Monday, October 15, 2007

13th October 2007 Leeds Charity Salsa Ball @The Met Hotel (Part 1)

It was the beginning of summer 2007, I was lounging around in Cubana on a Saturday afternoon. Nicolai had just finished his lessons and we were catching up, as we normally do after an age of not having done so simply because our lives had gotten in the way. It was then that he popped the question.

"Would 4 de Diciembre like to play at the inaugural Leeds Charity Salsa Ball?"

"Sure!" I said.

Friends and organisers:
The Cheeky Shanti and the Delectable Jo

Summers being summers, people were away on holiday at overlapping times and we had the pressure of recording timbales then bongó and djembe. What seemed like a goodly amount of time soon started to evaporate; and our preparations for two killer sets started to acquire a fevered pitch. Pressures mounted, and over the ensuing weeks there were more that a few heated discussions between band members. Certainly, we could have made things a lot easier for ourselves by choosing a safer route with the playlist, but that's just not our style - simply because it would feel like we weren't doing our best for the people who make the effort to come to hear us play.

Amazed at the Might of Jan's violin solo. Photograph courtesy of Shanti T, Copyright 2007. All rights reserved

One of the key pressure points was my intention (and I shoulder the burden of blame) to debut Bembé, even though it hadn't been fully arranged yet. My extended absence in Asia and the States and a bad case of traveller's flu afterward put paid to our ability to practice it. But still, I really wanted to do it to make the Charity Ball an extra special occassion, and to thumb my nose at conventional wisdom. True, few people would appreciate it, but the people who mattered would. Everyone in Cuatro de Diciembre put in a Herculean effort and Bembé survived final cull for the playlist with two days to spare. It emerged as one of the sparkling gems of the night, and the gathered were only told of its debut after the last strains had faded away.

We arrived at the Met hotel in plenty of time, and James our excellent sound engineer was already a good way through setting up his PA. The main hall is an acoustic challenge with highly reflective glass surfaces in the form of mirrors behind the stage, freely vibrating glass panes at the far end, corners that trapped bass, and a vaulted ceiling. That caused the soundcheck to take a little longer, but having the excellent AMT microphones on the melodics and the Markbass units for Ana's bass made the job a easier.

Most of the band were labouring under the weight of flu, with Catie and Nathan at their worst. Whilst they were resting after soundcheck, I put my glad rags on and went out to mingle.

A li'l care and attention:
Mike (trombonist) helping Wib (conguero) tart himself up

Having hired bands myself in a previous life, one of my pet peeves were of the ones who just turned up, played, took the money, and scarpered. When salseros attend a live music event, they do so not only to experience the performance. Such is the nature of Latin bands that the people who play the music are more accessible to the dancers than in other genres. In every gig by a top salsa band I'd been to, be it Spanish Harlem, Ricardo Lemvo or Manolito, some members always made a personal appearance either at the bar or dance floor after playing.

I decided to go one better and start promoting before the gig; Nicolai and I both knew how important it was that the first Charity Ball be successful...

(On to Part 2)

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