Bohemian Rhapsody

Has Café Nostalgia lost that lovin' filin'?

The pain that generates the bulk of the album contrasts sharply with Cespedes's family life with his wife and daughter here in Miami Beach. Perhaps unable to contain his happiness, Cespedes confesses his love on a hidden track that, opening and closing with the cascade of his toddler's laugh, is as sunny as the rest of the work is melancholy.

If Cespedes keeps his happiness well segregated from his agony, David Torrens crams as many emotions and genres into his music as he can while still keeping one foot in the world of the troubadour. “He's a bizarre mix of Elvis Presley and Bola de Nieves,” observed one awestruck audience member at Café Nostalgia, trying to capture the fusion of rock and roll with Cuban balladry. The observer might have thrown Jerry Lewis into the mix as well, given Torres's wild stage antics.

The originator of the fusion-style he calls “rock and son,” Torrens says, “My music goes from the farthest extremes of the Cuban son and rock and roll and passes through every genre in between: the blues, Brazilian music. I think that the music I make breaks a bit with the tradition suggested by the word troubadour.”

Neotroubadours Cespedes and Torrens wax nostalgic for the Cuban underground
Photo Miami 2000
Neotroubadours Cespedes and Torrens wax nostalgic for the Cuban underground

In a dig at political songwriters such as Rodriguez and Milanes, Torrens describes his stage act. The dyed fluorescent blonde disdains what he calls “that total sobriety onstage. That deadly serious stage manner and supreme commitment to things political.” With his heels sliding frenetically open and closed and his hands drawing a whole band's worth of sound out of his acoustic guitar, he hardly needs to add, “I don't sit down and sing. Just because a song is profound doesn't mean that it has to be serious. Since I'm by myself onstage with my guitar, I have to work harder to grab people's attention. I have to be a showman and put on a spectacle. The word spectacle isn't usually what you associate with seeing a troubadour, but with me it's just as likely that you'll laugh as cry in the same song.”

Torrens shoots from the front to the back of the stage, acting out bits of the lyrics in the goofiest, most counterintuitive ways. While singing the title track of his 1997 CD Mi Poquita Fe (My Little Faith), he purses his lips and snaps his fingers as if he could find his faith again the way people look for lost dogs. He whipped the audience into a call-and-response frenzy with the chorus to “Love Machine.” His voice breaks at moments with emotion in the tradition of troubadour, then it pinches up into the nasal resonance of a traditional sonero, before soaring into an R&B wail.

On Torrens's upcoming release, the boy-and-his-guitar act is shored up with a full battery of horns, strings, and electric guitars. The tracks range from “regalitos,” brief acoustic numbers he gives as gifts to his listeners and the women in his life, to the reggae-cumbia number “Who Loves Me?” (the answer, in this peppy, bitter ditty is, “I do!”) to girl-dumps-boy lament highlighted by his vocal theatrics in “We'll See.” The title track, “Not from Here or There,” is a 50-50 mix of rock and son that already has become an anthem for his displaced generation.

Although Torrens continues to reside in Mexico, he recorded Not from Here or There in Miami, recruiting a host of hometown voices and hands for the project. At one point the ebullient singer-songwriter calls out to local saxophonist, Hamadis. Luis Bofil, late of the Grupo Nostalgia, shows up on the traditional son segment of the title track. The visitor practically swoons over his sessions here: “There's a mob of incredible musicians here, from everywhere,” he gushes. “Especially if you want a tropical touch; Miami is the perfect place.”

His enthusiasm extends to Café Nostalgia on Miami Beach. “This is the perfect place for shows,” he says. “I went up to Pepe to congratulate him. I told him that I want to do a concert here and he told me that I was the person to get his concert series going.” For Torrens the essence of Nostalgia has less to do with the décor than with the heart of the Café's founder. “Pepe has been a kind of tutor for us,” he says, speaking for the parade of musicians passing through town from the Caribbean and Latin America. “Pepe is a protector of musicians in Miami.”

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