Last night I went to see Cheveré, a Latin jazz band (or is it a “red hot Afro-Cuban salsa/fusion band” or maybe a “Latin/Jazz/Funk/Blues Band, mixing Afro- Cuban, Brasilian, Jazz, Blues, and just about everything else together” — so says the wordy Web) that’s become legendary in Chicago music circles. The band was performing with Boomshaka, NU’s percussion/dance group.
There’s no easy way to describe what I heard from Cheveré. The sonic distribution of the drum sets, harmonica, Hammond B-3 and the Gilligan’s Island rest keeps the ears at attention and the eyes struggling to keep up with perception.
But imagine the presidential palace in Havana. Every morning Fidel Castro wakes up from his four or five hours of sleep, rolls his belly out of bed and begins his day. Eventually, he straps on his wristwatch, face down as usual, and heads to the palace offices. Assistants hand him the latest memos and briefs. Gracias. More rafts escaping past the army’s motorboats. More harsh words from the democracies. More crumbling in a crumbling nation.
A gofer yanks open the elevator gate, and Castro steps in, shuffling through the stack of papers, the bad news, on the way to the top floor and his personal office. The door closes, and the dim car lurches upward. Castro drops his arms to his sides and rests his eyes. No mas, no mas.
From the speaker in the car’s ceiling, music begins to fall down on him. The muzak is his own, his choice — a little FM tinny but the instruments make it through. The trumpet soars over the bang of the timbales, and a piano dances back and forth around them. Could easily enough be Cheveré.
He doesn’t even tap to the beat, but he listens intently, eyes still closed. When the elevator reaches the top, he opens the gate and saunters across the carpet of the wide room. He lays the papers on a desk and clasps his hands behind him as he looks out the picture windows. The sun is halfway up the sky, and there’s not a cloud over the trees and concrete of Havana.
In the warmth of the sunlight, he squares his shoulders and puffs out his stomach under the guerilla cloth shirt. It is another day in Cuba, and he is Castro.