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Friday, 22 June 2012, 03:19 PM

The New York Mega Timba Concert, Verse 2

Verse 2 - The Road To The Concert 
(para leer este reporte en Español oprima aquí)

Story by Bill Tilford - All Rights Reserved

In the first verse, I mentioned that there was a lot of skepticism about the concert among potential ticket buyers from the very beginning, but the promised lineup was exciting enough that many people were prepared to attend from all over the country anyway. Unfortunately, many others  wanted to wait until they were absolutely certain that the concert was legitimate, and quite a few people asked me whether this concert was real, so I made it a point to learn as much as I could about the details, and I did my best to reassure them that to the best of knowledge, the concert was the real deal, and I was planning to attend personally.   

In the weeks before the the original May concert date, it became apparent that not all of the originally-promised bands were actually going to make the concert. A very important and serious mistake during this period was the failure of the organizers to redesign and effectively redistribute  all of  their materials when it become obvious that some of the groups and musicians would not be participating in the concert for various reasons. As the May 26 date approached, the organizers made the decision to postpone the concert until June 16 and change the venue from the gigantic Armory Arena  to the smaller Copacabana. This would have been the ideal moment for them to have effectively distributed  a fully-adjusted talent lineup as well. Many ticket holders, including my two colleagues, assumed the worst after the date change and chose not to reschedule for the June date. From the reports that I have received, the organizers did at least appear to have been forthright and effective with processing the refunds that were requested. They also offered a  free “VIP upgrade” to existing regular ticket holders (more about this later). Personally, I was determined to continue in spite of the astronomical fees for  changing  my flight and the equally horrible hotel room rates for a room close to the Copacabana.   

As the June 16th date approached, the organizers did publish some video from some of the performers confirming the new concert (unfortunately, one of the videos was by Mayito Rivera,  who did not actually appear at the concert due to another commitment on the new date), the New York FM radio station La Mega ran some ads, and  (along with a few other websites) did its best to help get the word out about the concert. A couple of nights before the concert, many of the musicians were live on television in Miami.  This was favorably received, and it also had the benefit of proving that at least some of the musicians were actually in the country.  

I arrived in Manhattan the evening before the concert. I had booked a room in the Econolodge across the street from the Copacabana.  I did this in spite of the $200-plus per night rate (In some parts of the country, I think you can probably rent a floor for that)  and various  review website warnings that I would be paying for a space only slightly wider than the bed because (a) I wanted to stay as close as possible to the action, (b) the cheaper alternative, the New York Inn, had a lot of reviews that said “don’t go there”,  and (c) when I tried to go there anyway, they were supposedly all booked up. To my surprise, I had apparently booked the Econolodge version of the  Presidential Suite (or at least what they might offer deposed ex-Presidents from poor countries on the lam).   It was an actual room – the only room, in fact - on the top floor. This left me with some questions about how the reservation website magically steered me to this room while I was making reservations, but I also decided that it would just be too weird to go back downstairs and ask for one of those little shoeboxes that I had originally been threatened with by the hotel review websites.    

As I headed out for the evening, I walked by the Copacabana and noticed that there was no poster for tomorrow night’s concert outside of the club. I was later told that the event was not carried on the Copacabana website either. This probably did not help reassure the locals that everything was OK.   

Photo by Richard Williams (courtesy of Manuel Valera)

Manhattan is much better at Jazz than it is at Cuban music, so I went uptown and caught an absolutely wonderful set by Lenny White ’s quintet at a club called Smoke.  My real motive for doing this was that Manuel Valera and Tom Guarna were playing in this group, but the entire group including Lenny White, Wallace Roney, Victory Bailey, Manuel Valera and Tom Guarna  was excellent.  I had recently reviewed Manuel’s New Cuban Express and was curious to hear him in a more straight-ahead setting.  They did a wonderful tribute to Miles Davis’ Bitches’ Brew period, and Tom stretched out a lot more on guitar than he did on Manuel’s recording.   He will be worth watching in other projects that he gets involved with as well.   I also walked away from that performance with a new appreciation of just how much Miles’ music has influenced many members of the current generation of Cuban and other Latin Jazz musicians. 

...Pedrito, but not this time...

Later, I went over to Guantanamera, the 8th Avenue lair  of the Pedrito Martinez Group. Guantanamera is a very nice Cuban restaurant with very good food, but this is what it is; it is theoretically possible to dance in there, but there is no dance floor to speak of. Pedrito’s group wasn’t there that night,  and when I asked who was playing, I was told “We don’t know exactly who is playing, but it will be Cuban music.” Could this be some of Saturday’s musicians sneaking in to play for the night?  My hopes rose as I decided to stay and find out. As it turned out, the answer to that question was “no”, but there was a nice descarga by some local musicians that I will choose to call Grupo Incognito because they really didn’t want to be named either. (I saw this phenomenon in LA a few times years ago, so I am respecting their wishes.)   

