Grevel Lindop

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

Kerry Ribchester at Salsa Republic

Lorraine, Kerry and Noel - Hail to the Trinity of Cuban Dance Teachers!!!

Lorraine, Kerry and Noel - Hail to the Trinity of Cuban Dance Teachers!!!

Another great night last night at Les and Lorraine’s SALSA REPUBLIC in Chorlton, Manchester. Particular highlight this time was a workshop by Kerry Ribchester. Kerry is Director of Key2Cuba, an award-winning producer and director of Cuban music videos, and one of the country’s leading dance teachers and choreographers.

She’s an old friend of many of us in Manchester, and it was really exciting to have her here in her home city, giving us an intensive workshop in Rumba, Son and Salsa – and how to blend the three together. And she was joined, unscheduled, by Noel Hernandez, another leading teacher who just happened to be there and, as an old friend of Kerry, joined in. It was challenging but great fun and an excellent, confidence-building workout.

Amanda and I went to Cuba with Key2Cuba in 2008, shortly after I published Travels on the Dance Floor, and it’s certainly the most authentic and intimately Cuban holiday it’s possible to have with any tour provider. Most of my own travel has been solo and independent, but if you prefer to go with a group, and to have intensive salsa and Cuban dance classes laid on, plus transport to the best clubs and many other good things, key2Cuba is the way to go. It leaves other operators way behind.

Salsa Republic (run by Les Murray and Lorraine H. Mason) are this year offering not only their excellent monthly salsa party but are inviting a leading dance teacher each time, so you get the workshop as well as the party. The value is astonishing – last night we paid £10 for the whole evening. That basically means a Kerry Ribchester workshop for £3 (as usual, the party alone was £7). So look out for the next Salsa Republic – don’t know yet who the teacher will be but it will be good.

Meanwhile – don’t forget LOS VAN VAN, Leeds, 2 March! See you there!

Don’t Miss Ruben Blades on 28 July!

Ruben Blades

This is a very quick and brief post for any salsa freaks who don’t know that Ruben Blades, one of the greatest singer-songwriters in the genre, is playing a rare gig in London on 28 July. He’s a legendary performer and may never get to the UK again so if you can make it, do! He’s backed by what looks like an excellent orchestra so it should be a great night. This is probably our last chance to see an all-time great of the salsa tradition and you should do all you can to be there.

To book tickets, go to:

I’ll add a clip below of his classic song ‘Plastico’.

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:

Relax, meet your friends and enjoy the atmosphere

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


One of the highlights of my visit to Havana in November was going to see Adalberto Álvarez and his band live at the Casa de la Música in Galeano. Adalberto is a mainstay of Cuban dance music and one of its finest songwriters. If you’ve danced salsa at all you probably know several of his tracks even if you don’t know that they’re his.

Adalberto’s roots are in Cuban Son music – he keeps this prominent by calling his orchestra ‘Adalberto Álvarez y su Son’ – but he has merged this with Timba and what we think of as Salsa.
But he also has roots that go deeper than that. Like many Cuban musicians his spiritual source is in Santería. The night I went to hear him he started off with internationally popular dance music including his wonderful and witty song about Rueda – Para Bailar Casino – but later in the set he embarked on a long, long song in Rumba style that went through passages about all the main Santería gods and goddesses in turn – Elegguá, Yemayá, Changó, Ochún and so on with the appropriate drumming and invocations.

This is the superb thing about Cuban music, that it has all the attack and fun quality of pop and at the same time it can be deeply religious. Even American Gospel to me doesn’t quite manage to do this so completely and with such spontaneity.
But for the dancers, as so often recently, the climax of the set was – appropriately – Gazando en la Habana, where Adalberto sings about someone who has done what so many of us did – got hooked on salsa, dreamed about going to Havana, and finally got there, learned the real Cuban style and danced the night away.
What’s fascinating to me is that the song isn’t really written from a Cuban point of view. It’s written to speak for its international audience, the countless people around the world who go to Cuba to dance. The nearest parallel I can think of is the way Chuck Berry in the 1950s wrote rock’n’roll songs to speak for white teenagers. His songs broke through because he wrote about the experiences which as a black teenager he hadn’t had – driving his girlfriend in a car, for example.
Adalberto has done the same. A young Cuban can’t easily travel the world, and their experience of Havana will be a much harder and less affluent one than Susanna’s. Despite the nod to Cuban youth at the end of the song, they can’t afford to go to the Casa de la Musica every night because it costs ten dollars – more than a week’s wages. Yet I don’t think either Berry or Adalberto writes with condescension, cynicism or exploitiveness. Of course they want to appeal to an audience and they want to make their dollars. Good luck to them. But there’s also a generosity of spirit, an imagination that crosses racial and political boundaries. And Adalberto like so many Cubans is very proud that his country, whatever its problems and restrictions, leads the world in dance music and is loved by millions of people for its wonderful culture – of which he’s an important part.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the video clip above of Gozando en la Habana. Especially the little boy at the front, who even has his own microphone! And now I’ve talked about it so much, I’ll translate the words here:
Susanna is a modern girl
she might live anywhere
she could be from Paris, Rome or Milan
from New York, Switzerland or Panama.
Susanna’s dream is to be in Havana
where she always wanted to dance:
a lover of Cuban music,
now her dream has become reality.
She’s only been a short time in Havana
and already she’s dancing like the Cubans
at the Casa de la Musica in Galeano or Miramar
dancing all night, the dawn surprises her
And everyone in her neighbourhood’s looking for Susanna
because they can’t imagine that she’s partying in Havana.
They say that over there in her district they’re looking for Susanna
but Susanna, gentlemen, is partying in Havana!
The girl’s disappeared, no one knows where she is.
Look for her in Galeano, or if not, over there in Miramar,
and you’ll see…
Look how everyone enjoys themselves, dancing to Cuban music
But I assure you the one who’s enjoying herself most is Susanna,
she’s doing the whole thing in Havana.
Lots of people ask, where’s Susanna –
She always goes out at night and comes back in the morning?
Look! she goes to the school every day to learn how to dance:
And she’s always keen, Oh Susanna’s not wasting her time in Havana!
Oh my God! Look for her! (And I’m gonna look for her, with the mambo…)
How do you like Havana, Susanna? Susanna the most beautiful,
the one who dances, the one who parties!
She goes to the Macumba, she goes to the Tropicana,
and if you want to find her, look for her at the Tropical!…
I don’t know if she’s Argentine, Cuban or Venezuelan,
In every part of Cuba you’ll find a Susanna
When she arrived in Havana she hardly knew how to dance
and now she moves so that no one can equal her!
She’s really got into Cuban music.
Hey Susanna, how do you like Havana?