As I leave the shivering city centre behind and open the doors to the Classic Grand’s Main Hall, I’m forced to ask myself if I really am still in Glasgow, because the scenes that greet me would imply that a wrong turn has led me to somewhere decidedly more exotic. The room, which glows under warm orange lighting, is a mesmerising frenzy of fast feet, and hips swinging in time to sounds of salsa blaring from the speakers. In a lively demonstration of the affinity between the twinned cities, the Glaswegian crowd embraces the vibrant atmosphere and the floor is densely packed with spinning couples, ensuring that everyone’s dancing shoes are well and truly broken in by the time the band arrives onstage.
Havana D’ Primera were brought together by renowned musician and group frontman Alexander Abreu in 2008, and are now regarded as one of Cuba’s greatest salsa bands. Their timely trip to Glasgow coincides with the lead up to our Havana Glasgow Film Festival, which includes ‘Me Dicen Cuba’ in its programme; a documentary which features the band and explores the world of Cuban music.
Abreu has proved a hugely influential figure on his country’s cultural scene, and so naturally the music which Havana D’ Primera makes embodies the sounds synonymous with Cuba. Their style is vibrant, energetic, and works brilliantly in a live setting; their powerful percussive beats act as a strong foundation for the traditional rhythms of music such as rumba and salsa, with a richly textured brass introducing an element of blues and group vocal harmonies bringing all of the components together. The band are remarkably tight, especially considering their number, and frequent changes in tempo and dynamics are achieved in perfect synchronicity with apparent ease.
Although a stage packed with musicians doesn’t leave much room for dancing, the group have an incredible presence, and perform with a relentlessly high level of energy. The hold which Abreu in particular has on the crowd is incredible to see, and at the slightest flick of his wrist the whole venue is moving together under his direction.
The set is an education in Cuban music, with the band carefully demonstrating the breadth of musical styles included in their wider genre by jumping from noisy, party atmosphere tracks to slower, sultry numbers, which are all equally enjoyed by the entranced audience. The night’s conclusion is met with ringing ears and exhaustion from dancing, but the one overwhelming feeling is the thirst for Cuban culture, which certainly bodes well for the coming month.