Grevel Lindop

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

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.

Mojito Magic at Tower Ballroom

Salsa band ‘Mojito’. Blackpool Tower Ballroom December 2010 from Simon Lowe on Vimeo.

Mojito warming up for the show

Local salsa band Mojito gave us another wonderful night at the Tower Ballroom Blackpool on Saturday. Almost everyone from Manchester salsa was there – big contingents from Les and Lorraine’s ManCuban and from Sola Salsa’s Spreadeagle Tuesday Rueda clan as well as lots of old friends from Opus, La Tasca and elsewhere.

Amanda with Rohan Brown - Why do they find this guy so irresistible? (Note to self: Wear black tie next time...)

Mojito were well on form with their typical chunky, authentic Cuban sound, excellent percussion from Christian Weaver and Rich Silwa and fine brass, keyboards and the rest from other great musicians I sadly don’t know by name.

And there were two vocalists – Damien and a friend who again, regrettably, I don’t yet know personally but hope to get introduced to. The vocals were as crisp and inventive as ever, with lots of neat little dance setps and Damien’s sense of comedy and verbal invention well on display. It’s wonderful to see these guys enjoying themselves so much on stage and it’s very infectious too.

The crowd was heaving, the sprung floor was bouncing

I hadn’t been to the Tower Ballroom before and it really is stunning: the vast height of the ceiling reminds you of a cathedral and the whole place is overrun with lavish flowing gold ornament and these incredible ceiling paintings – ladies with Chinese partasols flying through the air, people in carnival masks and holding lutes floating serenely among the clouds – it reminded me of the opium dreams of my favourite writer, good old Thomas De Quincey.

A wonderful setting. With the music powering away – long, inventive, exciting songs with plenty of improvisation and plenty of that sexy rumba feeling to them – it was a marvellous evening and I was sad to leave.

Check out Mojito on Facebook for news of their Christmas party, and don’t forget they’re also playing at Hollingworth Lake on 27 December just to blast away any post-Christmas sleepiness and head us for the New Year in dynamic style! ¡Feliz Navidad, amigos!

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.