Last weekend was a bit of a landmark occassion for me. I got to see a band that I'd wanted to see for a very long time, and I got to see another that I hadn't seen since I'd first started in salsa.
Sierra Maestra opened the evening at the Harrogate International Festival, and watching them play brought a whole mix of feelings. The first time I saw them was in 94/95 when Juan de Marcos Gonzalez and Jesús Alemañy were still in their line-up, and they were then promoting their album "Dundunbanza". They made an indelible mark on my consciousness then, not least because of how much their playing helped me; to feel my role as a dancer in Cuban music, but also as a teacher - many of their songs in that album were at the right tempo for my students to learn to.
I was to see them at least four more times over the next two years, then not at all until this year. And they played better on Saturday night than I ever remembered.
It could be that I'm more used to the genre now, that I appreciated the extent of their musicianship through their subtlety. They played every single number in their set with grace, passion, power, and conviction. Compared with Manolito who followed after, Sierra Maestra transmitted a palpable sense of camaraderie - a musical understanding of each other, born from many years of playing together.
The line-up was typical of the son-revivalist group: a bongocero/occassional conguero; bajista; three soneros on percusion menor and guitarra; trompetista; and tresero. I can't say enough how much I enjoyed their individual performances, and Sierra Maestra's as a collective whole. When you're named after the legendary birthplace of son, you've got a lot to live up to. And they did with aplomb and a sense of adventure, introducing the seldom-heard genres of sucu sucu and cocuye.
It was a humbling performance that made me proud to be a player of the genre, one that made me feel sorry for my fellow dancers from Sheffield who did not make the trip, for they would have been richer for of the experience.
Sierra Maestra would be a hard act to follow... which Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco would have to do straight after the interval.
Yeo Loo Yen