Gilles Peterson, the Bienal and the art of dancing

Rafa was in Venezuela signing some important film agreement and the Bienal was in full swing.  The biggest art show in town, and its not just about art.  There are some crazy performances, lots of good music, a few parties ………. and of course plenty of art to keep everybody happy from the most commercial to the most ridiculous.

I managed to get to La Cabaña, the old fort over-looking Havana Vieja, on Sunday with the boys, where most of the art of the Bienal was being displayed in various interlinking rooms of the huge venue.  The boys were more interested in the cannons and climbing the walls of the fort but some of the more impactful visual stuff grabbed their attention.  A room of mirrors, a room of wooden boats standing on their sides of varying sizes, some amazing interactive sculptures in the courtyards and various other cositas like the painting of the crying boxer!

Unrelated to the craziness of the Bienal, I bought a photo of the Malecon from a student of ISA.  He arrived a little late round to my house where I was waiting with the photo for him to sign and me to pay.  He told me that a whole street in Havana Vieja had been closed as naked people sprayed bronze walked up and down.  He had been taking photos of the nudes and the faces of the Cuban public, who although used to seeing scantily clad people walking around town, were rather aghast at the nakedness!

I headed out to a party of an artist friend in his beautiful house in Vedado with some friends.  We stopped off at the National Hotel to pick up a journalist on the way and had a quick drink on the garden terrace overlooking the bay before heading back into the leafy residential streets of Vedado.  When we arrived the beautiful ruined house was already full of people and the music was pretty good out in the garden.  I bumped into Havana friends and foreign journalists and people working at Havana Club rum (who seemed to be sponsoring a lot of stuff), lots of artists and random music people.

I was just thinking I should be getting home when I saw a very familiar face across the room.  I had this strong feeling that he was British and that I knew him.  A friend of a friend from London maybe?  I approached him and asked him where he was from.  England.  What are you doing here? I’m a DJ and I’m playing at the inauguration party tomorrow.  Excellent I thought, as he slipped out the door alone, no DJ gang to be seen.  That’s Gilles Peterson, said a friend.  I knew he looked familiar!

I managed to case the party and find 3 invites for the following night for myself and a couple of friends.  With Rafa out of town I set up my young babysitter and her mother in the house so I could dance all night!  And it was worth it, I needed to dance.

Gilles is a name in the UK.  He has been a bastion of late night Radio 1 for what seems like the last 15 years.  His serious of albums titled Worldwide where all about mixing world rhythms with his own take on drum and bass.

He recently visited Cuba and cut a record with some famous musicians and DJs and put his finger on the pulse of new Cuban music. I am still not in a position to say if he got his finger right on the pulse, but I like Gilles.  He does his own thing and he appreciates differences.  I kept bumping into him at the party and he was always alone.  People watching, absorbing the atmosphere.  He didn’t need to have a crowd of people around him and was happy to talk to anybody and everybody.

The venue was the Sala Rosada de La Tropical, a huge outside venue with a sweeping staircase going down to the auditorium.  It was a hot night and everyone was quite sweaty dancing.  I can’t believe I was worried about my hair before I went out because by the end of the night it was a rather attractive sweaty wet mass and for some reason people kept taking my photo.  Gilles had introduced the evening ….. Gilles Peterson presenta La Havana Cultura Band, some live music from Danay Suarez, Osdalgia, Roberto Carcasses amongst others.  Gilles himself rolled out a pretty good set and the Cuban DJs that followed also kept me dancing.  Names to look out for Wichy de Vedado and DJ Simbad.

To wrap up with a quote from Mr Peterson:

“Having spent the last three years travelling regularly to Havana I’ve understandably become more attached to this fascinating, almost otherworldly city. I’m also slowly getting to grips with the relationship music has here with the spirits and its people… the drum goes deep.”
Gilles Peterson

The Drum goes deep …………. I like that!