Saturday, January 22, 2011
There are a few versions of this Havana D'Primera song, Carita de pasaporte, floating around online already. Most (including this one) were filmed before new sections were added prior to recording it for the new album. It's a lovely song - it has a fantastic sinuous bassline, which unfortunately can't be heard well in this clip. When the band was recording the coros for it at Egrem, Alexander asked corista Jannier if he liked the song. "Cojone'!" responded Jannier enthusiastically. Quite.
Below is some video I took of Tony recording his piano part for another song, a really beauty of a funk track called Para mi gente. Alexander, baterista Rodney and conguero Guillermo are also in the video offering advice and guidance. Tony is one helluva of a piano player. At the end of this clip, you can hear Alexander say, "Agua!" Couldn't agree more.
The full report of my evening in the studio is here.
Friday, January 21, 2011
Thursday, January 20, 2011
They were entertaining as always. There was a little dance step that made me cringe a little: Julian fell to the ground at Ricardo’s feet and humped the floor, his face not exactly in Ricardo’s crotch, but, you know. Ricardo stood there for a little while like he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do, then kind of walked over him, his feet either side. Heh.
The gig was seriously marred by the arrival of a reggaeton duo, who performed to a backing track halfway through. I went and sat up the back for that one.The band played for an hour and 15; not long, but long enough. The crowd was grooving and mellow. It was a nice Saturday afternoon’s entertainment (for the most part).
I’d taken a friend to the San Cristobal paladar during the day, and as I walked up Neptuno on my way home, I thought I’d do something novel and have two real meals in one day. Afterwards, I went back to the casa to drink more coffee than I needed, then back down to Galiano for Azucar Negra for the night. I had told my friend Yarima to be at my house at 12.15, because sometimes the bands go on at 12.30. Admittedly I also said, they don’t often go on at 12.30, but you know, I wanted to be there by then just in case. Well she got to my house late, and when we got there at 12.40 the band was wrapping up the intro number which probably goes for 10 minutes. Boohoo.
The dance floor was completely clear until we got there. You know it’s a cold room when Ailyn can’t get people up by appealing directly to them in the opening song. Anyway, we skedaddled down the front, even though the next song was A mi La Habana, which apparently is going to be the title of the new album. The prieto - maybe his name is Yuri? - has cut his fro into a flat-top and was wearing a suit instead of sports clothes. Usually I’m quite partial to a fro but the makeover suited him. The James Hurley look-alike was in the front line again, and the two other singers relegated to the side of the stage again. Looks like someone is on the way out.
The crowd stayed seated until La mala de la pelicula. Don’t know why they don’t bump that one up in situations like that.
Ailyn was wearing a tiny sequinned minidress, with her hair in a plait. She looked divine and was as charming as ever. It was the first time Yarima had seen her (apart from the Teatro America show, and we were seated at a distance) and she was enchanted.
The only thing wrong with the show was that it was too short. The curtain came down at 1.45 which means they played for an hour and 15 and we missed 10 minutes of that. But it was all thoroughly enjoyable.
Azucar Negra are very flawed in some ways - they don’t have a whole lot of brilliant songs; and some of them are awful; the horn section is pretty ordinary and the constant ructions in the singing line-up don’t do them any favours - and yet, for the last couple of years at least, you can always count on a good time with them. Always. Whether you want to dance salsa or watch the band, it doesn’t matter, they will entertain you.
Actually can’t think of much higher praise than that, really. They're the one band I would have liked to have seen more of. Not a lot of opportunities for the second tier bands when all the first tier bands (with the exception of Van Van) are in town. Although I heard Limonta say a couple of times, that they earned scads of money playing over the past year. Guess that was tours to the campo and such. Can't imagine they earnt more than Revé - those guys practically never stop working.
Sunday I thought of seeing Felix Baloy at the oldies’ matinee at La Tropical, which I totally love, but I was so knackered, that I just went to Martin’s house for dinner instead. Then spent 100 years waiting on 31 for a maquina back to Centro (no divisa taxis either) before boarding the 20. Que horror! By the time it got to Zanja it was so crowded it was the stuff of nightmares. When I disembarked I had “lost” my shawl, but some kind soul took pity on the pathetic foreigner looking confused in the street and threw it at me just before the bus closed its doors and took off.
Later: I eschewed La Revé at Galiano for Havana D’Primera at Miramar. What a horrible choice to have to make. There was another extranjera there, who had had the same dilemma. The place was pretty packed, but as with Azucar Negra, it was a pretty cold room and there was plenty of room down the front, and once the band started I was convinced I’d made the right decision - even with the inclusion of Ony Ony.
Alexander announced that El Noro was in the house and asked him to come up and sing Cuando el rio suena. Oh, how I wished I had gone to Galiano!
I videoed it. There is a special irony in the way he sings “Mira que te vengo cantando bonito yo”. Some would be put “sings”, entre comillas, as they say in Cuba.
