Combinacion de la Habana with Eugenio on vocals.
Busy couple of days. That’s good I guess. Makes up for some of the time I lost trying to sort shit out and recover from the golpe of my arrival. In the last few days me and the Smoke Monstress have had the opportunity to see five different bands, all varying degrees of good.Saturday, I finally got to the Combinacion de la Habana matinee at Galiano. The previous Saturday had been some special thing called “La comparsa de los feos” with a special deal for uni students and I thought it might be a little bit too crazy so I postponed it. Today it was busy but not crazy.
We had gone for an early dinner at the Hanoi, as I remembered the frijoles negros as being really good and the Monstress is a vegetarian (they weren’t that great, but the crispy-skinned pollo asado was fantastic; not so good for her but great for me!) and bumped into Reve’s Dagoberto in the street who told us they were playing on Galiano on Friday - yay! Hope nothing stops me from seeing them this time. It would blow to have to leave Havana Reve-less.
Anyway. By the time we got to Galiano, CdlH were already on stage - and what a stage it was: they had installed a massive extension over the stairs - like a catwalk but twice as wide. Don’t really know why. I mean the Galiano stage is big compared to some (Cafe Cantante, for instance), and if you use the stairs, which most singers do (Alexander never does) it brings you closer to the audience. Whatever. This brought the singers really close to their audience, which was mostly girls, in the front row anyway - the guys were all up the back getting drinking rum.
As is usual for CdlH, it was mostly Cubans cutting loose (not working) on a Saturday arvo. Good ambience. And the band sounded smoking. Really. Funky and pumping and full-bodied. It’s too bad they don’t seem to be able to replicate the sound in the studio: most of their recordings sound a little messy. I don’t know why. I was disappointed that my old mate Ricardito was missing from the line-up. In his place was a blanquito from Azucar Negra: he had always been under-used with them, I thought, so it’s no surprise he left. He’s not bad. Probably should have left his shirt buttoned up though.
Later on singer Julian told me Ricardito has gone back to Son Yoruba, which seems like an odd career choice. They’re gigging round town, so I’ll try and catch them, or I’ll go and bang on his door on Neptuno and have a chat.
CdlH didn’t seem to have any new songs, but man, they are so totally bailable. Had a great time, although the ending was marred by the appearance of some fully lame reggaetoneros whose name I didn’t get. Wow, they were just like, total frauds. Really bad.
The sexy pianista from Azucar Negra also got up for a guest spot as did a corista from Paulito’s band, sans shoes from some reason. I said to some chick next to me, what happened to his shoes? she said: he took them off! No shit, Sherlock. I guess it was a stupid question, but you know, it seemed so random. Her name was Nancy and before long she was laying all that jinetera (not in the prostitute sense, in the take-advantage-of-the-foreigner sense) shit on me: “I want you to come to my house and meet my family.” Jesus fucking christ why would I want to go to the house of a complete stranger and meet their family? I never understood why this is a pitch. Is the object to just completely derail you so you go into shock and go along with it?
Instead of saying: “I’d rather open a vein” I mumbled something vague then she said, where are you going after this? I said, oh we’re thinking of going to La Tropical. She wrinkled her nose in disgust (no foreigners there to exploit I guess) and said, Your friend said you were going to Dos Gardenias. Ah, Dos Gardenias, the place of mi gente, the farandula de Salon Rojo. I told her I would never go there ever. (Also the Smoke Monstress did not say that.) There was more that was distasteful - been a while since I had one of these encounters. They’re pretty standard when you’re a newbie, but my method of pretty much ignoring everyone all the time has served me well in recent years.
Hey, hay que cuidarse.
Last time I went to a night gig at La Tropical, the band went on at 11pm, so we went off to see Salsa Mayor about 10.30. Que lastima! When trombonista Omarcito greeted me, he said they weren’t on till midnight. Wah-wah. Recorded music was mainly reggaeton with Me mantengo. The dapper MC came over and got our details, then called our names out over the PA. Actually I thought that was cool. Come on, it’s La Tropical!
We sat on a cement ledge (such luxury!) fanning ourselves with a frond I had ripped from a plant (outrageous profligacy!) and by the time the band hit the stage, a bit after 12 I was so tired. They gussied up the stage with the MB logo and screens overhead, and an extended bit for the singers out the front. Yordi looked hot (a touch of the Idris Elbas, I said to the Smoke Monstress); the band sounded good as well. We were behind the brass section; Omarcito was doing little pirouettes, whirling his trombones as he went.
The didn’t seem to have anything new except for El Kilo, although we didn’t stay all night. We saw Anda pegate, La cara de salir pa anda, Que tu crees, Pa cualquiera (always sounds good). At one point Michel turned around and gave his girlfriend the finger cause she wouldn’t get him a beer/rum. She gave it right back to him. Interesting dynamic.
