JANE HARRISON finds out more about the live show celebrating the emotions of rhythm, rumba and the reggaeton of Cuba, in the heart of Hammersmith
BEHIND the groove and grind of this sensational Cuban show lies the struggle of its people and in many cases a bid for freedom. Havana Rumba! fresh from the Edinburgh Festival and a first in London at Riverside Studios, is full of passion and exuberance. It guides the audience through the Rumba's place in Cuban history and culture and yet it is also a serious story of the marginalised poor.
Co-producer Toby Gough, who found the leader of its legendary band, Sonora La Calle, after getting lost in Cuba, says: "In Havana Rumba! I wanted to create a story that was full of passion, music and rhythm, that spoke of the reality of everyday life; a life-affirming celebration of Cuba's musical heritage while also being the powerful, urgent compelling sound of Cuba today.
"It's a story from the hearts and souls of people living in Havana today, connected to the past but dreaming of a new tomorrow, loving their country, but yearning to savour something of the world outside."
He said he met many people who danced the rumba as he walked the streets and over 'many bottles of rum' listened to their stories: the backbone of the show.
He says: "Some of these stories we share with you. Beyond the story of rumba I wanted to express the complications and contradictions of life in Cuba, of how families and lovers are separated, forced apart by often desperate circumstances. One often meets people in Cuba whose family or friends have left in rafts for America, an epic voyage in a man-made raft, for up to seven days.
"Walking in Little Havana in Miami I had the chance to meet those balseros who had made it, now busy rolling cigars for a living. Tragically, many are lost between these two cities."
While this touchy subject has never been dramatised before and Cuban artists had to perform the show in front of the authorities, before being allowed to leave, Toby insists it was for quality rather than content.
Rumour has it that the 10 dancers and nine musicians had to perform in front of psychiatrists to ensure no whiff of defection, but he strenuously denies this.
He said: "Havana Rumba! has been viewed before they left by the Ministry of Culture but only to make sure the standard of dancing and reputation of Cuban music is sustained.
"People have the wrong impression; a negative image about Cuba, set up by America. Everyone is free to leave Cuba. The problem is getting into Europe because they (the European country) think they will want to stay. It took three months to get permission to come here."
Havana Rumba! works on two levels, focusing on how the dance brings freedom and escape from the hardships of daily life and the strength of the human spirit.
It tells the story of Ramon, the king of rumba and his son, Papito, who sings reggaeton, the music of the new generation.
Papito dreams of going to the USA to win a Grammy and imagines the streets of Miami are paved with gold. Like many before him, Papito leaves Cuba on a raft to find fame and fortune.
Sonora La Calle were the original band of the worldwide hit show, Lady Salsa, which performed in the West End for two years and has been touring the world since 2000. The musical journey encompasses the fertility dances of the African slaves, the music of the 50s, cha cha cha and salsa.
The artists, who are staying in rented accommodation in Marble Arch, are delighted to be here. Dancer and narrator Aldo Albarez says: "The people of London are so friendly. We want to show people what it's like to live in Cuba."
Dancer Adiebiz Palacios said: "You feel you are at the centre of the world cultures because it is so multicultural."
Toby, who currently has four shows being produced around the world, believes Havana Rumba! has something for everyone. He says: "Because Cuba was behind closed doors for so many years, there is something elusive about a forbidden island. When you bring a Cuban show to London you get a very mixed audience because the culture is so infectious. Havana Rumba! is a tribute to an irrepressible people from a remarkable country who will never give up their will or their right to party."
* Havana Rumba! is on at Riverside Studios, Crisp Road, Hammersmith until Sunday, May 3. Box office: 020 8237 1111.