Live Music + Gig Reviews

Eliades Ochoa @ Barbican, London

28 February 2009

The new season of Contemporary Music at the Barbican continues to deliver distinctly international content to the City of London.

Its cross-continental connection on the final evening of February brings another corner of the world to the concert hall – this time, it’s Cuba.

Packing more punch than anything served up at the bar, Buena Vista Social Club‘s front man – well, one of them – Eliades Ochoa and the London Locumi Choir perform in a night that left fingertips tingling and feet too eagerly racing towards the nearest conga class.

The London Lucumi Choir was a category finalist in BBC Radio 3’s Choir of the Year 2008. Savouring their time on stage they brought a collection of songs dedicated to the Afro Cuban dieties. They are a non-audition, community group but provide a robust and well-harmonized unit.

Soloist Martha Galarraga’s sheer vitality stirred the Barbican audience with heartfelt cries and terrific teases as she got into character as the love goddess; flirting and flapping her golden gown across the front rows.

Three very hip looking guys on Bata drums struck the beats and, as good as the choir could be with spritely, unruly, child spirits, goddesses of love, war and sea there was another legend in the house; one more tangible, more immediate and eagerly awaited.

Soon each member of Ochoa’s band, Cuerteto Patria, strolled onto the stage, adding layer after layer of sweet conga rhythms to the anticipation.

Dressed in black from head to toe with his iconic crowning cowboy hat looking like the Johnny Cash of Cuba, Eliades Ochoa let his fingers trip lightly over chord after chord, carousing and caressing the receptive crowds. Speaking in Spanish, without translation, his emphasis on us all as La Familia Grande elicited excitement all around.

With hits in abundance the relaxed 62 year old rolled with ease through El Cuarto De Tula, El Carretero, Candela and Mi Corazn No Tiene Quien Lo Llore without so much as a glance at his guitar. He is a master of Guajira, the name given to Cuba’s particular brand of country music, and although his voice is not the strongest, its charm and melody are a winning combination for his rustic style.

But it was those instantly recognizable Buena Vista Social Club classics that brought a somewhat staid and stale seated audience to their feet and down the aisles to shimmy and shake, spin on the stairs, none more so than Chan Chan, a number as associated with Ochoa as it was with the late, great Compay Segundo.

It is hard to believe that two hours escaped, even after two encores including a round of Guantanamera, but the dazzling pandemonium of percussion, blasts of ripe trumpets, and sparkling guitars transported us happily through a tropical night.

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Eliades Ochoa @ Barbican, London