To add insult to injury, it turned out to be the last song of the night: 75 minutes; only 60 of them with Alexander, and it was all over. Sob.
At least I managed to get an HdP demo from DJ Mandy, a totally swell guy. You gotta look on the bright side of these things.
A taxidriver wanted $10 CUC to take me to Centro and I was so tired of fighting over this shit I just said whatever. Nos vamos.
My taxidriver out had been awesome. When I had told him I was going to see HdP, he had put Ony Ony and Despues de un beso on his DVD player, then when he asked me what other salsa groups I liked, we were in agreement about everything - Ailyn, yes; Haila, no; Vania is la reina. He was very cool. I should have given him $10.
Melao was at the matinee, and we met in person for the first time. He'd been out at Mandy's place and was planning to take him to the Havana D'Primera matinee. Looking forward to his report.
And that's all from Havana for this trip.
Next on the blog: video and photo galleries.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
On Friday El Charangón went to Trinidad for two nights, and if it hadn’t been my last weekend, I would have gone with them. Or not. Memories of the last trip with them still haven’t quite healed over. It was a tough one. Anyway, it was moot cause I had to do last minute shit in Havana anyway, see people and stuff.
Anyway, I did some of my boring stuff on Friday and tried to find out if Havana D’Primera were still in Egrem or not. Duni called Uyuni for me who said he thought Alexander might have gone to Mexico. Note that: the trumpet player of his group thinks his boss might have gone to Mexico - but he’s not sure. Hilarious. About 6pm I decided to drop by anyway, cause it’s about a five minute walk away from my house. I found Alexander (not in Mexico!), directing Yandy, who had his bass plugged into the console, through a take of Para mi gente - OMG only one of my favourite new songs! (It’s the funky one that goes “Levanta las manos la gente que son de primera”). Amaury - trombones and coros - was there too, and pianist Tony Rodriguez and Rodney Barretto and conguero Guillermo. Yandy kept at it until Amaury looked at his watch and told him it was time for him to go - he had to split for Miramar where he had a matinee with Klimax. These musos are busy little bees. While he’d been doing his take at one end of the tiny room, up the end, an animated conversation about dogbreeds had been taking place. I can not imagine Australian musos recording under those conditions. But hey, dudes, correct me if I’m wrong. (Later Marbis said, “jazz musos wouldn’t do it like that either, but this is just timba.” Ow!)
When he’d gone, Tony, whose piano was also plugged into the desk, did his take for the song. OMG it was so fucking awesome. I love his playing anyway and to be there right next to him playing this fantastic song; watching him try and get it and not quite get it, and just laugh - he never lost it like Revé’s Emilio - man. What an experience. I routinely tell foreigners that come here that Havana D’Primera are the best band in the world. I’m being a little cavalier, but not by much. I love love love Revé. And as soon as Pupy fixes his little cantante crisis (which he may or may not do), I’ll be right back with him too, but HdP is really special for me. Something in their music resonates in me in a way that the music of the others, although I love it, does not. So to be right there in the studio while they were recording was completely thrilling. I know many of us have a lot of amazing experiences here in Havana - it’s why we keep coming back. This one is right at the top for me.
After Tony’s good-natured and awe-inspiring turn, Rodney laid down some drums. As soon as he started hitting the skins everyone just went woah. It’s so cool that they all dig each others playing. They all put in their two cents as well - just as Guillermo and Rodney had directed Tony (with Alexander), so Tony and Amaury were air-drumming to show Rodney which accents he needed to hit.
There was a bit of a lull after that, during which food was ordered, and the air-conditioning was turned up and I fucking froze. Almost everyone left the console room and I was about to as well, when Alexander came in alone, sat down at the desk, put Para mi gente on, took out his iPhone and, reading from the Notes application, sang along to the song.
The three other songs they’re working on, apart from Para mi gente, are Pasaporte, Al final de la vida and Dejame tranquila - which I hadn’t heard before. Alexander says they’ve played it live, but not for about eight weeks, which is just before I got here.
At 9, Alex rang Yandy - he was on his way back from Miramar and arrived soon after, bass in a backpack and a tub of ice cream in his hand. It took him about 10 minutes to nail the bass on Para mi gente, then he was done. He packed away his bass saying Este muchacho esta reventado. He is sooo cute I want to take him home to mum. Anyway, he hung around even though he was reventa’o.
A friend of the band’s arrived with a massive plastic container of pasta salad, which everyone dipped into in a most unhygienic fashion, and also a cake, which apparently was part of a much larger cake left over from some festive occasion. The extremely bright green and blue icing found it’s way over everything - clothing; the door - even the bannister of the stairs through two doors and 50 metres away.
