Grevel Lindop

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

La Casa de la Salsa

Salsa with Heart: La Casa de la Salsa

Salsa with Heart: La Casa de la Salsa

Valentine’s already seems a long time ago. But before memories fade, I’d like to look back and thank La Casa de la Salsa for their fine Valentine’s Ball at the Britannia Hotel, Stockport.

It was a lovely evening. Gorgeous table settings, beautiful balloons everywhere, an imaginative cocktail menu at good prices, Mike Parr’s usual suave and seamless DJing, and of course friends, lots and lots of friends, and wonderful dancing.

Open Break with Vicky

Open Break with Vicky

And why didn’t I write about it sooner? Well, it took some days for Lydia’s pics to appear on Facebook (I’d lost my own camera at the time so it was Facebook or nothing!) and then life just got so busy and chaotic I wasn’t blogging at all.

But it was a good enough evening to make me want to say, Watch out for La Casa de la Salsa and their future events. Check them out on Facebook and keep up with what they’re doing.

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Braz, Tina, Silvia: Awesome Threesome

Besides the music and the company, a special feature was the ZOUK LAMBADA demonstration from Braz (of Kaoma fame) and his partner Silvia. I’m not sure I’ll be taking on this (literally) head-turning dance in the near future, but the performance was an amazing spectacle. The highlight in some ways was the point where Braz insisted on involving Tina (of Latino Euphoria) in the dance and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Despite a modest display of resistance Tina allowed herself to be drawn in and Braz performed a truly extraordinary Lamada threesome with her and Silvia. Astonishing.

What else? Well… Several people said they’d had a terrible time finding the Hotel. Maybe better directions could be available next time? Lighting: perhaps a bit bright on the dancefloor. Any chance of dimmer, warmer, coloured lights or even a disco ball? Music: maybe a bit bland (and no merengue, no reggaeton? well, perhaps you can’t expect reggaeton at a Valentine Ball…) – but some faster, heavier music, some salsa dura, might have been welcome. Though I admit this is from the viewpoint of a Cuba fanatic: all those hours of sweaty dancing on cracked concrete in near-darkness, moving between the tropical heat outside and the freezing air-conditioning inside, have probably warped my brain more than a little.

Thanks, Girls: And here's looking at you too! (Next time I'll bring my camera...)

Thanks, Girls: And here's looking at you too! (Next time I'll bring my camera...)

The more people come to these events the more the atmosphere and the urgency are going to build, so watch for La Casa de la Salsa’s next production. Definitely worth the journey!

Best Cuban Salsa Night Outside Cuba?

For months I’ve been telling everyone who’ll listen that the best and most authentic Cuban salsa night in Manchester is Republic of Salsa. Last night (Saturday 5 Dec 09) I felt totally vindicated. It was pure dynamite: seriously, the best salsa night I’ve been to anywhere outside Cuba.

Lorraine mixes her salsa magic

Lorraine mixes her salsa magic

I’ll go further. Last time I went to Republic of Salsa I just caught myself heading for the bar to pick up another Cristal, and realised that for the past few minutes I’d truly slipped into thinking I was back in Havana. These club nights are that good.

Last night was a solid feast of Cuban beats: non-stop hardcore bailable Cuban salsa tracks at the son and timba edge of things, with enhanced edge and depth added by Jack McCarthy playing congas up there alongside the DJ deck. (He also had a set of timbales but mysteriously never seemed to touch them). Plus the usual garnish of reggaeton, bachata and merengue. The sound-system was superb, and the Irish Club’s new (or resurfaced?) dancefloor, which started off feeling a bit sticky, wore in nicely as the evening went on.

A rueda moment: !Arriba!

A rueda moment: !Arriba!

The session kicked off with Lorraine organising a huge beginners-friendly rueda and relentlessly heated up from there on.

The place was heaving and people danced their feet off. There was that intent, glistening, hypnotised, sweaty feel you get in Havana around two in the morning – though here it set in about eleven p.m. And pretty much everyone on the Manchester salsa scene was there, including two of the contenders for ‘coolest guy in the city’ in the form of Cuba Cafe’s Mo-ji and Baby Salsa’s Andre. Mo was resplendent in black beaded Native American buckskin and a shiny top hat; and Andre forsook his usual pose of pensive observer to dive in and dance by the hour. The sheer friendliness of everyone was tangible: laughing, smiling, kissing, grabbing hands. Was it possible, I wondered, that Chorlton really was becoming an outpost of Cuba?

Andre and Mo-ji: Cool or what?

Andre and Mo-ji: Cool or what?

Maybe the Irish Club’s refurbished bar and table area are a little too smart for the purist. I used to feel the tatty plaster and horrible curtains added to the sense of authenticity, giving the place that inimitable not-touched-since-1959 Havana look. But the newly smooth ceiling made a great arena for the lightshow. And for those who miss the grainy black-and-white Cuban movies on the rear wall, Lorraine tells me they’ll be back as soon as the new projector has been installed.

Jack McCarthy on Congas (and who's that beautiful girl?)

Jack McCarthy on Congas (and who's that beautiful girl?)

Republic of Salsa (promoted by Mancuban Salsa and Baby Salsa – see Facebook) runs first Saturdays of alternate months, so the next one should be 6 February. Do not miss it. This is a total-immersion Cuban dance experience you won’t find anywhere else. One day people are gonna wish they’d been there. You can. All you’re waiting for now is February.

Though if you can’t wait that long, you might still get to La Habana for New Year: check out key2Cuba.com

I’ll be reporting on Rohan Brown and Mojito live at the Tower Ballroom Blackpool (Fri 11 Feb) straight after the event. Watch this space! And if you still don’t have the two best albums by the best Cuban band, see below!

Talking about Salsa

1950s cars are still common in Cuba but they're disappearing fast

1950s cars are still common in Cuba but they're disappearing fast

Salsa isn’t something you talk about, surely? it’s something you do. But tonight I’m going to break that rule, because I’m off to speak to the Marple Arts Group about what it’s like to dance salsa in Latin America.

In 2007 I travelled through seven countries (Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, the Domnican Republic and the USA – well, Miami Fla. to be precise) learning the local styles and dancing in the local clubs. And there are people out there – in Marple and many other places – who may never dance, but who want to get a little of the flavour of what it was like.

It’s made a bit easier by the fact that I can play some of the music, and show some pictures – Latin America and the Caribbean are a gift to anyone with a camera because the light’s so good and the colours so rich.

And when I wrote my book about the journey – Travels on the Dance Floor – I put a lot of care into making the words as vivid as possible. A lot of people who’ve heard me read from the book say that it creates mental pictures which are like a movie in their heads.

Sharing the colours and textures of an experience like that with others is a great delight. And maybe it’s possible to share some of the romance as well. In salsa every dance can be a little three- or four-minute love affair with your partner. It opens your heart up.

Every person you meet, in any country, is a whole new world. And when they’re the opposite sex as well, then they might as well come from another (friendly) planet. Mars, Venus, wherever. To hold that lovely alien in your arms for a few minutes and dance is an amazing experience.

Telling people about an experience like this is a privilege, and the magic communicates itself. I enjoy these talks, and the audiences seem to find them great fun and respond warmly. Maybe some of them have already been inspired to pack their bags and jet off to Cuba or Colombia: places that need tourists and truly appreciate the kind of visitor who makes an effort to get into the local culture.

So Marple here I come, just pausing to choose a good salsa track to play in the car on the way!