I spent the morning practising, and hung out at
Manolito's in the afternoon. There is always a flood of visitors
and various extended family at Manolito's house. There is usually
a bottle of rum on the coffee table with a bucket of ice, and the
afternoons are often spent listening to various CDs, telling stories
and lots of laughter. Manolo's mother-in-law invariably brings out
something great from the kitchen for people to snack onthe
woman has to be the best cook in La Habana. A frequent visitor was
Germán Velasco of Irakére, one of the top sax players
Today when I arrived, there was a giant of a man
with a thick black beard filling up one of the chairs in the living
room. Manolito introduced me to him, saying I was a musician from
Los Angeles, etc., and then told me that his guest was a very fine
producer and arranger and that he was the guy who played that amazing
violin solo on the Grammy winning CD La Rumba Soy Yo. I asked,
"Track number 7?," And he smiled and said yes. "Coño!"
It was Lazaro Dagoberto Gonzalez, the soloist on Un Violin Pa'
Chano on that CD.
Manolito played some of the CDs Dagoberto had
produced. If you ever want some amazingly lush and inventive string
charts if you're recording in Habana, this is your guy. Manolito
played tune after tune, and CD after CD of wonderful arrangements
and excellent production. Manolito then played a few things that
he had produced and arranged for other artists, and of course if
you know his work at all, you know that he is a monster writer and
I remembered that I had arranged a meeting with
Bellita's engineer to buy a CD of her performance at La Zorra so
I ducked out for a minutethe engineer lived just two blocks
away. On the way back, I bought five or six cucuruchos for everyone
from an old woman selling them outside of Coppelia. When I came
back into Manolito's apartment with these in my hand, Dagoberto
laughed and said, "Ah, el manicero!"
night Trabuco was back at the Casa De La Musica, and so was I. I
got there way too early for lack of anything better to do. You have
to pace yourself going to these shows in Habana, because sometimes
the main group won't take the stage til two in the morning. Don't
start drinking til you see the whites of their eyes, as Kevin Moore
A guy who had been down at La Zorra the night
before came over and talked to mehe had heard me play with
Jazz Tumbatá. He was from Zürich, so we spent a few
moments talking about the Latin scene there. I asked him if had
liked the group, and he said no. "Too many notes. I don't like."
But majesty, there are only so many notes as are required. Which
notes should I remove? I changed the subject to Cuba. He didn't
have anything very complimentary to say about Cuba either. "These
Cuban people are so hard." Huh? That would never occur to me
to describe Cuban as "hard." Even the most aggressive
Jinetero/as do their hustling with a sense of humor and a smile.
His next complaint was that he couldn't have an intelligent conversation
with Cubans about science. What about the Cuban biotech industry,
I asked. "No, I can't talk about science with these people."
"Man, you are in the third world, after all," I said.
"If you want to talk about science, maybe you should vacation
in Oslo or Japan or somewhere."
I excused myself from this dour creature to wander
around looking for people I knew. Javier, the Productor of
Trabuco's live shows was there. Javier is a true show business guy.
He is an extremely large man, always wearing a sport coat regardless
of the heat, along with some glitzy Italian shades, about fifty
pounds of gaudy gold chains and a big Cohiba cigar. Kevin's friend
Chucho "El Capitalista" was there, looking shiny and dressed
to the max. He sat me down at a table and pulled a little bottle
of rum out of his pocket and poured me a drink.
As guys sitting around night clubs often do, we
made appreciative comments about various chicas lindas that
wandered by. I pointed out one that was endowed with some rather
sizeable breasts to Chucho. "You like?," he asked. What's
not to like?, I said. Twenty minutes later, after Trabuco had started
playing, I was standing on the stairs on stage left to get a good
view of Manolito's tumbaos when Chucho came over beaming, towing
the voluptuous chica I had pointed out before. He shoved her at
me, saying her name was Becky, as if she were a gift to me. She
began the all-familiar jinetera twenty questions interview:
"What your name? What country you from," etc. I politely
explained to her that I was here studying music and maybe we could
talk later. She wandered off in search of other turistas to interview.
Chucho is quite an accommodating fellow. Whatever you need, Chucho
Trabuco was sounding as strong as ever. Manolito
changes the set list from night to night, so repeated listenings
were never dull. Towards the end of the set, Manolito motioned for
me to come up and play. Unfortunately, it was not one of
the Trabuco songs that I know. He motioned with his eyes for me
to look at what he was playing, as if I could learn a complex sixteenth
note harmonized tumbao in two bars. He stepped away from the piano,
and I started faking it the best I could. I had the key right at
least. Manolito brought the band down for me to take a solo, and
while I was improvising, the harmony of the tune became apparent
to my rum-soaked brain, and I was able to finish by not playing
Manolito's exact tumbao, but at least one that worked, and for those
few fleeting moments, I was holding the reins of the Trabuco, and
let me tell you, what a charged, adrenaline producing feeling that
Still, after the show, I was unhappy with the
way I had played, and I went backstage and apologized to the musicians.
No, no, no, they insisted, you did fine. I know better, but the
Cuban musicians seem to enjoy seeing someone from El Yuma
playing or attempting to play their music. Whatever. At least I
made my debut at the Casa De La Musica.
I had my taxi drop me off at the El Rápido
close to my house for a bite to eat and a beer. I was sitting there
enjoying the tropical night air when Eduardo, the bass player from
Trabuco wandered by. I invited him to sit with me and bought him
a beer. We were talking when a few minutes later, Osiris, the former
synth player for Trabuco walked past. I said, "Coño!
Don't you remember me? Two years ago?" The light went on, he
shouted "Beel!," and he joined us for a beer, and we sat
talking til about five in the morning. Osiris is now the keyboard
player for Pupy Y Los Que Son, Son. He invited me to join him Friday
night at Egrem studios in Miramar for a recording session with Pupy
and the band, including the legendary Changuito, the original drummer
of Los Van Van. My plans for Friday were in flux due to an embarrassment
of riches. I had originally planned to go hear Issac Delgado at
the Habana Cafe, but Manolito had invited me to go with him and
the group on the bus to Cienfuegos. I was considering doing this,
because Issac plays California quite often, but Osiris offer
won out. I love watching these guys work in the studiothey
always have fun recording, and there is always something new to
learn hanging around sessions with someone as experienced as Pupy.
| next: rehearsing with Las Estrellas Cubanas