Grevel Lindop

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

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!