Alex was trying to get Jannier, who wasn’t answering his mobile, as the coros were up next. Enrique arrived first, wearing a big puffy white Team Cuba 98 jacket (it got cold again in the last couple of days, boo). Quite a while later Jannier arrived looking very dapper for a recording session, and a little underdressed in a white jacket and cropped cotton pants. There was a massive bottle of Añejo Especial and Amaury - who would be singing with the other two - was drinking some “to warm up”. Ahem, of course.
I was interested to see they recorded all three coro parts at once, but with three separate mics - I guess so levels could be adjusted later. Pasaporte was first: harmonies and lyrics were tweaked. All three of these songs I’ve seen live had been, until the recording, mostly simple grooves, but extra sections have been added now - more like bridges or middle eights, than any other kind of recogniseable Latin form. Earlier they had been adding some chord progressions to Para mi gente. They were the kind that make me feel all tingly.
The coros took much longer than the other parts had - they sounded great but I was getting cold. And hungry. And a bit tired too. But mostly I was just freezing. When they were happy with Pasaporte, they started on Para mi gente. By now the rum bottle was empty, cups having been improvised out of Tu-kola bottles hacked in two. Alex got the last of it. He was pretty chilled but not losing focus. “Cuidao - desafinacion!” he’d bark. Harold turned up after 11 with Karina from Odduara productions in France. She was wearing an awesome almost ankle length gold knit dress. They were going to Trabuco at Galiano. I’d slept late and missed the gig guide, so I hadn’t realised they were on. It probably cruelled the Monday matinee, but I wasn’t really of a mind to go. Harold put in his two cents, along with everyone else. Karina took some cute pics.
Alex put Para mi gente on loud and got up and started dancing and singing and stamping his feet. When he turned around and saw I was dancing too, he pointed at my feet and said “Mira!”
Throughout the night, I’d seen him looking at me from time to time. Sometimes, he was just looking right through me, totally absorbed in thought. At others, he was clearly looking at me to see my reaction to the music. Most of the time I just had a big stupid grin on my face.
The coristas were still going, but about 12, Yandy decided to go and I decided to go as well, and throw a blanket over me and maybe have some hot milk.
Would have loved to have stayed till the bitter end, but when you start getting icicles on your ears, it’s time to go home.
* Shitty screengrabs are due to the fact that I took video rather than stills. Will youtube it when I get home next week.
Friday, January 14, 2011
I left out the most interesting aspect of Monday night’s Salsa Mayor performance: two songs in, a Cuban guy got up on the stage, proclaimed himself the world’s biggest SM fan, and slapped $20CUC on Maikel Blanco’s piano for the band to play Quitandome lo malo. Maikel was looking - well I thought he looked embarrassed, but to be honest, I think that’s my projection there, I don’t think he was embarrassed at all - even when an Italian guy - Stefano I think - got up on stage and added $80 CUC to the $20. Next song: Quitandome lo malo, obviously. Wonder how much of that money (if any) the musos saw.
I fought my way down the front and wound up next to Elito who had a table in the corner. Danced and shouted a bit; but the constant jostling of people passing by and the inevitable Cristal spilt down one arm saw me beat a retreat to the back corner where I stayed for the rest of the gig. Up the back, the sound was horrible - all Yandy’s bass, farty and distorted and precious little else. They did Niña bonita - not one of my faves - and a Latin jazz number. More sitting down followed before they wound up with Ony Ony. I seriously could have stayed home without missing anything much. Duni was there with his brother. The farandula massive of foreigners and their local hangers-on was out in full force as you’d expect. It’s still totally crazy here. I think the whole scene is giving me fatigue. Duni was off to drink in the bar. I was off to hunt down Alexander and nail down the details of the interview. I found him in the backstage room talking quietly with about four others. He said they’d be at Egrem on San Miguel the next day, and to go down there at 4. Bewdy.
I was waiting on 31 for a taxi when a mate of Duni’s, with HdP conguero Guillermo in the front seat, stopped and said “vamos”. All right.
I was a bit nervous about the interview - I don’t know why. Alex is a great guy; very smart and articulate, and always has an answer for whatever you want to throw at him. He’s the perfect interview subject. And I had help from Martin, who lives here and is a journalist as well. But you know, Havana, anything can go wrong. We got to Egrem at 4 and asked at reception if he had arrived. The woman on the desk said, no, he’s arriving at 4. Martin said, as we walked away, it’s 4 o’clock by my watch. Yandy was already there, in the bar next door, but he was pretty much on his own. We sat down a while, then got up and waited in the street. Alex arrived at 5 (on time, by Cuban standards, said Martin). We went upstairs with him, where the engineer was playing what they had so far of Pasaporte (some percussion, bass and piano). Yandy was playing bass in the control room, and when he went to leave, he asked Alexander to hold it. He did, and played the bass line along with the track.
After an animated conversation with various socios about the baseball he called us for the interview. I’ll try and get that up at timba.com within the next fortnight.
