The way to get to Habana is the direct
charter from LA (CTS).
You need to get a license to go on one of these because of the embargo,
but as a musician, I have no trouble qualifying. This is so much
better than going through Cancún. It's a short five and a
half hour flight, and then there you are, in La Habana. The plane
gets in around 8:30 PM, so by 10:00, I was all moved into my casa
particular and was walking around Vedado looking for la musica.
My Spanish has always been bad, and I should have
done more studying since my last trip, but I am a lazy bastard when
it comes to such things. Yet, in the taxi from the airport into
town, I realize that I am able to understand what the driver is
saying. Before, 90 percent of my communication was one-sided. I
was able to say what I wanted to say, but the responses were almost
always indecipherable. Now for some strange reason, I am picking
up far more than I had two years ago. It's as though I have Douglas
Adam's' babelfish in my ear. I guess it's the result of listening
to Cuban music nonstop for three years: I must have picked up some
of it subliminally.
I walked down to the Hotel Riviera, but it turns
out that the best bet for the night is NG La Banda at the Casa De
La Musica. I take one of those silly looking bug taxis (the Coco)
to get there. This thing is a modified motorcycle with two hard
plastic seats encased in a round yellow plastic enclosure. You sit
behind the driver on one of the molded plastic seats in back. With
a guy as big as I am sitting in the back, the weight distribution
was dangerously one-sided. I was always sure that the thing was
going to flip over on a hard right turn.
The chica driving tonight is probably 16, and
it's her first day. She can't drive at allmy ride is her on-the-job
training. She tears the bumper off another taxi when she pulls out,
and we haven't gone four blocks when she gets pulled over by a cop
for driving with her lights off. But she only got lost three times,
and eventually we made it to the Casa De La Musica.
The opening act tonight is Yoruba Andabo from
the Grammy winning CD La Rumba Soy Yo. This is a huge improvement
over the awful opening acts I endured on my last trip. The whole
group is dressed in white and rumba dancers perform in front of
the band. They sound greatabsolutely killer.
NG La Banda plays the same set they've played
for the last two years, but tonight they are playing with much more
enthusiasm than the last time I heard them. They open with their
monster version of Chick Corea's Spain, and the solos are
absolutely awesome. There are so many killer musicians in this band.
After a few rocking Timba tunes, the set starts pandering to tourists
with merengue and cumbia, but they wound up with their trademark
Santa Palabra and just tore the roof off the place.
The rum flows, everyone in the room is my friend,
and I'm filled with such happiness to be here that I drink way too
much rum. Que será, será. My mysterious ability to
understand Cuban speech diminishes with each drink, too. The babelfish
is getting a bit tipsy.
| next: a different Chucho and a rumba