Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

Don’t Miss Diáspora Latin Band

You have a big chance on Sunday 1 May. Diaspora are playing at Matt and Phred’s in Manchester and, frankly, you seriously need to go and hear them. Really.

Diaspora: Get Up and Move It!

I first heard Diáspora playing at last year’s Manchester Jazz Festival. They were backing Mojito in Albert Square, and I wrote then that their music “just forced you to get up and move… all of it was highly listenable. I hope to hear a lot more of Diaspora”.

Well, since then I have heard quite a bit more of them, and the good news is that they’ve just got better and better. Currently I’d say that they are one of the UK’s finest salsa/Latin orchestras and, of the larger bands, the absolute best in the NorthWest.

Their gig at Matt and Phred’s on 31 March was really fabulous. Diáspora have definitely got that magic ingredient – the one that makes or breaks a Latin band. I’m sure you know what I mean. Anyone who dances salsa and the like knows that some bands play very well technically, but they just haven’t got it – the magic ingredient that forces you to move your body, to forget everything and get out there on the floor.

Grooving at Matt and Phred's

I don’t know the full personnel of Diáspora in detail, but I gather they have a nucleus at least of musicians who came through the RNCM. You might wonder if that would be the best background for this genre – you might imagine players who can do the notes faultlessly but don’t pack that salsa punch – but in this case you’d be wrong. These people are clearly addicted to the music and soaked in the tradition, or maybe it’s just that Eleggua, Chango, Ochun, Yemaya and Ogun have paid a visit to Manchester and given them a special blessing. I don’t know. But the physical fact – the thing your body will tell you – is that they have the weaving, dancing, battering percussion, the precise, hard-hitting brass, the rippling piano montuno (one of the rarest things to hear played properly in British salsa) and the intense, flexible vocals that characterise the best Latin music the world over. They are the real thing.

It was great to hear Rich Sliva guesting with them on drumkit in April: Rich is a master percussionist, initiated and trained in Cuba, and he knows what he’s doing. You may have heard him playing with Mojito, another top local band.

Alyss Rose: Latin Melody Plus Toughness

Alyss Rose has a superbly engaging vocal style that’s tough, sexy and also melodious: amazing for an English singer and exactly right for the Latin and AfroCuban lyrics she puts over so expressively. It’s hard to believe she’s not a native Spanish speaker.

On 1 May they’ll be playing with a full brass section, so it will definitely be a night to remember. The gig starts at 8.30. If you don’t know Matt and Phred’s in Tib Street, you’ll enjoy the ambience: a real funky jazz club with drinks and excellent pizzas available (mine’s a Charlie Parker, please). I’m often enthusiastic on this blog, but it isn’t hype, it’s because I write about what I love and when I think something is that good, I want to share it. I want to share Diáspora with you. Please be there.

Cuba Cafe: Best Thursday Night in Town

Cuba Cafe: A hidden gem of the Northern Quarter

I’ve just revisited Cuba Cafe in Manchester’s Northern Quarter for the first time since Christmas. If you don’t know Cuba Cafe, you are missing one of Manchester’s great experiences: an intimate, wonderfully-decorated little bar and dance club full of Caribbean memorabilia and vibrant with atmosphere.

Walking in there is an amazing experience. With its coloured lights, TV screens showing old Cuban music videos, the suitcases and flowers and bicycles and a profusion of other strange things hanging from the roof, the pictures of Che and Marilyn and Charlie Parker, the palm trees and ceiling fans, it’s like a stage set where you and your friends are the actors, and absolutely anything could happen. I love the place and just wish more people knew about it.

An amazing place, full of Cuban memorabilia

If you’re into Latin music, salsa in particular, it’s a mecca: there’s a good dance floor and a great sound system. Plus Latin American beers on sale. There are salsa classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I was lucky enough to turn up on a Thursday night, and found Michael running an excellent rueda class, teaching some really interesting and spectacular moves. Afterwards there was free dancing.

It seems this is now the pattern each Thursday: a styling class (men and women) at 7pm; rueda at 8pm and social dancing from 9pm onwards. For the Thursday classes you need to be comfortable with basic salsa, but on Tuesdays there are also classes for beginners.

Some of the best salsa classes in Manchester, for beginners and experienced dancers

As a bonus, you’ll often meet Mo, the cafe’s owner and a fine creative spirit who has made the place into a work of art; and Tracey, who’s equally happy behind the bar serving a cerveza or slipping out to join the dancers on the floor.

If you love salsa or if you just want to savour a unique Manchester experience, do go along to Cuba Cafe. It’s remained something of a secret because it isn’t easy to find. Here’s how you get there. Starting from Piccadilly Gardens, you need to go up Newton Street (opposite side of the gardens from the trams, at the right hand corner). After a block or so, you’ll see a little street running off right at a diagonal. It’s called Port Street. Walk up Port Street, past the Crown and Anchor pub. Just keep going: don’t be put off, because you won’t see Cuba Cafe at first. Just when you think you’ll never find it, the street takes a little slant to the left and there it is. Here’s a link to the website for more information:
http://www.cubacafe.co.uk/

Relax, meet your friends and enjoy the atmosphere

Go there. Have fun. Have a drink. Dance your socks off. See you there!