I guess the most important thing to know is that what they’re recording is a new album, not demos. He hopes it will be out in March. He said they expect to be finished recording by Friday, which seems an awfully short time for a whole album, but then they were there until 6am one night, and I guess you can get a lot done in that time, especially with guys who are essentially session musos and are used to working in the studio.
I hung around a bit afterward, but there wasn’t a whole lot going on - mainly the setting up of bateria and timbales - and I was bloody starving, so I went to Yarima’s house for beans and tostones.
Alex’s tardiness meant I missed Pupy at Miramar, but Revé was there for the night, and I hadn’t really wanted to go out there twice in one day, even if it was my last week, so I didn’t really mind.
Yarima and I got out there about 12.30, where she was immediately hit on by some guy who was apparently a promotion guy for Van Van. Didn’t get his name but he was there with Boris Luna, who I spoke to briefly. They just got back from Colombia and are off to Europe on Tuesday. They have pretty much been away the entire time I’ve been here. Haven’t missed them really though. Saw them a lot last time.
There was a good crowd but the energy wasn’t as high as it had been at Galiano. I really enjoyed myself that night. This gig was good too but, I don’t know, I wasn’t in the best mood, and dammit I wish they’d stop playing Madrugada. They have a bunch of songs that are a hundred times better - boiled sweet potato anyone? Also am a bit over Dale agua al domino. It’s a good song, but I don’t really get why that’s a staple in the set. Also, they played Chichi before Agua pa Yemaya, forcing me to stay in my spot, cause I like Yemaya. Aisar was kind of laughing at me as I stood there enduring Chichi. I mean it’s not the end of the world or anything. It’s just a song I’d rather be sitting down for.
They played the new song but it seemed a tad undercooked to say the least. I’m pretty sure there was more to the recorded song I heard in the studio. Anyway, I have video so you’ll be able to see for yourselves.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Monday, after spending a luxurious day at home and not setting a foot outside the door all day, I got an invitation to join El Charangon at Abdala studios, where they were recording one song.
When I got there at 8-ish, in the control room were Elito, Aisar, Sinsonte, Emilio, Gretchen and Pachy (piano).
Unlike the rustic Egrem studios in Centro Habana, Abdala in Miramar is pretty spiffy. The studio itself is an enormous room with a cream floor and lots of gleaming glass sliding doors. The control room has enormous speakers embedded into the wall and there is a black and white monitor with its camera focused on the microphone in the studio. The Egrem studios, by contrast, are housed in an old building on San Miguel, and just about everything with the exception of the Macs, looks like it dates back to the original construction.
When I got there, most of song was done, and Emilio was just about to drop in some guias. He was full of enthusiasm inside the control room, but once he got behind the mic, he had trouble nailing the inflection and the melody, and he quickly lost patience with himself. It was interesting to see “El niño”, who often appears to be bossing around the older guys who have tenure in the band on stage, lose his cool and flub take after take. Aisar patiently sang him the line as it should be sung from the control room over and over but eventually went into the studio and said, look, just sing it along with me.
Emilio got it of course, and the other lines, which he also struggled with a bit. It was interesting to hear his voice alone, without the instruments. It is itself a fine instrument, with a soulful raw edge that begs to be listened to. Sinsonte also dropped in some harmonies, but Aisar left the task of directing him to Emilio - more comfortable now in his role of bossing around his superiors - and Pachy, while he worked on some notation on his laptop.
Elito, who does a rollcall of Cuban groups and singers in the middle of the song, suddenly realised he’d mentioned Formell and Roberton but not Mayito, and quickly re-did his bit with the addition of Rivera. You don’t want to leave anyone out, he said, or the next time they see you they go, Alexander Abreu, and not me???!
When I asked what the song was called, Aisar, who had got up early and had had a long day working on various projects said, “Don’t ask me that.”
Salsa Mayor were starting their Monday peña back at Cafe Cantante and Yarima and I had decided to go.
It was excruciating.
The night’s entertainment, starting at, I don’t know, sometime after 1am, began with Leo, of Piso 6 and Klimax, singing a ballad to a backing track, much to the bemusement of most of the foreigners present. I didn’t mind: he has a lovely voice, and he followed it with the Klimax song Cuatro balas, which was much better. He left the stage and then - sigh - comedians. For 30 minutes. Maybe longer. Lots of jokes about jinteros and foreigners. After that, some guy from Las Cuatro sang to a backing track - would this “entertainment” never end?
Then: some kind of competition with people from the audience. I don’t know what - I was busy banging my head against a wall. Actually I was talking to the very entertaining trombone player from SM who looks like an extra from Neighbours. There may also have been some ogling of Yordi.
