That night I waited at the café to see
if Anna was going to Van Van. A table of tres lindas cubanas
that had been at the rumba invited me to sit with them. One
looked about nineteen, another early thirties, and the third was
in her sixties, and they were all beautiful, classic Cuban faces.
They flirted with me mercilessly. The grandmother called me an hombre
fuerte and El Gallo. The prettiest one, the thirty-something
mulatta named Clarice asked if there was room in my suitcase for
her. I told them, "Look, this probably sounds crazy to you,
but I want to come and live here." Clarice pointed to
the apartment building across the street, and said, "I live
right over there, you can come live with me!" The abuela said,
"No, no, he has to come live with me!" ¡Ay, Cuba!
Anna was a no-show, so I walked over to the taxi
stand by the Hotel Cohiba and got another one of those goofy Coco
motorcycle taxis to the Macumba. I didn't realize that the Macumba
was about ten miles out of town. Halfway there, a carload of Cubans
asked if we were going to la Macumba, and a young chica named Lisa
climbed into the taxi and handed me $25 for the cover charge. Apparently,
unescorted females are not allowed into La Macumba, an attempt to
keep the place from being overrun with jineteras, but the
policy doesn't seem to work, because there was no shortage of single
girls there that night.
Cuban women are amazing. You could have cast the
entire Victoria's Secret catalog just by picking the cream of the
crop at la Macumba, and it would be an improvement. ¡Que
tried to go backstage to greet some of the Vanvaneros, but a guard
stopped me. I bluffed, saying I was a friend of Roberto's. In reality,
I had spoken with him briefly at the Casa De La Musica two years
ago, and again at the Belly Up Tavern in San Diego. The guard said
they hadn't arrived yet, but twenty minutes later, he came and found
me, and Roberto greeted me like a long lost family member. I sat
with his wife (or girlfriend? not sure) during the show. Van Van
in Habana lived up to my expectations, even with the recent new
additions and changes in the band. Roberto "Cucurucho"
Carlos has the difficult job of replacing original pianist César
"Pupy" Pedroso, but he does it well, and in his own style.
After all, no one plays quite like Pupyhe has his own thing.
I'm not quite sure why Formell felt the need to replace Pedrito
Calvo with two vocalists. Lele and Yeni are good, but not outstanding
by any means, and having four lead singers cuts down on the number
of tunes that Roberto and Mayito do. As far as I'm concerned, they
could just have those two guys singing lead. But this is nitpicking.
A lot of people in Habana told me they didn't like the new lineup,
and criticized Formell, but no one thought that Samuel would ever
be able to replace Changuito, and no one liked Mayito at first either.
Van Van has been through a zillion changes in the last thirty years,
and they keep on going. Why should this be any different?
They played a lot of tunes that night that I'd
never heard them play in the States: they did a medley of older
hits going all the way back to Chirán, Chirán,
and an amazing live version of Somos Cubanos that was awe-inspiring
in its intensity. And hearing Mayito sing Soy Todo live is
always a religious experience.
moved closer to the stage to get a photo of Formell, and saw Lázaro
Valdéz of Bamboleo at the side of the stage. We compared
our relative weight gain since we had last seen each other a year
and a half ago, and decided that I wonsoy más gordo
que él. He introduced me to Orlando Lázaro Mengual,
the conguero of Charanga Habanera. It turns out that he is very
good friends with Luis Eric, the amazing Cuban trumpetista that
plays with Mamborama every time we can get him. Small world. Anna's
piano teacher, Roberto Carcasses, is good friends with Jimmy Branly.
Orlando knows Jimmy and Coky Garcia too, so in the space of a few
minutes, I had a new friend. If you've never been to Cuba, you have
no idea of how open and friendly the musicians are to musicians
from abroad. Its amazing. Here in the States, musicians are
mostly rude and competitive with each other.
Just two nights into the trip, and I had already
heard NG and Van Van. This was shaping up to be a good one.
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