Its a long way from the sunny streets of Vedado in Havana to the cold docks of Toronto but on Friday night I had hoped that the music would take me back to those days. I lived in Havana when David Calzado started the new Charanga Habanera and used to practice on the roof near the famous corner of dos y 23. The wonderful Charanga sound would waft through the bustling corner and everyone knew who it was and stood on the street listening and sometimes dancing.
I went to the Tropical and many other locations with my friends and Cuban family because they were candela.
On Friday night, November 9, the show started about 11:45 after a Spanish reggaeton rendition by three young men known as Zona Franca.
The opening instrumental had the quality that Charanga has always been known for, tight, in sync musicians, who know their craft. Then we were greeted by five young men, taking turns singing solo parts and demonstrating their excellent vocal qualities as well as the dancing abilities that Cubans are known for.
David, the maestro, came on stage to loud applause, that he seemed to ignore, as he strutted the stage singing into his mike every once in a while. The focus was on the five front men as David seemed to direct the band and point out the odd dance faux pas.
Then the spectacular seemed to take off into a different dimension. If you closed out the sound, you could actually visualize an American Hip Hop group. The acrobatics of the singers/dancers went from incredible dance moves to gymnastics, complete with back flips.
Charanga Habanera seems to have become a truly modern band that incorporates funk and rap-like vocals in an adrenaline charged Cuban salsa format, creating a new sound, as they sing about real life in Havana today. They have become the voice of the Cuban youth. However, at the same time there is an irony. Their music bears little resemblance today to Charanga (a more traditional form of Cuban music, featuring violins and flutes) this band consists of a heavy rhythm section, a group of singers, three trumpets and a saxophone.
The crowd loved them and danced with great abandon to every song. The women loved the dancers and their antics and the cold docks were transformed for a few hours to the sunny streets of Havana. Myself, I watched and listened as my mind wandered back to those days at the corner of dos y 23.