Eliades and the Casa de la Trova

Posted by Ken Edwards on Thursday, March 5, 2009 Under: music
Eliades Ochoa was probably the youngest member of the band that recorded the Buena Vista Social Club album ten years ago (apart from Ry Cooder, that is) - he's only 63 now. On that album he sang "Chan Chan" and "El Carretero". He comes from eastern Cuba, and plays country style, with a strong son montuno flavour. He played the Brighton Dome last week. It was a must-hear for me.

He was much the same as the last time we saw him, six years ago at the Barbican, cowboy hat and all, though I don't remember him wearing glasses. He is a virtuoso of the cuatro, like a 12-string guitar but with only eight strings, if you see what I mean. The band was: second guitar & backing vocals; maracas & backing vocals; keyboard; bass guitar; percussion; and two trumpeters. Naturally they played all the favourites: Chan Chan, El Carretero, El Cuarto de Tula; Pintate Tus Labios, Maria (by request from a Spanish lady behind me - see this YouTube clip), Ay, Papacito. They were vibrant and in excellent humour. Eliades does not appear to have learned any English at all yet - not even a "Hello, Brighton!" He congratulated us on our enthusiasm and proclaimed us part of his world-wide family.

On the mantelpiece in our kitchen there's a postcard of Eliades several years ago playing at the Casa de la Trova in Santiago de Cuba, his home town. Elaine and I were there almost exactly a year ago, spending a week in a hotel round the corner from the Casa de la Trova, which we could scarcely bear to leave. It's a fairly ramshackle colonial Cuban building on two storeys, and there's live music twelve hours a day: one band or singer after another, from young dudes to ancient matriarchs, all seemingly virtuosos of traditional Cuban music. Most tourists spend ten minutes there, take a picture and drop a couple of convertible pesos in the hat. But the musicians love it when you stay, and indeed return for a second or third visit.

On our final day, we thought we'd catch the late evening show. It was packed out. We didn't know that the Septeto Santiaguero, who were headlining, were the biggest son band in Eastern Cuba. And they were dynamite, I couldn't get over it. Their status (they tour abroad officially) was reflected in the quality of their kit, but they seemed unassuming when I approached them. The tres player who arranges their material, Fernando Dewar, told me he couldn't legally sell me their latest album, Los Mangos Bajitos, recorded in Spain, because it wasn't licensed in Cuba. (I did manage to procure it, though it felt like more like scoring than shopping.)

The Brighton Dome is a long way from the extended village that is Santiago, Cuba's second city. It must have felt like that for Eliades Ochoa, despite his assertion that he was among family. I like to think that if he dropped into one of the music pubs in Hastings old town he would feel somewhat at home.

In : music 

Tags: "eliades ochoa" cuba 
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Ken Edwards This blog is written by Ken Edwards, co-founder and editor/publisher of Reality Street, and it's mainly about the press. Ken's personal blog can now be found at http://www.kenedwardsonline.co.uk