Havana Rumba, Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
It was fortuitous that I saw Havana Rumba on Budget Day. By 5.30pm that evening the Chancellor’s melodious tones on the severity of our financial situation and every radio journalist’s shrill condemnation of the ever growing size of our National debt was sending me into a spiral of despair and by the time I set out for Riverside Studios I was fast losing the will to live.
But what was a wonderful antidote to the Nation’s ills Havana Rumba proved to be, and long before the interval I felt the joy of living flow back into my veins with every beat of the Salsa drum.
Tony Gough’s show is a gem and is a reminder to us that out of poverty and oppression can spring such exuberance and creativity and that this musical genius continues to the present day.
The show centres loosely around the history of the Rumba, as told through the love affair of Papito and Nica, two poor Cubans who see Papito’s dangerous emigration to America on a home made raft as the only way out of their poverty and onwards to the path of opportunity. Tribute is paid to all those real life Papito’s who made that same journey but never reached the Promised Land. This is a topical tale indeed and one which could be re told substituting many nationalities who set out on similar quests in the world today.
But the joy and optimism of the show highlights the wonderful creation of dance music that has emerged from Cuba through a fusion of African slaves Yoruba drum and dance traditions mixed with Spanish flamenco. We know this as Rumba or Salsa, but the show brings us up to date with the younger generation’s new vibrant style called Reggaeton. Of course to the uninitiated all the styles can fuse together. Outside Strictly Come Dancing how many of can tell our Cha Cha from our Mambo? But in this show, who cares? The dancing is so spectacular and performed with such infectious energy that the technical names can happily pass us by, let’s just get moving! A traditional orchestra of drum, guitar and horn play with gusto and the songs and dances are performed with passion and humour. The acrobatic male style compliments the sensual hip gyrating dances of the girls, a little bit of Carnival come early.
Never one to enjoy the spectator role at someone else’s party, I was more than happy at the end to join in the Pantomime style audience dance-a-long, you know the routine: everybody step to the left, step to the right, wave your arms and twist around. Or better still, just shake yo’ ass and do your thang.
Forget fiscal stimulus or whether you should trade in your old banger or buy now and avoid Stamp Duty, for some real musical stimulus – take me to Cuba!
Info: Havana Rumba! The New Generation is at the Riverside Studios until 3 May.