Sometime after 2, Salsa Mayor finally came on. By then, I wasn’t really interested: I was tired, my feet were sore, and I was in no mood to have Cuba libres sloshed on me by dancing drunks. I stayed upright for Pa cualquiera, and one by Michel (Repite, I think) then sat down for the rest of the set. At 3.20 (that’s a.m., guys) I got up for Se acabó el amor. Song, great; Yordi, awesome. Next step: taxi home and bed.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
It was a double header at Galiano on Friday - as Havana D’Primera were there for the night following Azucar Negra’s matinee. It was very busy when I got there around 1. Alexander came down the ramp not long after I did but I still had about a 20-minute wait before they came on. It was pretty uncomfortable - there wasn’t anywhere to sit which is normal, but there wasn’t really anywhere out of the way to stand either. His sound guy had set up next to the dance floor stage right, so that ate up some space.
When they took the stage, the news was bad: both Tony and Rodney were AWOL (the Italian model was in place) and Harold’s keyboard was set up, but there was no Harold. Later on I saw him in the crowd, and I saw a roadie fiddling around with his keyboard, so I guessed it was broken. He apparently cut the rug with the audience at some point but I didn’t see it. He was sorely missed on Historia verdadera, and I was certain they wouldn’t do Levanta las manos because 1) they often don’t do it at night anyway, and 2) it’s got Harold’s heavy clavichord all over it. But I guess the rabid crowd put Alexander in the mood for a raucous groove. I was sitting down spacing out during Ony Ony when I suddenly heard the opening chords of it and I had this kind of visceral pavlovian response - before I even realised what I was doing I had sprung up out of the chair and was throwing myself all over the place. I missed the clavichord but it still worked.
It was kind of brutal in the front row, what with the diehard fans - both foreign and local. I didn’t last long. Rosa Barretto, Rodney’s mum, often leads a choreographed line, and if you don’t move with it, it can be pretty painful. I never was one for playing follow the leader so that’s usually my cue to go somewhere else.
On his way out, after the gig, Napoles gave me his customary hug and told me that when he doesn’t see me dancing with the band, he gets sad. I forgot to tell him that when I’m not dancing with the band, I get sad. Awww.
I had to see Alexander to try and line up an interview and climbed the narrow stairs to the stage, now cordoned off from the club by the curtain. He was deep in conversation with Rosa. The Peru tour from December, which was postponed till this week, is not happening, and now it seems they are concentrating on organising the US tour.
Saturday I was completely reventada (ie knackered). There was the option of the Combinacion de la Habana matinee but I had invited Duni and Marbis to the new paladar, which is just round the corner from their place, and I thought that might be more my speed than a Galiano matinee. Plus, El Charangon was there for the night, and I didn’t think I could do four shows there in two days.
Duni and Marbis loved the new place - we ate everything - entree, main and dessert - I only barely had enough money with me. I’m going to take some pics before I go, but I don’t know that I need to - they’re getting quite a bit of publicity. The chef has worked all over the world and the place is so beautiful and tranquil - it doesn’t matter how loud the reggaeton is in the street, you hear only the vaguest muffled sounds inside. It’s like fucking magic man. Also: the lemon tart is to die for.
Afterwards I headed back to the house to try and have a nap. Aisar from Revé, who was expecting me at Galiano, called me at midnight to say where are you? I said, I’m on my way! I was going to saunter down at my customary late hour but it’s just as well he rang to hassle me: I didn’t realise that Elito always goes on at 12.30 (they play for two hours). They started about five minutes after I arrived.
The place was very busy as just about everywhere is right now. It’s crazy. The set was marred by feedback all night, which was frustrating. But it was still a great show, Emilio was on fire; he went completely nuts, singing and dancing liking a man possessed. He’s a fascinating character. Can’t peg him at all. Suzell got a chance to sing Ya sé cantar, which thrilled me. She is so delightful.
Revé had spent the last couple of days in the studio recording a song with the Alonso boys Cristian y Rey, and they were on hand to sing the estreno. It wasn’t bad. Could have been a whole lot worse. Pavel “La figura” got up to sing on something. I don’t remember what the hell that was, cause, like I give a shit. I think the only person who cared less than me was an ex-squeeze of his in the front row, who spent his entire guest spot studying her shoes.
• • •
Sunday I had a date with Yarima to go to the ballet - The Nutcracker Suite. But she is trying to se purmuta a house for her mum, so she got stuck out at Alamar. I dicked around a bit too long at Marbis and Duni’s house and when I got to the Gran Teatro at 4.35, there was a queue of about 60 people, mostly Cubans. I jumped in it anyway - nothing else to do. By the time I got to the box office more than half an hour later, the security guard told me it was standing room only, but as I was on my own and also playing in CUCs, they found me a seat. But the performance had already started and I didn’t want to walk down the trying to find my seat. You can see pretty well up the back anyway. I was behind a pillar for a while then a foreign couple left and I stood in their spot which had a clear view. The experience was marred only in the closing scenes when the ballerinas appeared all in white, dancing in falling snow, and the usher stood next to me saying repeatedly, Ay que lindo! que lindo! que precioso!
Ay dios mio! (that’s me).
