June 11, 2014-Gerardo Contino Y Sus Habaneros at Lucille's Bar & Grill
Originally published on Timba.com
By: Ian Stewart
Wednesday, June 12th Gerardo Contino and his band Los Habaneros took the stage at Lucille’s Bar & Grill located in BB King’s Blues Club, one of midtown’s most well-known music venues and tourist destinations. For this particular event, aptly named Cuba: A History in Music, Contino had a platform in mind that differed slightly from his usual routine at his more regular gigs around town. Contino humbly described the premise of the concert as “an attempt to tell the history of Cuban Music in an hour and twenty minutes in an interactive manner with the audience”. For the interactive element, Contino employed the talents of a team of dancers who participated throughout the evening. He also mentioned that despite the title of the show, the aim of the concert was to actually break away for the “Museum” mentality that similar events seem to induce.
Since arriving in NY in 2009, the former NG La Banda vocalist has been one of the handful of key delegates in a new slew of NYC based Cuban artists that have been taking over Manhattan and creating a scene for themselves based out of supportive locales such as Guantanamera and Gonzales y Gonzales among others. Contino himself performs every Friday and Saturday at Guantanamera and a few times a month at Gonzales y Gonzales, making his band one of the most visible Cuban music groups in the city at present.
His battalion for the night included Sebastian Nickoll on congas, Mauricio Herrera on timbales and bata, John Benítez on bass, Roman Lajaro on tres, Dayramir Gonzales-Vicet on piano, Michelle Palmieri on vocals and guiro and special guest Yileidi Olazabal on vocals as well. From a historical perspective, the show surely lived up to its name. The music was a kaleidoscopic montage through the lineage of Cuban musical culture both new and old. The first five songs celebrated Cuba’s past with selections from the folkloric, bolero and danzon lexicons including “Damisela Encantadora”, “En El Tronco De Un Arbol”, “Si Te Contara” and “A Mi Manera”.
It was both interesting and engaging to watch the show escalate from traditional to Timba over the course of just an hour and a half. After the show warmed up with a series of older styles, with the implementation of a Timbafied version of “Que viva Changó” the concert turned a sudden corner into more exotic and exciting idioms. The repertoire that followed consisted of the band’s more commonly played material including the NG la Banda classics “Necesito una amiga”, “La expresiva”, and “Échale limón”. A great rendition of “Por encima del nivel” (Sandunguera) saluted the passing of the great Juan Formell. For their grand finale, the group performed “Siempre latino” the opening track from Contino’s recent album “Somos latinos”.
The interactive element proved to be very successful indeed and as the energy of the music rose, so did that of the crowd. Before you knew it there was dancing everywhere from the dance-floor to the bar and even the staircase to the restrooms. If nothing else, the concert succeeded at presenting Cuban music to the masses without compromising content in any way. Instead of watering down the music in hopes of attracting new listeners, Contino and his band proved that the music presented in its true form does the job just as well.