Due to the rain at the Film School’s 25th Birthday party in December, Los Van Van did not get to play. The students put on some great tunes and we still danced until breakfast, however Los Van Van honoured their promise to play at the Film School and finally came back last Friday. Two nights before, the heavens had opened with another terrific downpour and Rafa was convinced that they were never going to get to play, but although the sky was grey over the sea when we woke up that morning, the island climate was kind to us.
So who are Los Van Van? (loosely their name could be translated as The Go-gos). When I heard their name here in Cuba I thought they were saying the Bambams, which sounded to me like a caveman TV series for children and not one of the coolest bands on the island. When I was telling Cubans and long term expats that Los Van Van were playing at the party I noticed a certain soulful reverence from most people as though I was talking about the Beatles or the Stones, and it seems that Los Van Van have been round for almost as long as those pop legends. Formed in 1969 by their bass player Juan Formell and arguably Cuba’s most successful post-revolution band. Their founder, is one of the most important figures in contemporary Cuban music. Many other stars have passed through Los Van Van school of music before heading off for solo careers.
So we were in for a treat. I managed to rustle up a few Habana friends to make the journey out to the Film School last Friday night, and we were not to be disappointed. Teachers and students from all over the world, workers and their families from San Antonio de los Baños, all came together to dance and party with Los Van Van, a really wonderful cross-section of people and a great show.
The first thing that impressed me was the amount of people on stage. As though some big impromptu family party had set off a musical event, from your old grandpa veteran to the new and young, hip-thrusting tight trouser wearing youngsters.
Using what is known as a charanga line-up (flute, string and rhythm) as its base, Los Van Van added trombones and were said to be the first Cuban group to use synthesizers and drum machines way back when such things were unheard of. Initially, their sound was a fusion of son montuno, rumba, and North American rock and pop if you can work that one out, and try and imagine what it sounds like. Later they incorporated funk, disco, and hip hop. So with all that going on, you have a little bit of something for everybody and you could see that in the crowd, from grandmas to stunned toddlers in arms being rocked around by their parents.
Los Van Van are also known for their clever use of double entendres and word plays in their lyrics. Some of the stories in their songs span several albums! Obviously most of this clever stuff went sailing right over my head but at one point Rafa said they were improvising and singing about him and the film school. When he tuned into it, he was too late to hear exactly what! Damn I thought. I wanted to know just how cheeky they were!
In the end I liked Los Van Van. Their performance and style was one of unpretencious good fun and good music with no rules. Just join in and dance how you like ……and I did! I even was dragged around in a conga at one point by one of the kitchen ladies!
Check out your local listings as maybe Los Van Van are coming to a theatre near you. They spend a large portion of the year travelling the world and performing, so I consider myself very honoured to have caught them at the very Cuban and more intimate setting of the basketball court next to the swimming pool behind the student residence!
Ooh and the ham and cheese sandwich that Rafa and I had at the bottom of the basketball court around 1am was the best one of my life. I was woken up the next morning by my really annoying mother’s internal clock at the usual time of 7 am (never mind that the children were in Habana with the nanny) with a mild hangover, starving and dreaming about that sandwich. Lots of bottles of rum were being passed around the dance floor that night! When in ron ………….. and all that. That’s my new witty double entendre that obviously nobody gets but me, but it makes me chuckle to myself as I neck someone’s proffered bottle like a true Cubana.
Anyway click here to check out some photos of the night by photographer Nicolas Ordoñez. If I was not on dial up I would have endeavoured to upload them but this way you can check them all out. See who can spot me in the crowd!