Saturday, May 31, 2008

Cuba Libre

Last night my girl and I hit an Afro-Cuban concert by Jose Conde y Ola Fresca at the Neighborhood Theatre in NoDa.  This was the last thing I expected to come through Charlotte, so I was incredibly surprised when she told me about it.   image0-1

NoDa is very similar to Coconut Grove for those familiar with Miami.  It's a cool spot people flock to surrounded by neighborhoods of questionable pedigree.  We made sure that directions were printed going to and from this theater.  With Charlotte's propensity to change road names and the bevy of one way streets in that area, we couldn't be too careful. 

Finding the place was no problem and we explored the area having arrived so early.  By happy coincidence we drove by a vintage shop a friend of ours owns called The Rat's Nest.  I say coincidence because every time we had previously gone to this place was at night, following someone else and a little tipsy.  We stopped by to chat, having not seen her in well over a year.  While shooting the shit customers came and went.  One pair piqued our interest due to the girl having a very nice tattoo on her shoulder.  Ra complimented her on it and we all began talking.  Seems this couple had just recently moved up from Miami.  We told them about the show we were going to see, suggesting they swing by as well. 

Saying goodbye to the Rat's Nest, we grabbed our tickets for the show and wandered around looking for a quick bite.  Bellies filled with Boar's Head sandwiches we ambled back to the theater.  The crowed was a healthy mix of all demographics.  Old, young, latin,white, black and then some.  Even though it may be odd to say, it was a refreshing change of pace going to a public show where everyone wanted to enjoy it.  Too many times things like this (or movies, festivals, etc) are ruined by obnoxious fuckers who paid to get in, but completely disregard the event.  I still don't understand that mind set, but that's another post altogether.

In typical fashion it started half an hour late (which is actually early in Cuban time).  They kicked it off with a strong intensity which carried through the entire night, even in their softer paced songs.  Everyone was really into the vibe, all jamming to the music in their own way.  Some seated, some standing and some tearing it up with their dance partners.

The energy from the crowd, rhythms filling the air, bodies on the dance floor caught up in the moment.  Savoring it all I realized just how much I miss Miami.  Not the place as much as the feel of it.  The heat, the Caribbean flavor, the joie de vivre unlike anywhere else.  At the same time I was sad.  Here I am a painfully un-latin Cuban far removed from my cultural roots.  My spanish is rusty, my dancing is rusty, my homeland ties tenuous at best.  As much as I was loving their incredible performance, it made me keenly aware how incomplete I felt.  Made me think of how the embargo might not lift in time for me to be able to visit Cuba with my father.  How with the passing of my grandmother there are pieces of my history I will never know, whole sections of family lost to her memory. 

Cuban-Americans are a displaced people and I should be used to these feelings, but it doesn't make it any easier to bear.  With every passing year I feel less and less of my heritage being a part of what makes me who I am.  This erosion slips subtly under my perception, its full extent revealed only when I look inward.  My life is a good one filled with love and success, but this pain I feel is in my blood.  I don't want to become a diluted caricature claiming a background I scarcely understand.  The symptoms of this occurring are tangible and my fear of it coming to pass genuine.

Since leaving South Florida, the only time I've felt that same flavor was when hanging out with the Columbians in Windsor.  That warmth and acceptance made me feel at home.  Made me comfortable in my old mannerisms, ones that I had to suppress in our less boisterous, less touchy, colder surroundings.  In no other place outside of SoFla had we encountered a pocket of heat like that.  I find it funny we had to cross the Atlantic to find it.

Introspection aside, the night was fantastic.  We bumped into the Miami couple during a break.  One a New Yorker, the other Columbian we were chatting away like old friends.  While leaving the venue they convinced us to have one last drink, unwilling to relinquish their newfound compatriots.  Drinks were imbibed, hands flying wildly as we shared our tales.  Even though geographically they're a little outside our realm (Concord) it'll be cool to have a liked minded young couple to hang out with.  Our last young couple divorced rather messily leaving a gap we have yet to fill.

I picked up a shirt (5 bucks for American Apparel is a steal) and a CD.  Normally I'm not one to purchase CD's but knowing the proceeds went straight to the band removed any qualms I had.  This kind of multicultural flavor is something Charlotte will need to embrace more heavily as it grows into the hot spot it wants to be.  Hopefully this is part of a larger trend and not only limited to the freaky deaky parts of town.

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