Grevel Lindop

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

Starting the Weekend with Bachata Fridays

Cuba Cafe, in Port Street (off Newton Street, Northern Quarter) – and of course Mo, our legendary host

Michal’s bachata class in full swing

Recently I’ve added a new element to my week’s dancing, by going to Michal’s Friday night bachata classes at Cuba Cafe in the Northern Quarter. (8.15 beginners, improvers 9.30 approx.)

I’d tried to learn bachata several times, at classes and workshops, but either the teachers didn’t go at the right pace, or the instructions weren’t clear, or the numbers were out of balance… So I didn’t really persist and never got beyond the simplest rudiments.

But I took some friends to Cuba Cafe for drinks a couple of months ago, and watching Michal’s class I was very impressed by the sheer good time everyone seemed to be having. A week or two later I went along, and found the class exactly right – for me, anyway.

Michal is a cheerful, amusing teacher, who has the knack of expalining things extremely clearly and beginning from a very basic level, yet effortlesly getting people dancing at quite a decent level by the end of the evening. Everyone has fun in the process, and the classes are also very good value – cheaper than many salsa classes in fact. To sum up, this is simply the best bachata class I’ve seen.

I’m now a regular, and while I won’t say I’m dancing brilliant bachata, at least I have a few basic moves, I feel I’m finally getting somewhere, and I’m loving Friday evenings. As a bonus, DJ Les (Mancuban, Salsa Republic) is having monthly party nights – The AfterParty – following on from the class, playing salsa, bachata, merengue, reggaeton from 12 midnight to 3 a.m. And if you’ve been to Michal’s bachata class first, you don’t even have to pay. Otherwise the AfterParty s a mere £3. For AfterParty dates you’ll need to check out Mancuban or Cuba Cafe websites or on Facebook.

As a PS, I hear Michal’s beautiful wife Anna has recently given birth to their daughter, so many congratulations to the whole family. And Michal tells me the classes are going ahead as usual. If you’re around Manchester on a Friday, give them a try.

A Cuban Poet in Manchester: Victor Rodriguez Nuñez (and of course The Smiths)

Victor and Kate enjoy a drink at Manchester's Cuba Cafe

Spent many happy hours this week with my friends Victor and Kate. Victor Rodriguez Nuñez is a leading Cuban poet, and his wife Kate Hedeen is a gifted translator of Latin American poetry.

 

Victor was here for the Manchester International Literature festival last autumn, and liked it so much that he wanted to show Kate around. Plus, Kate is a huge fan of The Smiths, who provided the soundtrack to her early life in Portland, Oregon. So naturally we had to take the Smiths Tour of Manchester, expertly provided by Craig of Manchester Music Tours.

Kate and Craig: a visit to the Shrine!

We had a wonderful morning exploring everything from the Free Trade Hall to the Salford Lads’ Club and the famous Iron Bridge of the song. Craig was a fine, friendly guide (as well as being drummer with the renowned Inspiral Carpets) and we came away fully educated about Morrissey, the Smiths and the whole Manchester music scene.

We also enjoyed a few other quintessentially Mancunian delights – dinner at Mr Thomas’s Chop House, drinks at the Peveril of the Peak pub, and (of course) I couldn’t resist taking Victor and Kate on Friday night up to the amazing Cuba Cafe, in Port Street, Manchester’s small but glittering Cuban bar and club, where we had a couple of Cuba Libres made with real Havana Club rum and watched one of Michal’s excellent bachata classes. I must get along there and improve my bachata dancing next week.

 

The famous Iron Bridge: to think I drove past it every day and never knew...

 

Kate paid Manchester what I take to be the ultimate compliment, saying that to her it felt like a Latin American city – gritty but friendly, hugely mixed and cosmopolitan, creative and non-touristy. A thoroughly happy few days with two close friends who are also great literary artists and a link back to my beloved Cuba. They’ve gone now but they’ll definitely be back for more. I miss them already.

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!

Hot Salsa & Cool Air @ Republic

Republic of Salsa delivered another great Cuban salsa party last night at Chorlton Irish Club. And anyone scared off by memories of the slippery, sweaty hell we all went through last time needn’t have worried: this time the air conditioning was perfect. Cool, in every sense.

Dark Magician: somewhere in his magic cave, Les mixes the music...

Les and Andy kept the floor hot with a great fuelling of salsa tracks, the new lights (think laser-red with interlacing patterns of intense green) were fabulous, and both movie-screens were flickering away to create atmosphere – Oliver Stone’s Castro documentary on one wall and Buena Vista Social Club on the other. Plus an interesting (?Cuban?) pop video I couldn’t identify. Where did you get that one, guys? The only factor missing was Lorraine, still on her camping holiday in Wales. Mil besitos, Lorraine, and hope you’ve got some sunshine! We missed you.

Les gets the whole room dancing Bachata

Les gets everyone dancing bachata

Les kicked off the evening with a great Bachata class, teaching a simple, classic routine that anyone could master but also felt like dancing real bachata. A huge confidence-boost for bachata-dabblers like me.

Radiant: Solar Salsa's Mike and Pauline
Radiant: Solar Salsa’s Mike and Pauline

As always, the crowd was wonderfully mixed. Teachers I spotted on the dancefloor included Pauline and Mike from Solar Salsa, Andre from Baby Salsa, and Mo from Cuba Cafe. There were crowds of friends from Opus, Spreadeagle, Cuba Cafe, La Tasca, and Copas – plus a lot of people I hadn’t seen for months and was really glad to have a dance with again. There were two or three great rueda sessions, and given the decibel level, the Solar Salsa teachers’ skill with hand signals really came into its own. I’m probably going deaf (too many years of loud music) but as long as Pauline’s that good at semaphore it won’t matter too much!

Before finishing I have to apologise to La Casa de la Salsa: I had wanted to go to the Ball on Friday but couldn’t make it for reasons beyond my control. I’m sure it was fabulous. Next time I’ll get there.

Oh, and a final PS: Anyone wants to take pics off this blog, from this post or any other, go ahead and copy them (click your right mouse button to ‘copy’ then ditto to ‘paste’). it’s fine to use on FB if you want. Just please give a credit to www.grevel.co.uk – thanks!