Earlier this month, a small group of dedicated people attempted to stage a successful festival in Santiago De Cuba. Angus Finlayson spent two weeks there watching Manana unfold.
Alaín García Artola sits back in his chair as if giving his city the floor, and a passing truck belches a response into the 30-degree air. We're on the patio of a restaurant in the old town of Santiago De Cuba. A couple of blocks away, Cubans thumb their phones in the shadeless Parque Céspedes, spending one third of the monthly minimum wage on an hour's wi-fi connection. 1956 Chevrolets wait for a taxi fare outside the Casa Grande hotel. Farther in from the bay, past a mile of colonial facades, is the barrio where Alaín grew up and still lives, one of the poorer areas in a city not short of poverty. "You say 'Portuondo' and people look at you like, 'What the fuck?'", he says, widening his eyes.
North from there is the Plaza De La Revolución, a huge open space commanded by a stern figure on a rearing horse: Antonio Maceo, a general in the Ten Years' War, Cuba's first bid for independence from Spain. To his right, 23 massive machete blades stick out of the ground, as if left there by the giants of Cuba's revolutionary past. To his left is the Teatro Heredia, a 40-million-peso theatre and convention centre opened in 1991, a few months before the collapse of the Soviet Union stymied the Cuban economy.
Inside, two slim desks are arranged against opposite walls of a small air-conditioned office. At one desk sit Cuban employees of Empresa, a government organisation involved in managing musicians and musical events. At the other sits members of the international team to which Alaín belongs. Many of them are volunteers, some of them have never been to Cuba before, and not all of them speak Spanish. Together, the two groups are trying to put on a festival.
Manana was the wife of a Dominican general who fought alongside Maceo for Cuba's independence. She would sign off her letters to him, "With passion, Manana," and Cuban musicians started using the word as shorthand for the emotion. The three-day festival that takes the name aims to connect "the rich heritage of Afro-Cuban folkloric music with the electronic music community." For its first year, respected international artists like Nicolas Jaar, Plaid and Quantic will perform alongside Cuban producers and local folkloric groups, to a crowd of about 400 international guests and perhaps twice as many Cubans. Some of the visiting artists will collaborate with local musicians and present their work onstage. A program of talks and workshops, featuring representatives from NYU and Ableton, is planned. Manana isn't Cuba's first music festival. But nothing like it has ever happened in Santiago.
It's easy to see why Alaín loves his city: it's Cuba's likeable underdog. The island's second city, it's separated from the much bigger and more cosmopolitan Havana by 900 kilometres of potholed roads. It has the highest proportion of black residents of any Cuban city, which, in spite of the efforts of the revolution, still means something in one of the last countries in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery. The surrounding mountains cut off the sea breeze, making it suffocatingly hot (and shadeless since Hurricane Sandy ripped up its trees), and, apart from July's chaotic carnival, it lacks the flashier tourist attractions of Havana.
But Santiago is profoundly important to Cuba. The son, a fusion of Spanish song and Afro-Cuban percussion that gave birth to the world-conquering salsa, is often said to have been invented here. Don Facundo Bacardí Massó first thought to refine a slaves' drink here, turning rum into a global commodity. (The Bacardí family relocated to the Bahamas after the revolution seized their distilleries.) And Santiago has been the cradle of Cuba's revolutions, from Antonio Maceo's Ten Years' War through to Fidel Castro's 1953 attack on the Moncada barracks.
"It's the place where everything is born," Alaín explains. "But Santiago was isolated in the last years. The politics of the government concentrates everything in Havana: the main events, the main celebrities come just to Havana. So our intention from the beginning was to build a bridge between Santiago De Cuba and the rest of the world. And put Santiago De Cuba on the map."
His phone beeps and he pauses to turn it off. Cubafied Beatles covers drift out from the interior of the restaurant. "I need to disconnect a bit," he says. "It's been too much. Just yesterday I got 100 text messages."
A skinny and charismatic 35-year-old, Alaín has been active in music since the late '90s as part of the hip-hop group TNT La Resistencia. His career hasn't always been easy. He's been jailed and repeatedly kicked off stage for the perceived political content of his lyrics. But over the years he's become a sort of public figure in Santiago. He's travelled abroad, unlike many Cubans; a documentary was made about him and another Santiago rapper, Kamerun, a few years ago, and the American chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain spoke to him when his food show, Parts Unknown, came to town. So he has slipped comfortably into his role as Manana festival's de facto spokesperson.
His peace is interrupted by Harry Follett—a similar age, with close-cropped hair. His shorts and sandals say "Brit abroad"; the stress in his voice doesn't.
"It's bullshit. They won't even let them into Iris Jazz Club until 2, won't even let them into the room."
"Oh, shit. Plaid?"
"Yeah. Can you speak to the…?" Harry gets someone on the phone. "I'm not worried, you told me that they won't...", he says down the line, his voice rising. He passes the phone to Alaín, who sets about smoothing things over in Spanish. "Qué pasó, qué pasó…?"
Harry and Alaín are two of Manana's three founders and its conceptual architects. They met three years ago, when Harry, a musical hobbyist who worked in advertising, travelled to Cuba to immerse himself in the Afro-Cuban rhythms he'd been studying with his percussion teacher. The teacher connected him with Alaín, an old collaborator, and the pair spent three weeks together in Havana.
