I called around to the various clubs to make sure
I wasn't missing anything special. Although I would gladly go groove
to the Trabuco every night of the week, there are a ton of great
groups in La Habana, and I wanted to get a variety if I could. Unfortunately,
the wealth of groups from the previous week was not repeated this
week, most likely due to a huge tourism convention in the nearby
beach resort town of Veradero. I worked the phone, and besides Trabuco,
the only offering for the night was Pedrito Calvo, formerly with
Van Van. Not my cup of ron. Pedrito con Van Van, si. Sin Van
Van, no. So, the plan for the evening was to try to catch Rolando
Luna's jazz group at La Zorra for an hour, and then head up La Rampa
to the Turquino atop the Habana Libre for Manolito Y Su Trabuco.
Around 10:30 I went over to La Zorra, and the
manager was standing outside. He addressed me as "Maestro"
(that cracks me up when Cubans do thatI'm never quite sure
if they're being facetious or what). He kindly inquired about my
eye, because the last time I was there I was sporting my accident
victim look with the bandage. I asked if the Rolando was going to
start right at eleven. Of course, he said. "¿Seguro?"
"Si, claro." Not believing him for a minute, I paid
the five buck cover and went in. I had nothing else to do for the
next hour and a half, I might as well sip some rum and talk to the
cocktail waitresses, who by now treated me like an old friend.
At eleven, no musicians were visible
in the club. At 11:15, they started to straggle in. By 11:30, they
actually started to take their instruments out of their cases while
chatting with each other and getting caught up on the latest gossip.
Whats the hurry, after all? At 11:45, I saw that the drummer
had yet to get his cymbals out of the bag and the drum kit was only
halfway set up. It was apparent by now that there was no way that
any music would be played before 12:15, so I decided to head for
the Habana Libre. Its funny, because here in the States, club
owners get all over me if we havent started at five minutes
past the scheduled downbeat, whether theres anyone in the
club or not. Sometimes in Cuba, the band doesnt hit the stage
til one in the morning.
Too bad I couldnt hear Rolandos
grouphe is an amazing loco cowboy Timba pianista when he plays
with Issac Delgados group, and I was curious to hear him on
a jazz gig, but it will have to wait til next time. Yet another
of the million reasons to get back to La Habana pronto.
Manolito had put me on the guest list at the Turquino. This club
has seen better days, and like much in Habana, it could use a little
fixing up here and there, but what a great place to hear music.
Its on the 25th floor of the Habana Libre hotel, and the views
of the city at night are awesome. The club itself is medium-sized
and the two level stage was a tight fit for Trabucos 14 musicians,
but what a great place to get close-up views of the bands. Los Van
Van was going to be playing there on the upcoming Friday, but that
was the day I had to fly out.
was the ultimate home town gig for Manolito, because he lives right
across the street. The whole extended family was sitting at a big
table by the side of the stage, and I was invited to join them.
The musicians were still arriving, and I had a drink with the family.
When Sixto El Indio Llorente showed up, I sat at his
table and we talked. I love this guys voice, and I asked him
if he would consider singing on one of our tunes if I could manage
to record in Habana. Como no, was his reply and I told him
the story of the lyrics and sang him the coro. He immediately started
to rip out improvisations on it right there on the spot. He is one
of, if not the best singers in Habana today. The guys tone,
intonation and timing are all impeccable, and he has got to be the
best improviser down there. I heard Trabuco a total of four times
in the two weeks I was there, and his guias were different every
night. We spent a good forty minutes talking and as is always the
case in Cuba, became friends right then and there. He has a great
sense of humor and is very humble about his talent, as are most
Cuban geniuses. That attitude is what keeps them constantly improving.
And, with so many amazing musicians living in that town, it would
be hard to get too egotistic about your musicianship, because there
might be some seventeen-year-old kid that comes along tomorrow and
blows you off the stage.
When the group started, I stood near
the stage to watch Manolitos hands. He is a rock-solid playerhe
has more drive and funk in his playing than just about anyone else,
and he always has a few tricks up his sleeve, especially if he knows
that another piano player is listening. The Producer of the show,
the gold chain-laden Javier was standing beside me. The Turquino
had graciously provided four gorgeous chicas in matching skintight
costumes to dance in front of the stage. Curiously, they faced the
band as they danced, not the crowd, but believe me, the view was
wonderful from any angle. One of them was especially stunning: a
million dollar supermodel-looking cafe con crema mulatta with long
curly hair and all the moves. I made the mistake of pointing her
out to Javier. He said, you want her? I politely declined,
mumbling something about not having much money with me. Without
a beat, Javier tried to relieve my financial difficulties by offering
to buy my shirt. A true businessman. He and Chucho El Capitalista
should start a company together.
Trabuco played with awesome force
and power that night. The set list was different from the last time..
The one tune they play live that doesnt do much for me is
the Mezcla de Cumbia medley they do. Im not real big
on Cumbia, but it goes over big with the Latin American tourists
and the dance floor is always packed when they play it. For me,
its my opportunity to refresh my Habana Club Reserva, so I
headed for the bar. For the fifteenth time that night, I was approached
by an enterprising jinetera. I was suffering from jinetero/a
fatigue, so I decided to have some fun with her. I asked, What
is it about you Cuban girls that you all seem to like old fat men?
There are lots of younger, more handsome guys herewhy are
you so taken with me? She was not amused, and turned and left.
I dont have any problem with jinetero/as, I know everyone
down there has to hustle in one way or another, but I got bored
with the same questions and answers every time. I got so that when
guys in the street that wanted to sell me cigars asked me what country
I was from, I started telling them that I was from Cuba. One guy
I told this lie to just laughed and immediately got what I telling
him: not interested. Others would raise their eyebrows in disbelief
and challenge me. Youre not from Cuba! Yes
I am, from Oriente, Holguín! My parents are Spaniards!
It still didnt trick them, but it was more fun than the everyday
conversations, which became identical after awhile.
The rest of the night was spent alternately
watching Trabuco and the chicas who were so erotically interpreting
the music with their moves on the dance floor. Some of these knockouts
were moving their hips more frenetically than any Samba dancer.
A sight to behold, and you couldnt ask for a better soundtrack
than the mighty and powerful Trabuco. By the way, the new billing
is Manolito Simonet Y Su Trabuco, Not just any old Manolito.
| next: mixing some new Klimax tunes >