During interval, I found my seat. It was empty but of course someone told me it was ocupado. An usher confirmed it was mine - it was a good one too, row K - and when the previous occupants arrived (there were three in a row), they proved to be some very humourless northern Europeans who were supremely unimpressed that one of them had to move. They insisted that they had also bought that seat but they didn’t fight too hard and I suspect they’d bought cheap peso seats illegally. The usher was utterly charming throughout. I wouldn’t wish that job on anyone.
It was too bad I’d missed the first 15 minutes or so, and had to watch the rest of the first half from the back - seeing as the second half of the production was so outstanding. and actually did look a lot better up close. It was magnificent. The sets and costumes were gorgeous, of course it has that beautiful music and the dancing, for the most part, was astonishing. There was one group which had the same synchronisation problems as the previous performance I had seen - not sure if it was the same culprits. The highlight for me was the ballerina in a bodystocking performing as a snake, although the prima ballerina put on a star turn, the cossacks were fabulous, and the young chap who partnered the teenage girl at the centre of the story is obviously a rising star. It baffles me that they put on only three these performances. I suppose they tour the show through the country, but still. I could easily have watched it again.
On my way home afterwards Aisar, just wrapping up in the studio, gave me a call, and we decided to go and eat in the by now famous paladar. Bless him he told the owner that he was in Revé and that the guy I’d taken the previous day was in Pupy, and suddenly the bread and the desserts were on the house. Rock’n’roll.
Later that night I had to choose between Pupy at Galiano and Havana D’Primera at Miramar. Pupy was walking distance, but had El Noro singing Ni bombones ni caramelos - practically a crime against the state. I chose HdP.
You could tell there was competition - none of the foreign farandula were there and I couldn’t imagine they had all flown home to their respective paises on the same day, so I figured they were all at Galiano. Mostly it was jineteros, and a group with a birthday girl, who samba’d so madly when the MC saludoed her that she first lost a high heel, then fell over a chair and onto the floor. She was up again in a flash and completely unfazed.
When Tony Rodriguez walked into the room, I gave him a little clap and was greeted with a smile and a kiss in return. In the end, they didn’t do Mi musica, so we didn’t get one of his elegantly clunky solos. In fact, the set was pretty short. They started, I dunno, after 1 for sure and it was over by 2.30. I remember when every HdP show went for two hours. Oh those were the days. *sigh*
I totally made the right choice though. The only sitdown song for me with HdP is Ony Ony; while Pupy has at least two and sometimes three right now, depending on the set. Aisar said he thought it was funny that I was down the front, dancing my arse off to Revé all night, then as soon Chichi started I left. (I actually went to the bar, where I found Pupy’s sweet timbalero, Albertico, and had a chat).
When HdP finished, the DJ played one of their new songs. A demo I will make it my mission to obtain before I leave.
Next Sunday - my last - there is Revé at Galiano and Havana D’Primera at Miramar. Life can be so cruel.
Saturday, January 08, 2011
Manolin’s in town. Guess he came home for el fin de año with the thousands of others from el extranjero that have been here. Limonta saludoed him from the stage at the Galiano matinee. Didn’t actually clap eyes on him myself though: he didn’t get on stage and I didn’t see him in the crowd. But then I got there about two minutes before the curtain rose and left with the first thump of the reggaeton when it fell.
Azucar Negra were delightful, as they often are; the audience was full of people wearing smiles. Again, Ailyn was singing more than the last time I was here and I’m so pleased. She’s captivating. She was wearing ludicrous towering heels as usual. Every step a death trap. She was also wearing coloured contacts, as was one of her co-singers. They suited her better; he looked a little like a lizard.
As with Pupy, the band was trying out a new singer - two of the regular guys were shunted to the side of the stage where some bands put their metales (AN had theirs behind the bateria) so the new guy could strut his stuff next to Ailyn and the Afro’d prieto. He was a white guy with a flat top and a sulky look reminiscent of James Hurley from Twin Peaks. He sang the merengue, which the flacco negrito usually sings, and which I’ve realised is a cover cause I’m pretty sure Tumbao Havana do it as well. Also everyone always knows the words so it’s probably Juan Luis Guerra or something, though it’s a little cheesy for JLG. Funny, I enjoy it a lot more when TH do it. Anyway, he sang well and had a pretty little rosebud mouth, though he was a little underwhelming. I see Limonta is still trying to fill his Dayan-sized hole. I had told Dayan on Wednesday that Azucar Negra miss him now - I used the wrong terminology I think and he misunderstood me and said, si, pero hay que escalar, and I said no, I understand that, but you know, now they’ve only really got Ailyn. He turned up at the end and jumped on stage for the regular closer 3 de Azucar 2 de cafe. Ailyn always looks so happy to see him. She gave him the sweetest kiss on his cheek.
