Scandinavia 1983

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Scandinavia 1983

Postby Thomas Altmann » Fri Mar 13, 2020 9:23 pm

Dear Congaplace members,

this message does not imply any request or question. Just recently I came across a couple of Youtube video clips showing the Conjunto Rumbavana in Sweden 1983 that really hit me, because I was there - in 1983. I would like to share my memories with you, if you don't mind.

I was 28 years old, an ardent fan of Cuban music. However, I was associated with the Brazilian scene in my town Hamburg at that time, and so it turned out I was offered a 4-week-tour in Scandinavia with a less than mediocre Samba trio with dancers. It was February, and we were actually shuttling back and forth between Stockholm (Grand Hotel) and Helsinki (Hotel Hesperia). We even played on the ferry at wind force 10. (The dancers had a hard time, but interesting to watch.) The whole event was named Carnaval Tropical (or so).
While my own gig was more strenuous than spectacular in several respects, I was thrilled to learn that one of my favourite Cuban bands of all time, the Conjunto Rumbavana, was touring with us, as was the Machito orchestra, featuring solo trumpeter Chocolate Armenteros and singer Celia Cruz, with Ray Romero on the bongo.
Whenever I had a chance in my time off, I was there, watching Rumbavana, happy to hear some of my favourite tunes performed live by the original band. I even danced. Sometimes I was hanging out with them, although my Spanish was close to zero. Bongocero Tino Alonso taught me the baqueteo de Danzón, which I still play the way he showed me. I could also be seen with a pencil and piece of paper, trying to notate Pica's (Rolando Sigler) picadillo-style tumbadora rhythm. Pica played the red-and-white Cuban congas (Sonoc?) that sounded like heaven and almost played by themselves.
To me, Joseíto González' arrangements are still perfect examples of tasteful, traditionalist arrangements in clave, without ever sounding too simplistic.
During the show sections of Rumbavana's performances, they had a small troupe of very youthful dancers from the Tropicana cabaret, choreographed and trained by no one less than Santiago Alfonso. Santiago and I hung out a few times. I didn't know how famous he was. He presented me with a copy of Helio Orovio's Diccionario de la música cubana, because he insisted that I needed it. I still have it, with his handwritten dedication on the blank front page, but the back meanwhile torn off.

As you can see, quite a few people in the audience had those beer cans in their hands. They had been filled with some kind of grains or stones to make rude shakers, and the Scandinavians made happily use of them. I don't know about Finland, where drinking seems to be quite popular (especially during the dark winter season), but in Sweden alcohol was or is very expensive, even beer, and the Swedes are not generally used to its consumption. I leave it up to your imagination what happened with them on that event. I guess the brewery wanted to advertise its product, but I didn't find it very clever to hand the people those beer can shakers. The noise they made was horrifying, and on the next day some of the cans must have split up, so the contents were spread all over the place.
I also took a chance to visit a rehearsal of the Machito band. When Chocolate took his solo, he hit me again like three years ago in Berlin: He brought tears to my eyes. I have seen a lot of great musicians in my life, but not too many of them were able to move me like that. Chocolate was special. Every morning he came to the dining room for his hotel breakfast, he had his checkered jacket (or suit) on, perfectly ironed shirt and tie, very dignified and impressive. Our girl dancers just loved him.
Also, it was interesting to see Celia on the rehearsal, sitting on a chair with a microphone in her hand, and chewing gum while she sang with the same hot "azucar" approach as on stage: So she didn't need her furious show; she was singing like that anyway, anytime!
One evening Machito's son, who played timbales with his band, had not shown up in time, so Ray Romero took over the timbales for an instrumental, while his beautiful dark solid-body bongos were lying out of use on his chair. I figured I could help out, took his bongos that were not even tuned und played with them, wondering why Ray did not really seem to be pleased about my gesture. Decades after the incident, I still felt embarrassed about my ignorance and lack of respect. I had not realized that they had chosen a charanga style accompaniment. Even for touching this master's unique instrument I might have been killed; but Celia was very friendly. She was thanking me. Probably she had realized that I wanted to help out, and how much I loved the music. And exactly for this reason, I don't feel embarrassed today anymore. Otherwise I would not tell the story now.
Apart from the music, I will never forget one morning, when we had a few days off in a little Finnish town called Lappeenranta. I woke up very early, dressed and went out on the street, with those wooden houses and a wooden church. The snow was deep and was lying heavily on the trees. The silence was just unbelievable!

