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First-class salsa with Alexander Abreu and Havana d' Primera

Led by trumpet player, composer and singer Alexander Abreu; Havana D'Primera (which could translate as First-Class Havana) is currently one of Cuba's greatest salsa bands. Bearing a sophisticated sound as well as poetic and popular lyrics, it has had the greatest success that any music group in Cuba could possibly hope to attain; the recognition of its dancers, and we don't mean their own dancers (they have none) but the people that love dancing to their music - their loyal fans. I invite you to come along and get to know them, in a place where you can dance to its fascinating music; the Casa de la Musica de Miramar; one of the venues in which the group performs every Tuesday.

First-class salsa with Alexander Abreu and Havana d' Primera

In the so-called island of salsa, where there are as many salseros (salsa groups) as rock bands in England, to found a new band and have success may turn out to be quite an odyssey; unless a genius is behind it all. In 2008, Alexander Abreu along with a group of musician friends, emerged from a magical Aladdin lamp and did just that when he founded Habana D'Primera; an explosive mixture of jazz, Afro-Cuban music and funk.

In Cuba, phrases like "de primera" (first-class) or others such as "lo mejor" (the best) or "lo maximo" (the maximum), are ordinary expressions that people frequently use to describe salsa bands and reggaeton performers. But these phrases are also commonly used by the salsa groups and reggaeton singers themselves to describe their music and talent. In most cases, such expressions don't actually apply to the true musical quality of those uttering them. Thus, when I heard about a new salsa group going by the name of de primera, I didn't think much of it. If anything you would think it quite pretentious to call yourself first-class.

But, I was wrong. Listening to Habana D'Primera, two things clearly stood out. Its lyrics, which were like sophisticated poems, conveyed Cubanism; and unlike most other bands, it avoided sexism and vulgarity. Its rhythms, its melodies; were clean and elegant as if the Cuban timbre of Los Van Van orchestra, blended with that of other greats like Panamanian Ruben Blades or Puerto Rican Cheo Feliciano.

Then corroborating my impression, Haciendo Historia (Making History); the group's first CD, was released in 2009. Following the CD's release, its songs immediately became popular in the two main channels where songs make their mark in Cubans' taste; the radio stations and the stereo recorders installed in almendrones (vintage American cars built during the 40s and 50s), which circulate on Havana's avenues as private taxis for a set price of 10 CUP (Cuban pesos).

With everybody singing its songs, Havana D' Primera "took off" on an skyward flight reaching such undreamed-of heights, that its second CD Pasaporte (Passport) featuring the popular reggaeton duo, Gente de Zona and salsa master Issac Delgado, took it to a long worldwide concert tour with stops in cities like London (Electric Brixton) and Manchester (Radcliffe Civic Suite), during April 2013.

Let's go dancing

So, two years ago when I heard that Habana D'Primera was performing every Tuesday in the Casa de la Musica de Miramar, I rushed to enjoy their live performance.

The Casa de la Musica de Miramar in the municipality of Playa (there's a similar one on Galiano St. in the municipality of Centro Habana), is spacious and air conditioned, with great acoustics and a good array of Cuban and international cocktails.

Havana D'Primera's show kicks off every Tuesday at 5 p.m., with an entry price of 10 CUC.

If you are surprised by the show time, I can assure that you may benefit from it, because it is quite difficult to find another quality concert within the city at that hour. And, since the show ends at around 9 p.m., you may either retire to an early night cap or simply go on partying if you so wish.

Casa de la Musica de Miramar is only ten minutes away by taxi, if you are staying in any of the nearby hotels in Playa or in the Vedado vicinity; and no more than twenty, if you are staying in Old Havana.

A salsa all star

One of the most impressive qualities of Habana D'Primera; an all-star team within the Cuban musical scene, is the outstanding careers of its musicians across different musical genres.

For instance, you might not to know that pianist Tony Rodriguez; forever lyrical and emotive, masters jazz as well nueva trova (new troubadour music) and popular music, while displaying an ample tone and a precise keynote register.

Trombonist Amaury Perez, prior to playing his instrument for Habana D'Primera, was a member of the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional (National Symphony Orchestra). His exquisite classical musical education enables him to master all the genres within popular music, always keeping his cool and offering improvisations brimming with feeling.

Another of the band's irreplaceable assets, Rodney Barreto, is quoted in Cuba as being "a master percussionist among percussionists", who is capable of drawing long-lasting ovations from the audience. His refined technique, charisma and energy on stage, have led him to perform alongside greats such as Omara Portuondo , the diva of the Buena Vista Social Club ensemble, and Cuba's most internationally acclaimed, Grammy-award winning jazz pianist; Chucho Valdes.

Last but certainly not least, we have Alexander Abreu, who not only has a natural gift for singing, but who is also a virtuous trumpet player. He bears a bottomless energy for improvisation and a phraseology close to bebop, which makes many draw comparisons between him another Cuban master of the trumpet; Arturo Sandoval. I can also give you a curious detail of his versatility; Alexander acted for the great film director Emir Kusturica in the film 7 Dias en La Habana (7 Days in Havana).

But perhaps all this just isn't enough to convince you. You might argue that it takes more than an all-star music group to conquer the Cuban public; that there has to be some hidden secret within that "Aladdin lamp" of wonders! And yes, the secret lies in the creativity and expressive capabilities of Habana D'Primera's great musicians, to please their dancers; thus enabling them to move to their infectious rhythms and enjoy an amazing experience for the senses, somewhat erotic and elegant at the same time.

So that's what you'll find in the Casa de la Musica de Miramar if you happen to venture there on any given Tuesday afternoon at 5 p.m. As your body spins once, twice, thrice; and your minds begin to automatically record the choruses of songs like "Pasaporte" or "Soy Cuba" (I'm Cuba), you'll truly see how there's no better way to get to know the island than through its music and in this case, their music, Havana D' Primera's: a salsa, believe you me, which is definitely first-class. And they're not just bluffing or showing off...they're just being true to what they offer.

Marcel Lueiro

Marcel Lueiro

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