Wow. Bamboleo are a real band again, instead of a showcase for Tania Pantoja. There is still a showcase for Tania Pantoja, if that’s what you want - her own band plays, under her own name, about five times a week at various venues around town. Meanwhile, Lazarito Valdez has retrofitted Bamboleo to resemble the band of yore, with four singers in the front line - two boys, two girls - and musos all in matching outfits. The Smoke Monstress didn’t dig their yellow and shiny black plaid shirts, but as I am still traumatised by memories of Charanga Habanera in oversized lurex numbers from 1999, I think they looked pretty smart. The two boy singers were bleached blondes, dressed in white pants and shirts with black and silver waistcoats, book-ending the two girls, who wore steel-coloured satin minidresses. Ailyn was wearing to-die-for shoes - pink satin numbers with perspex heels filled with glitter (I would love a peek inside her shoe closet). Halfway through the show, the Smoke Monstress, who had never seen Ailyn before, turned to me and said: “I fucking love her.” That’s pretty much the usual response.
I had dicked around a little at home - in truth the water was off and I had been told it would come on at midnight but when the hour arrived and the water did not, I filled a bucket from one of the taps that magically still had water for some reason, and bathed with the aid of a cup. We got to Galiano about 12.45 and the band was already playing, with Rodney valiantly trying to get more than the four or so couples already dancing onto the floor. I skidded down to the front and Ailyn saw me and gave me a wave. Awwww.
The band sounded better than they looked. Full and funky. It was Ailyn’s turn on lead vocals next. The dance floor was full by the time she was finished. She came down those steps and urged everyone to get up off their asses and onto the floor and there aren’t many who can resists her charms. I don’t know many of Bamboleo’s songs so I can’t namecheck them - over the last decade I’ve probably seen them maybe three times; mainly because I never liked Tanya. The last time I enjoyed them was in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park when the line-up included Vania, Yordamis and Alain Daniel. That seems like some kind of parallel universe now.
Ailyn may not have opened the show, but she pretty much kept it rolling. I always thought it odd that Limonta had this dynamite weapon in his arsenal and yet often whenever I saw Azucar Negra, she would sing only three or four songs. Of course he had Dayan for a while too, who was pretty hot stuff. But I sometimes wondered if she didn’t want - or was unable - to sing more.
It’s clear now that neither of those is true. She sang the bulk of the set, with Rodney singing maybe three songs in total, and the other two singers relegated to coros only. It was a bit odd that she and the female corista were wearing matching dresses when clearly she was the lead singer.
I’ve written before about how warm and charming she is; about her ability to make you feel like you know her; like she is communicating directly to you. What I think I’ve neglected to point out is that part of charm lies in the expressiveness of her face, and her capacity for humour. She’s such a polished performer. As I watched her elicit audience responses, sing coros, despelote, joke with her fellow musos and sing some obnoxious ballads it occurred to me that the Galiano stage - and the Cuban scene - is really too small for her. She ought to be playing Latin American stadiums singing execrable pap to tens of thousands. She has that kind of charisma. Of course I would prefer that she stay here.
When Lazarito got out the keytar, I got nervous; and with good reason. It was time for a couple of big old power ballads; first a duet, then the Cristal song that one day I will learn the name of. The Smoke Monstress thought it was hilarious. She has video if you’re interested. They came back with a funky jam that riffed on Come Together - slightly dodgy but played so well that it was hard to quibble.
They did Ya no hace falta which I will never get tired of; and Gloria, which I guess is one of the first songs Ailyn has recorded with the band. It’s a bit of a weird one, kind of doesn’t really go anywhere, and I hope she gets some better material to work with.
At the moment the band might be better than the material it has to work with. They were tight, with kick arse brass and excellent bass. Lazaro has some good grooves but I don’t know if there is much more than that. I’ll be going to see them again anyway. There is enough there to dance to; and with Ailyn, there is always something to delight.
Trabuco’s Amaray was there and got up for a little turn, as did Maikel Blanco, although he didn’t get an introduction. Emilio from Revé was there at the end of the night too. Didn’t see his squeeze Gretchen. It wasn’t really busy but it was busy enough for me.
I waited to see Ailyn at the end. That’s a tough gig. Everyone wants a piece of her. She knows me but thought I was from France. When I said, no, Australia, her eyes widened. When I said I never used to go and see Bamboleo because I didn’t like Tanya, they widened some more. I said, but you know I have to come now, because I’m a follower of yours. She said, “I know.”
I said how do you feel with Bamboleo? She said “Fantastico.”
I can imagine.
* Apologies for the screengrab. Some idiot (me) forgot to put an SD card in her camera.