They have this great new song where Ailyn sings “Soy la perrita fina”. Ay dios mio. It’s kind of in a similar lyrical vein to La que manda. Haven’t really got the rest of the lyrics yet. I like all the other bits to it though. Another new one goes: soy simpatico, no cajero automatico. Limonta really has a shocking weakness for a gimmicky lyric. At least they’ve stopped playing Amor por el internet.
A mi Habana went on for about 15 minutes too long and I could have done without the merengue, but otherwise I pretty much had a smile plastered on my face from start to finish. That’s what it’s all about my peeps. That’s what it’s all about.
• • •
Trabuco had decided not to do the Thursday matinee at Cafe Cantante but I hadn’t planned to go anyway. Instead, I was planning on seeing Tumbao Habana later, their last gig before some of them head off to Finland for a cruise. They’d started early the previous week - 12.30 - and when I got there about 15 minutes earlier, the DJ was playing a Pupy classic with Tirso on lead. I was stunned. Sadly, more predictable fare immediately followed as he settled in for a good 30 minutes of reggaeton. This was followed by four young lads in extremely busy t-shirts who shouted over the top of a couple (2? 3? no idea) reggaeton backing tracks. I can’t tell you if they were good or not. They were young, I can tell you that. People got up and danced so I guess it was good for them. Thankfully TH didn’t tarry long after that but I was already bordering on mal humor.
I was really looking forward to getting more of the same from them, ie most of the songs from Mambo duro. But after the opener, they launched into a song they said “a lot of people would know”. I didn’t, but I realised it was Johanna. And it was good too. Made me realise I need to dig it up. The next one was another desconocido, and it wasn’t nearly in the same league - went on for ages too. Luckily Mambo duro itself made an appearance next. Emilio from Revé, former TH singer who sang on Padrino dropped in - Revé had spent the day doing some recording - but he didn’t get up to sing the song, which was next up. Man what a song. Totally rocks live too, with the extended bit with all the shout outs to the orishas. I fucking love it. Worth going to see them for that alone. The energy dipped after that - not sure about plunking it in the middle of the set - it’s much better as a closer. The set in general was a bit all over the shop. There was no talk at all of the cruise/European trip which was weird, cause they’re meant to be going on the 10th, and they’d made a big deal about it the previous week. Maybe it’s been cancelled. Honestly, if they’re on next Thursday, I’m not sure I’ll go. I still haven’t seen Alain Daniel and next week is my last chance to brave the inferno that is the Capri. He is so great, but the crowd is so bad. It’s a tussle between good and evil. I’ll have to think about which one will put the biggest smile on my face.
Friday, January 07, 2011
The warm weather has continued which is really delightful. I guess the Europeans/North Americans who said winter is warm here weren’t lying after all - I just had some bad luck. Heh. It’s coolish in the afternoons and nights (for me), but the middle of the day is lovely.
The Trabuco Monday matinee wasn’t as crazy as the previous week’s but it was still super crowded. I got a spot down the front near Miguelito again, and watched Mayami come out for the opener, Sacude la mate, in an amazing almost Hitler Youth kind of outfit. OK, maybe not Hitler Youth. Maybe S&M boy scouts. I don’t know. There was some weird institution uniform vibe going on, with the beret planted precisely on his head and the vest and the tie tucked into it, then … the shorts and the short socks and sneakers. Good on him for keeping it interesting.
The $50MN entrada is like honey for the jineteros - both experienced and aspiring; there were even jineteros with training wheels. It was tiresome. I moved several times, and found the safest place was with some that I already knew that know I’m not interested and will leave me in peace. The band played Saliditas contigo - so lovely. And Mayami’s slow song and then La noche and the place went ballistic - there were elbows everywhere and I was on the move again, fearing for my teeth.
I was sitting down wondering what to do next. The band played a cumbia and made my mind up for me. I headed for the Parque Central where some friends were online then we went to a posh restaurant for a barbecued steak. A much more civilised proposition. The trio played some Jobim and, regrettably, Joel. There were no flying elbows.
• • •
Tuesday is Havana D’Primera’s insanely popular matinee at Miramar. About 3pm I got a migraine so that sorted me out for the rest of the day: 900mg panadol + 60mg codeine + bed.
La Rubia reported back that it was super-crowded. As opposed to just being seething with people.
At about 9 I had recovered sufficiently to be bored and rang Duni. He was home from rehearsal and tucking into frijoles negros. I went round to help him finish them off.
• • •
I had fears Pupy’s Wednesday matinee would be as crowded as HdP’s but it was just perfect really. Klimax’s Piloto was in the audience, and Ailyn turned up with a guy weighed down in gold who wasn’t Yasser (I don’t think - it’s kinda dark in there). She greeted me warmly and I was embarrassed because she put her hand on my back and it was covered with sweat because I had been dancing. And she always looks so cool. How does she do that? She was in skyscraper heels as usual, with big hair, both things together adding at least six inches to her height. If only I could walk in heels, instead of only stumble, I would do the same thing.
