Grevel Lindop

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

Mojito Heats Up Albert Square in Manchester Jazz Festival

It was a superb salsa workout last night as local Latin bands Diaspora and Mojito put on dazzling performances as part of the Manchester Jazz Festival.

Diaspora keep the dancers happy

Diaspora (whom I hadn’t heard before) took us through a whole range of music including son and samba as well as salsa. They’re a big orchestra – 14-piece as far as I could count from where I was – with emphasis on brass, piano and vocals. The style is Latin jazz, not unlike the Alex Wilson sound if you’re familiar with that: some of it just forced you to get up and move, and all of it was highly listenable. I hope to hear a lot more of Diaspora.

Mojito hypnotises dancers with authentic Cuban goodtime music

As for Mojito, well, I’m fanatical about their music. If you’re not familiar with them, you might think at first that they’re less polished than the very slick Diaspora, but the fact is they have an inimitable Cuban texture and spontaneity: the music is chunkily percussive, the rhythms magical and muscular, and there’s a huge charm and humour in Damian’s singing. This is real intense Cuban good-time music and it has the hypnotic power of the Orishas, the flavour of Afro-Cuban spirituality inside it. There isn’t another band like Mojito around, and hence the huge following they’ve built up.

Sure enough, they progressively whipped up the audience into sweaty salsa heaven and their final number was a crazy tour-de-force of exuberant vocal gymnastics from Damian, utterly wonderful because he shares so much joy and has such a rapport with his audience.

One plea to the organisers – could we have a real dancefloor next time so the ladies don’t break their heels on the cobbles?

I just hope the Manchester Jazz Festival has won a host of new admirers for these two great Manchester bands – and maybe for salsa too.