The Van Van Effect

Francisco Rafael Castro Cariacedo
Francisco Rafael Castro Cariacedo

It was strange to see a salsa orchestra perform at the Jazz Plaza Festival, as occurred recently at the event’s closing with the group Los Van Van. However, this was not the first time that maestro Chucho Valdes invited one of the most popular groups in Cuba to close the music gala.

I went with my friends on the final night to the Plaza Cultural Center, where Los Van Van was going to play, in addition to the Cuban group Top Secret y Emilio Morales and the Swedish band Jump4Joy.

The police guarded the entrance and checked the handbags and shoulder bags of anyone, almost without distinction. The controls made me think I was entering a scene of the Havana fringe – or rather Cuban marginality, since as we know they, like me, converge on the Cuban capital from around the entire country.

Cuba’s Most Popular Salsa Band Los Van Van
Cuba’s Most Popular Salsa Band Los Van Van

I am specifically referring to the people with those enormous golden chains hung around their necks and sporting baggy pants, gold-capped teeth, gold rings and all the other accessories – gold or not.

I also expected to see guys with mean scared faces, as testimonies of their turbulent pasts, and with their booming ethylic breaths accompanied by sinister, threatening and intimidating looks. I was almost certain I’d collide with one of those buffalo girls forcibly stuffed into their ready-to-explode jeans, complete with overflowing tattooed flesh hanging out of their spandex mini-blouses. The scenes at the entrance prepared me for that; and without being afraid of saying so, and being openly sincere, I admit that I felt fear.

Of course the search was done to prevent people from bringing in glass bottles, which could have resulted in a mishap should some fight have broken out between those who usually get into such brawls at these types of concerts. I knew that many people were gathered there just to enjoy the privilege of seeing Van Van perform live, and not everyone had the same level of tolerance and alcohol in their blood.

Inside I found with the lowlifes that I had expected, but there were also students like me, Latin Americans and people from all parts of the world, and even older people, and young kids – lots of kids. Plus, there were even people in suits and ties, like the man who we found sprawled out across the floor -laying more so than sitting- surrounded by books, enjoying himself in a profound high. To be continued…

One thought on “The Van Van Effect

  • Aren’t there programs in Cuba to reach out to these brutalized, lumpenized people you describe? I know Cuba is poor — but still: a socialist country should have the organizational wherewithal to be able to systematically deal with the alienation caused by relentless poverty and missed opportunities.

    Someone is really not doing their (assigned) job here, AFAIC.

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