Then they had a cintura competition. Sigh.
First up was, oh dear. She had long dyed red hair pulled back into an almost waist length ponytail with an inch or two or grey showing at the scalp and she was wearing bright pink leggings and oh I don’t know what else. The bottom of her face had collapsed. I suspect she had no teeth. As soon as she jumped up she did the splits. Michel turned his back on the audience and mimicked her to the folks backstage. Pretty mean-spirited and kinda dumb too: just because you can’t see the audience doesn’t mean they can’t see you.
The problem of how to get home had been nagging at the back of my mind and it rose to the fore once the cintura comp got into full swing. I decided we should get going and start the search. As we walked down to Casa de la Musica a full bus outward bound from Havana swung around the corner on 41 and a bunch of people hanging out the windows yelled something unintelligible at us.
Saturday night in Havana.
At Casa de la Musica, Trabuco would have just been starting. We didn’t go in. I know, I know. How things have changed. But you know, matinee on Monday for $10 instead of $15, and I’m paying for two at the moment. And they have that fucking song out now that has cowbell all the way through it. What is this, fucking Cali?
Tumbao Havana: Maikel (left) and El Morro. Pascualito (background).
I’ve had a nagging sore throat, so I’d passed by the international pharmacy at the Sevilla to buy some vitamin C on Saturday. A sign in the window said it was open seven days but another one said it closed for fumigation. Inside I could see a woman sitting down, her elbow resting on the counter as she chatted to someone. Obviously not Spider-woman. On Sunday I went back and they had my favourite effervescent “Tropical” vitamin C tablets, then I went off to Marbis’s house to help her solve some Mac problems. (The Snow Leopard updates installed successfully on her MacBook, but SL went into negative minutes during installation on her iMac; still don’t know what that was about …)
We were off to a Tumbao Havana matinee at La Tropical. There was also Bamboleo at Miramar but I knew there would be plenty of other opportunities to see them and may be no others to see TH. I wasn’t sure I had the strength for La Tropical but I thought I should give it a shot. So glad I did.
A taxi was passing right by the casa as we exited it on the street. I love it when that happens. He put the meter on - first time this trip. I could see that the meters now tick over significantly more rapidly than they used to - it cost $6.50 to get to La Tropical from my place. It used to cost $5; even given that he took the long way round - via El Malecon - it probably wouldn’t have been much less than $6.
La Tropical was pretty quiet, which surprised me just a little. I mean I know Habaneros don’t rate TH, but there is usually a crowd for the Sunday matinee, just because it’s a Sunday, it’s an afternoon, and it’s super cheap. Still, it was probably not even a third full. (Salsa Mayor probably only had it at about half full the previous night. The Reve gig a couple of weeks back had been absolutely packed up to the back balcony, from what I saw on the news.)
I saw Abraham there, with a new fade - musical notes - etched into his hair. Totally hilarious. One of the other singers who I swear I don’t even know - the one who used to sing with Chispa - kept smiling at me and blowing me kisses. Perplexing but sweet.
We’d timed it a bit better this time. They started pretty soon after we arrived, but after the opening song Si tu quisieras saber, they all walked off - problems with the sound, apparently, although we were at the side of the stage and getting the same sound they were, presumably, and it sounded fine. Anyway, they were soon back. Abraham and El Morro (Reinier - the handsome one. The really, really handsome one) had been on Disco Fiesta saying they had some new songs (the host had thrown them by saying, and invitados? clearly there would be none, but El Morro quickly said, “sorpresas, sorpresas”), and so they did. One was about “la suegra mia” but I couldn’t catch enough of the lyrics to figure out if his mother-in-law was cool or otherwise (the odds are against her). Of the old songs there was Padrino - what a fucking monster song that is. Ay dios mio. Love it. Also there was Ella no tiene na and I think that was it. Unless there was something really old, cause I’m not so familiar with the stuff before Mambo duro except for Johanna. It was all good though: the brass was a occasionally ropey, which is normal for them, but the singers were full of energy and smiles, which are totally infectious and I was so glad I’d gone. I hope they play again. I was going to stick around to ask that same question but when they played the suegra song for the outro I decided we should hit the calle and look for transport. Alas, even Casa de la Miramar offered no help, as Bamboleo had finished some time before we got there - we’d seen musos with horns slung over the shoulders walking up the street -and almost all the taxis were gone. Ailyn was just walking out and I said, quick! Hide, so Ailyn doesn’t know I’ve been unfaithful to her. Jaja. Anyway, there was a pila de gente on 31 looking for cars, including one group of six. Good luck. Made it easy for us to get a maquina. We waited about one minute. Take that taxi drivers outside CdlM who want $10CUC!
One weird thing is that suddenly a whole bunch of the maquina choferes are young white guys with flat tops. What’s up with that?