There was a fourth singer on stage. I had asked Duni what the rehearsal was for - he didn’t know. Then I forgot to ask him what happened when he got back. It was obviously for this muchacho. He was a young looking guy who sang coro and danced, then sang a ballad when they did the boring medley they had done on Christmas eve or whenever it was. He has a slightly odd voice - kind of velvety, but he totally sings in tune and his ballad got the biggest applause - don’t know if that was for his performance or if he was given the most popular song, as I don’t recognise any of them; Latin ballads not being permitted anywhere near my iTunes.
Yohan said later he was fresh from El ISA. Pupy’s daughter/manager had nothing more to add. She didn’t know what her father’s plans for him were. I’m the business; he’s the music, she said.
At the end of the gig, I saw a guy focused intently on a pocket Spanish English dictionary. What word are you looking for? I asked. He looked up. I said - you’re the guy! Duni had told me that on NYE he had met a guy from the X Files, but he couldn’t remember his name - or his character’s name. By a process of elimination, we arrived at Krychek - though I had had a brain snap and couldn’t for the life of me remember that name either even though I have seen the series more than once. (Well maybe not the really crappy final episodes.)
Anyway, it was the guy. He was there with a girl from Marbis’s group. Had a funny little chat with him then we all drifted outside aided by the stern admonitions of the bouncers. Once there I, lamentably, agreed to a drink in the garden with Duni and a few of his friends. On the plus side: Dayan was there looking dandy and being utterly charming. He told me he was going to dedicate all subsequent Pupy songs to me because I’m such a dedicated gig-goer and I said please don’t, it’s so embarrassing.
At Duni’s table the Cristals flowed, the stories were endless, and I faded with every minute. Every time I got up to go, they said, no, no, espera, nos vamos. Then they went and bought another beer. At 11, I literally fled, jumping up from the table and throwing a “Ihavetogoseeyoutomorrowbye” over my shoulder as I ran into the street. I was beyond knackered and relieved to find a taxi almost immediately. An early night was in order. The next day Marbis said to me, you know what time we left? 12.30!
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
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.
Monday, January 03, 2011
At midnight, strange sounds emanated from the street and everyone started throwing buckets of water over their balconies and out of their windows. It seemed you got extra points if you hit a passing car or, better, a motorcyclist which, unsurprisingly, were not in abundance. I just hoped they’d be done by the time I left the house, but decided to wear sneakers just in case.
I left about 12.30 - the water-throwing was over - and walked down Neptuno, which was much busier than it usually is at that hour. About halfway down there was shattered masonry all over the road - no idea what happened but I was glad I hadn’t been there to see it. Or you know, be under it.
At Galiano there were taxis that could have taken me to see Havana D’Primera at the Capri, but it was half the price to see Salsa Mayor at Galiano. Of course they are half the band HdP are, but I decided to stay close to home. Foreigners were leaving as I entered, and I could see why: the place was packed. There were streamers and balloons for the new year. The DJ was playing salsa, and Gretchen Reve was out with her dad again. Didn’t have long to wait before the band came on. Michel (ex-Pupy) was in the line-up and there was another guy with curly blond locks who looked like a - I want to say poodle, cause it’s funny, but he was more like a shih tzu.
Now that Pavel has gone I realise how much I disliked his presence. Even if at least one of his replacements (the shih tzu) is as bad a singer: he sang Anda pegate with hips that moved nicely but without hitting many of the required notes.
It always surprises me how the band can do so much with what is largely ordinary material. They’re very tight and they crank up the energy as high as it can go. But I wish Maikel would swallow his pride and get someone to write some more decent songs for him, seeing as he is obviously only capable of about two per album.
The material was largely from the last, with the exception of Pegate and Debajo de la Balancera, which I never recognise until it gets to that coro. Yasser was wearing so much gold on his neck and wrists it looked like he’d raided an underground vault.
A drunk tourist guy got up on the catwalk, unsolicited, and started dancing wildly. They asked a Cubana to get up and dance with him, and Pipi from Trabuco’s sister was nice enough to oblige. There is also a Cuban guy that gets on stage regularly at SM gigs: he can not dance for shit. It’s hilarious. He’s totally oblivious.
Despite the throng, I was able to get a nice spot down the front beside some balloons, which would occasionally spontaneously burst, for some reason, scaring the shit out of everybody. After a while I took it upon myself to burst those that remained to put an end to it. Yo soy bruta.
Se acabó el amor sounded like it was going to be the end of the set, but Maikel was loving the crowd, so they did La cara de salir pa andar. I’d actually had enough, but if Yordi is still singing, well, I have to keep watching.
Elito and Emilio got up to have a sing, in the case of the latter, and to spruik Revé’s Sunday matinee at Miramar in the case of the former. Emilio stumbled several times leaving the stage and I don’t know if he was pissed or just having some cable trouble.