“Weird” Music at Havana’s La Tropical

By Norge C. Rodríguez

Honningbarna at the La Tropical. Photo: Yenier Martinez Carrillo

HAVANA TIMES — It’s 10 at night on Friday, March 6. Two young men standing outside the entrance to Havana’s Salon Rosado cabaret ask the bouncer who will be playing that night. The man simply replies: “They’ll be playing this weird music today.”

That night, one of the country’s most important dance venues, was the stage of yet another Love and Peace Festival, organized by the Fabrica de Arte Cubano Project and sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, the Cuban Music Institute and the Norwegian Embassy.

Rock bands from Norway, Sweden and Cuba took the stage formerly occupied by Cuba’s Los Van Van, La Charanga Habanera and El Micha.

In addition to good music, the Swedish band The Vanjas exposed audiences to a peculiar rock apparel. The lead singer was dressed in a sequin dress and the instrumentalists in tails and ties – formal clothes that contrasted starkly with their uninhibited performance on stage.

Norway’s rock band Honningbarna (“Honey Boy”) stood out for its rather atypical format, in which one of the vocalists played a violoncello in a peculiar fashion while singing.

Curiously, the members of the band identify with the Palestinian people and, in order to express their sympathy towards them, unfold the Palestinian flag during their performances (as they did at the Salon Rosado).

Vanjas in the La Tropical. Photo: Yenier Martinez Carrillo

I also found out that they espouse an ideology to the left of anarchism, accompanying their statements with an irreverent language, as we were able to confirm at the end of their performance, when they yelled: “You are the revolution!” and a phrase in Norwegian: “Ikke la deg rive med” (“follow your own path”).

Unfortunately, I was unable to stay till the end of the show and didn’t get to see Cuban musician X Alfonso close the night at La Tropical, though, minutes before leaving, we asked him to play Arena de Soledad (“The Sands of Loneliness”), one of his most popular pieces.

In recent times, Cuba has opened its doors to new rhythms and sounds. We are putting behind the years when, regrettably, foreign music was considered invasive and sometimes even a means of political provocation. Thanks to great effort and to an acceptance of what is natural, obvious and evident, Cuba now has audiences for all kinds of music. Despite this, some still consider the music heard at La Tropical that night a little “weird.”