By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
It all began warm and fuzzily enough at Billboardlive, where imperious producer Emilio Estefan, Jr., welcomed omnipresent trumpeter Arturo Sandoval "into the Crescent Moon Records family." When the fanfare subsided and those eager to associate their name with the virtuoso left the stage, Sandoval gave a breathtaking performance of the piano numbers slated to appear on the upcoming Crescent Moon release. His eyes screwed up in painful memory, his mouth wide open with joy, his fingers tickled the keys now with sinuous tenderness, now with the same breakneck speed with which he dominates the trumpet. By the time he indulged the crowd with an encore on the horn, it was easy to forget that the trumpet is the source of his fame. When he gave up instruments altogether and scatted into the basement of his soul, there no longer seemed any reason to seek music anywhere else.
But the next night in Greater Havana brought the Cuban ensemble Los Fakires to Hoy Como Ayer, teasing the ¡Fuácata! crowd with a spare Zenlike take on traditional Cuban son. Dressed in pinstriped dress pants, racing-striped windbreaker, and straw porkpie hat, sonero Cascarita looked impossibly old but sang with a voice before , before Castro, before the Cuban divide. But that does not mean he is beyond mischief, peering out at the bevy of bikini-tied bohemians and protesting when his bandmate suggested fans purchase the CD, "because we are too old for you to take us home." Cascarita shook his head, as wrinkly and wise as a tortoise's. There is preliminary talk of a U.S. distributor for Los Fakires' stunning CD. Safe bet: It won't be Crescent Moon.
Friday brought me to the Mambo Festival, graced by the revered elders of rhythm Mongo Santamaria and Candido. "I walk like I'm 100 years old," boasted the 80-year-old Candido after being escorted to the congas, "but I play like I'm 20." He did indeed, leading the orchestra through the highs and lows of Perez Prado's "Concierto para Bongó," striking fire, then as suddenly stilling the skins with his elbows, with his forehead. Reminding the audience of Candido's role in introducing the congas into the big band, Grammy-nominated drummer Bobby Sanabria admonished in his introduction: "We must honor the past. Not just remember it; honor it." If his New York accent were not enough, this sentiment was a dead giveaway that the drummer does not dwell with us in the nonstop-nostalgia of Greater Havana. In order to honor the past, it is first necessary to leave it.
So I headed for the Argentine Passion Festival. Argentina is not a country susceptible to nostalgia. Even Carlos Gardel, the great tango singer who died in a tragic plane crash in 1935 -- just about the same time the country's economic prosperity also took a terminal dive -- is not remembered so much as resurrected: "He sings better every day."
Arriving just as the crew was setting up for headliners La Mosca, I was whisked onstage by a woman in braids and a cowboy hat. "Maradona," she confided, waving toward a chubby man twisting with a toddler. I did a double take: Was it him? Had he somehow outfoxed the immigration crackdown meant to keep terrorists and Castro chums off our shores? Would the washed-up sports legend now be hitting the links in Southwest Miami-Dade with OJ? No, it was his brother, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the fútbol great and plans to open a soccer school in South Florida sometime soon.
Although this was ostensibly a rock concert, the atmosphere onstage was like the last gasp of a wedding reception. Members of Maradona's extended family took turns sitting on speakers and twirling various small fry in the air. Hugo Maradona donned the braided woman's cowboy hat and marched like one of the seven dwarves center stage. Lead singer Guillermo Novellis threw his arm around frère Maradona's neck and began a cancan.
Meanwhile the throng in front of the stage looked more like an hincha in Boca, the dicey Buenos Aires neighborhood where Maradona once thrilled the masses. Jersey-clad youth, not scared away by the late hour or the light rain, chanted and jumped in place as if at any moment La Mosca's bald, goggle-eyed singer might score a goal. As Novellis exhorted the crowd, the full brass section blared ska; the drummer and timbalero burned up Latin percussion; while the lead guitar, bass player, and any number of rhythm guitarists who kept wandering in and out of the set launched into all-out arena rock. "Three bands for one low price," observed my companion, before an idle musician from the band Los Tulipanes, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and checked pants, dragged her into a jig.