I hope you enjoyed the video, and that I did not bore you with my little report.

Thomas Altmann
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Re: Scandinavia 1983

Postby Chtimulato » Sat Mar 14, 2020 12:08 pm

I wasn't bored at all, Thomas, it's a nice story.
Großartige Anekdote. :)
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Re: Scandinavia 1983

Postby Derbeno » Thu Mar 19, 2020 7:46 pm

Good one
Echale candela, p'afinar los cueros
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Re: Scandinavia 1983

Postby jorge » Mon Mar 23, 2020 4:06 pm

Great story Thomas, and nice video from back in the day.
Here is Papa Gofio (Tino Alonso, ibae) clowning around in top form, playing bongo over the whole amplified orchestra with no mic in a large theater. QEPD. And Rolando Sigler had a nice style on 3 congas.
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Re: Scandinavia 1983

Postby Thomas Altmann » Tue Mar 24, 2020 8:48 pm

Thanks to all for your feedback!

Jorge: I've seen Tino's show several times in '83; apperntly the clip you linked is exactly from the same event (notice the beer can shakers).

The more I think about it, Tino had even more influence on me as I thought. He was the reason why I chose the 9"+ 7" bongo pairing offered by Gon Bops in the 1980s. And, believe it or not, I also played bongos and congas without mics against complete amplified (!) orchestras and was heard and applauded. I don't know whether I still could do the same thing today, but I have done it, even in my fifties.

Off-topic: Yesterday I listened to the Senén Suárez Conjunto and "discovered" bongocero Panchito Bejerano. I had known his name from an Emiliano Salvador record; but back then with Senén Suárez he was burning, probably because he had more chance to really blow. Emiliano must have had a knack for including veteran musicians - same with Roberto García, or trumpeter Jorge Varona.

Kosi arun ...

--- Thomas
Thomas Altmann
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Joined: Sun Jul 02, 2006 12:25 pm
Location: Hamburg

Re: Scandinavia 1983

Postby Siete Leguas » Tue Jun 02, 2020 10:12 am

Great story, Thomas. I am particularly envious about having met Celia Cruz. She is one of my favourite performers of all time and I have the impression that she must have been a very charming woman.

Also nice to have discovered Chocolate Armenteros. I didn't know him, will look for some recordings.


PS. Those shirts tho... :roll:
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Re: Scandinavia 1983

Postby Thomas Altmann » Tue Jun 02, 2020 10:33 pm

I am particularly envious about having met Celia Cruz. She is one of my favourite performers of all time and I have the impression that she must have been a very charming woman.

It would be interesting to listen to the musicians who worked with her. To me, she came across as very down-to-earth, with the particular dignity of someone del pueblo who made her way all up to the top, but never forgot her roots. In her performance on stage she was totally professional, just la diosa del ritmo. But on that rehearsal she did not display the diva at all; she was one of the musicians, a good fellow, doing her job as everybody else.

I remember one other incident when she performed at the Fabrik in Hamburg (I don't remember the orchestra). In the audience was Jesús Guerra, who had been living in Hamburg for decades then. He was the composer of songs like "A mi qué", "El Tiburón" and "No sé lo que me pasa", which Celia had sung with the Sonora Matancera. When Celia spotted him, she became truly excited, pulled him on stage, introduced him to the people, saying she had not seen this guy in 40 years. This was real, it wasn't for the show. She must have kept a big heart through all her life.

Thomas Altmann
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Joined: Sun Jul 02, 2006 12:25 pm
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