Sampling a Taste of Cuba

The Cuban sextet Vocal Sampling's concert last Thursday night at the Lincoln Theatre in Miami Beach was an outpouring of joyful noise; the euphoria in the hall matched that of a gospel summit. Using only their voices and hands, the group performed originals and classics from the island. A crowd of 700 young and old, Anglo and Latin spectators that included many Miami Cubans sang along and laughed at the singers' Spanish banter.

It was emotional proof that you can go home again. It was also the first U.S. State Department-sanctioned concert by a Cuban band in Dade County since a trade embargo was imposed 35 years ago. "The community's response was so great. There was such love in the exchange between the audience and the group," says Manning Salazar, a partner in Ceiba Productions, the local promoters that organized Vocal Sampling's appearance. "It felt like everyone was one big family. I think the concert was an overwhelming success."

The sold-out two-hour show was a smash by any measure. But it was especially significant because of the U.S. government's approval. In the past, officials have discouraged Cubans from applying to play in Miami because of possible violence by exile groups. In April, Cuban salsero Issac Delgado appeared here in an unauthorized performance. As with Vocal Sampling's, that program went off without a hitch. Last week Washington waited until the last minute to grant Vocal Sampling's visas. The group arrived from Havana just a couple of hours before curtain time.

Backstage after the show the performers beamed as they greeted well-wishers. Group leader Rene Banos was overwhelmed by the response. He said the band members had been afraid to perform in Miami, expecting protests or poor attendance.

As it turned out, the only groups gathered outside the theater before the show were ticket buyers. Inside, the only disorder was that of the frequent standing ovations. Indeed, it would have been difficult to imagine anyone objecting to the beatific stage presence of the six talented young men, whose vocal acrobatics, fast-footed choreography, and boyish clowning had a uniquely Cuban sabor. While the band's original numbers were well received, the biggest applause came after familiar songs by other Cuban bands, including Los Zafiros, Los Van Van, and even revolutionary troubadour Silvio Rodriguez. The group's final number was the classic "La Negra Tomasa."

Audience members were giddy as they left the theater, some heading to an after-show party at the nearby Starfish Club, where partygoers didn't speak much about politics, visas, or precedents. They were trying to guess which Cuban band will come next. And when.


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