadora for walking too fast. Good to be home by 12.
Sunday I woke with a headache. I had a lunch date then Azucar Negra at Teatro America. Revé also at a matinee at Miramar, then HdP there much later. Something would have to give.
I companions arrived late and we missed the first 15 minutes of Azucar Negra - these types of concerts usually start bang on time. We arrived to the closing strains of Mala de la pelicula :(
Place was full of Cubans - 10MN entrada for them. Ailyn looked great in a minute skin tight black dress with a kind of mesh back. That chick has some great threads. After about 15 minutes they disappeared and the dance portion of the show began. It started with three guys mock fighting, which I thought was a bit modern for this type of thing - usually it’s just a big troupe doing all kinds of more or less traditional Cuban dance. Once one of them had been seriously wounded, some medicos came out and stretchered him off, then a troupe of nurses, in skin tight uniforms with sequinned red crosses came out and danced, not very well, to what sounded like a Christine Aguilera house mix.
The next piece was a pas de deux between the wounded man and a lass in purple - it wasn’t bad, but the next group effort was little short of appalling. I think the group was called Free Dance - something like that. It looked like they were so free that rehearsing wasn’t even mandatory. I believe the creative director’s surname was Limonta. I said to Yarima, a dance teacher, wow these guys are terrible. She just rolled her eyes. It was kind of interesting to see how bad they were. Not that it’s the first bad dancing I’ve seen in Havana. I seem to recall Paulo had some pretty bad - or at least unrehearsed - dancers with him for his 15 años concert.
I did like the tap dance. The dancing wasn’t earth-shatteringly innovative but they had cute outfits - capsleeved shirts and classic-style black leotards bottoms for the girls; white shirt and pants for the guy; hats for everyone - and I liked that they danced to Hit the Road Jack. Seemed such a random choice for a tap routine, but it was fun.
After half an hour Azucar Negra came back on. They had learnt some crappy ballads especially for this concert. The crowd (not me) seemed to like it. One of the best things about this gig was how much Ailyn sang: she usually seems criminally under-used. I don’t know if Limonta has a “leave them wanting more” attitude towards her or what, but I don’t understand it.
They have a couple of excellent new songs, on top of the other excellent new songs they were doing last time I was here. There was a lot of chat - the host was Alex Wilson, tu sobrino from Disco Fiesta - and Limonta announced, among all the back-slapping, that Bis music had agreed to put out their next album. It’s welcome news; the last album was terrific and the next one should be just as good.
The band sounded great, but the singers were beset my microphone problems. At best the vocals sounded muddy; at worst the volume was reduced to little more than a whisper.
The show finished about 6.30 - plenty of time to get to Miramar for Reve, but the experience hadn’t done anything much for my headache so I decided to try and rest before HdP. Of course, about 10 minutes after I hit the bed, the owner of the casa cranked up the PR salsa so loud that my earplugs were useless. I lay in the dark - which offered some relief - listening to it for two and half hours, before I gave up and put on Tumbao Habana as loud as it could go. Grrrrrr.
• • •
Taxis have been thin on the ground for a couple of days and when we went out into the street at 12.30, there were very few cars at all; and no taxis at all. After a futile wait on Zanja, we walked to down to San Lazaro, where there actually were taxis, but none picking up. Finally one stopped. He wanted $8CUC. I said OK cause it was already after 1am and I wanted to see HdP dammit. We got there at 1.20 - the band had just started the opener Solo para ti. Awwww.
It was the suave por la noche (para? I hate those two words) set, but Ony Ony instead of Mi musica. Other than that, it all made me very happy indeed. Interesting that Alexander doesn’t even seem to bother to bring his trumpet any more. He did do a solo though, with one of his metales’ trumpets. Isn’t that a little icky? Guess you can’t say no when it’s the boss.
Rodney is back, and also Tony, so the Italian model has gone, but I like it better when all the regulars are there. I always miss Tony especially. Rodney did a good drum solo - it was pretty wild. It was almost like he missed it. The best bit for me is always at the end of it, when Yandy, Tony and Harold all play the two-note groove. Superfunky.
I’m at the stage now where I’m starting to contemplate my return. Just over two weeks more, then no more HdP, no more Reve. No more El Noro to drive me nuts.