As I went to bed that morning, I realized that things seemed awfully quiet for what was supposed to be the Timba concert of the decade.

CHORUS:   Even little things that look out of place can raise big suspicions. This is an important lesson for the future. 

Coming Next:  3rd Verse -  A Concert Against All Odds

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Friday, 22 June 2012, 03:00 AM

Vissión Latina Trio

Peter Maiden's Photos and CD Review

Click here for Peter's album review-photo gallery of VL Trio's new CD, Tradicionando.

VL Trio is the nucleus of the larger group, Vissión Latina, which has two CDs of its own. Follow the link for audio samples.

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Wednesday, 20 June 2012, 06:09 PM

The New York Mega Timba Concert - What Really Happened

Story by Bill Tilford, All Rights Reserved 
(para leer en español,  haga clic aqui)

Photo by Bill Tilford, all rights reserved

For better and for worse, this concert comes on the heels of a few earlier failed attempts by other promoters in other cities.   But unlike those earlier fiascoes, this time a concert really did take place.  It wasn't exactly the concert that was originally advertised, but it was a concert, it had more stars in the room than we have seen together in the United States before, and it was  a lot better musically  than I expected it to be after everything else that went wrong before the concert even started.   I was able to watch a lot of this story unfold, and towards the end, I actually wandered into some of it in ways that I never planned to do. This is a story that needs to be told, and hopefully we can all learn some things from the experience.    Hopefully one of those lessons will NOT be "Don't hire Timba bands",  but we will all need to learn the other lessons to prevent that from happening.

1st Verse -  Was this really a good idea to begin with?

It was only a year before this that the even more-sprawling Fuego Cuban Music Festival evaporated in South Florida.   In Echo Park (Los Angeles), a planned May 2011 Cuban music festival was cancelled due to funding issues.  (The LA Cubafest that did happen later in July 2011 featured Cuban-American bands, and attendance failed to meet expectations.)
In the meantime, some other tours by single bands from the island like Los Van Van encountered various problems that shortened or in some cases cancelled all or parts of their tours.   The result of all of these earlier problems was a new and understandable level of skepticism on the part of ticket buyers and venue owners.   For many of these people, the New York concert sounded too good to be true even before any of the real problems actually started.   Based on what I was hearing from Timba fans during the months before the New York concert, I'm really not sure whether ticket sales would have met expectations even if the promotion had been much better than it was.   
Nevertheless, the announcement was made - New York would have a Mega Timba Concert at the Armory in May 2012 with an historic collection of bands from Cuba. How could my colleagues and I NOT be excited about this?  Three of us made preparations to go and cover the event.   I was a little concerned at the time that the ticket-purchase website said "From Havanna to New York Non-Stop Timba Concert", and the artists included Puppy & Los Que Son Son.   and I mentioned to some colleagues at the time that it would be nice if they would spell the English version of Havana correctly, even better would be to get Pupy's name right.    This didn't inspire a lot of confidence in the people administering the concert.   Still, we were hopeful.   
When you add the usual and customary visa issues and consider the fact that individual bands all have their own agendas, it was probably too ambitious to try to bring this many full bands together in one place at the same time.   I think it would have been better if the promoters had planned and promoted a unified All Stars concert from Day One.   This was what was finally delivered, it was an excellent musical product, and most of the bad will generated by the project could have been avoided if it had been advertised this way.  Even more important, it is this reporter's opinion that the next few Timba concerts in the US should probably keep it simple:  one band - maybe two - from Cuba, if more music is needed, pair it with some suitable US talent.  It will be a while before there is enough confidence to try to repeat a concert like this one.   

Chorus:   In my opinion, the organizers tried to accomplish too much with too many bands. It is difficult enough to do a successful event with multiple bands using purely US talent. Once you go international, it becomes even harder.  This isn't just a Cuba thing - even European musicians have visa problems, and there are reasons why multiple groups from there don't do US tours together.  A much simpler concert could still have been a great success if advertised properly.  

Coming Next :  2nd Verse - The Road To The Concert 

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Wednesday, 20 June 2012, 10:36 AM


Tour Starts Saturday!

In preparation for the European Summer Tour 2012, Maykel Blanco has released a teaser from the upcoming CD. A 2:54 clip has been uploaded to YouTube and it includes the list of concert dates. The song is a guaguancó called "Bembe" with Yordis on lead vocals. Candela! If you didn't keep up with the dates in the video, we have posted them on the Maykel Blanco y Salsa Mayor Tours page .

The new CD should be out in the fall. The band still has to finish recording the horns on some of the songs before it can be mixed and mastered. I the meantime, enjoy the clip and I hope to see you at one of the concerts!

And a little Behind-the-scenes video from the recording studio...

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