A year later, Harry arrived in Santiago with a 120kg box of studio gear, having quit his job. The pair ran an open studio for the next few months, inviting in local artists, lending out equipment and jamming with field recordings of folkloric musicians. When I spoke to Harry on Skype a few weeks before the festival, he described running recordings of sacred batá drumming through bits of hardware to produce an unexpected fusion of two traditions. "It felt like the natural next step for the artistic relationship between me and Alaín wasn't to make an album," he said. "It was to reach out to both the communities we were from, or both the cultures we came from, and connect them."
Manana's third founder is Jenner Del Vecchio, another Londoner brought in for his organisational skills. "I'm the worrier of the group," he jokes over Skype, on the same day I speak to Harry. "I used to be a project manager, so I've got the weight of this on my shoulders." He's just had a haircut, but he shoots over a picture of how he looked before, gaunt and dishevelled after months of preparations. "It has not stopped for a year. We spoke to a lot of festival organisers and a lot of them were like, 'You're fucking crazy. Not only are you doing it in a country that's far away, but it's never been done before,' and blah, blah, blah. One guy was like, 'I'm still paying off my first festival from 12 years ago.' And we'll probably be in a similar boat, to be honest. We've invested pretty much every penny of our savings into this, and with pleasure."
Jenner also worked in advertising, and shared Harry's doubts about his career choice. "I found it pretty hard, to be honest. I'm trying to watch my words, as I'm going to have to do some work when I get back, otherwise I'm gonna be broke forever. But it was an absolute shit show. I hated it. Before Manana, I'd come home and I'd have that grey look."
Even so, the project wouldn't have got far without the pair's previous experience. It takes expertise to sell and execute an idea as far-fetched as Manana. Finances were just one obstacle, though a large one. (The project scraped together funds from the Cuban government, a Kickstarter campaign and a smattering of sponsors). Even at this late stage, it's unclear whether festivalgoers will be willing to travel all the way to Cuba, and whether they'll find a functioning festival when they get there. Jenner runs down a checklist: "There has to be food, there have to be toilets with toilet paper. There has to be water and security. People can't be in a crush. The sound has to be good." In Cuba, with its decrepit infrastructure and suffocating bureaucracy, these things have been a nightmare to arrange.
Harry and Alaín were already dreaming up Manana in 2014, when Barack Obama announced that the US would re-establish relations with Cuba after a crippling 56-year embargo. It reopened its embassy in the country last year, and in recent months hundreds of thousands of Cubans attended concerts by Major Lazer and the Rolling Stones (in Havana, naturally). Obama beat me to Cuba by a month, becoming the second-ever sitting US president to visit the country. Tourism has spiked since his announcement, and American companies, long shut out of the Cuban economy, are closing in.
Harry was in Santiago for the announcement, and says it was regarded as something primarily affecting Havana, over on Cuba's US-facing side. But the sea change of which it's a part has big implications for Santiago. In recent years, the government has begun opening up the economy to new kinds of private enterprise. Cubans who are sent money by family overseas—often the remnants of the country's white elite—are better placed to muscle in on new industries as they are liberalised. Divisions between the haves and have-nots never quite went away in Cuba, and they threaten to re-emerge. To be Cuban is to be cut off from the world; to be black and in Santiago, doubly so.
The changes also have implications for Cuban culture. The internet only became widely available on the island last year, when the government opened public hotspots in city squares, like the one in Parque Céspedes. Since Jenner visited the country at the end of 2014, he tells me, all of the people he met have joined Facebook. With sudden access to a wealth of foreign culture, there's a risk that Cubans will lose interest in their own traditions.
"You've got kids that are on their phones now in Santiago, young drummers or something, looking on the internet at what other kids around the world are into," says Harry. "They do not see someone drumming or dancing in the way they do. And obviously that threatens the art of that place."
Manana aims to bring Cuban culture into a more equal exchange with the outside world. "There are so many things that could come out of this, and it's so exciting to not know what they are," says Jenner. "But yeah, terrifying. Absolutely terrifying."
The terror doesn't seem to have lessened when I arrive in Santiago a week before the festival. The office is chaotic—most of the team has only just arrived—and a tour of the site throws up a lot of questions. "This should be some kind of food court," Jenner says, pointing at a car park with a shrug. "People will have to adjust their expectations," he says of foreign visitors accustomed to professionally produced festivals.
I'm quickly forced to adjust mine. I'm here to watch the collaborations between international and local musicians, but a schedule detailing the whens and wheres seems to be outdated the instant it's pressed into my hand. Times, venues and collaborators change constantly. My phone doesn't work in Cuba—many foreign phones don't—and domestic mobiles tend to lose signal randomly, or inexplicably not receive texts. (Mobiles were banned altogether until 2008.) Cubans also have a very different conception of time. The margin of acceptable lateness seems to be an hour or two—a problem when rehearsal time is limited and resources stretched. I spend the first few days criss-crossing the city on the nippy motorbikes that serve as local taxis, missing things.
My luck turns with Olly and Henry Keen, two softly-spoken brothers from Dorset with ties to London's CDR club night. Olly first offered the festival his services as a sound man, but Manana ended up booking Soundspecies, his duo with Henry. The brothers are used to this sort of work: they're part of Electric Jalaba, a collaboration with Moroccan Gnawa Master musician Simo Lagnawi, and Olly has spent the past few months making beats for rappers in Colombia. "The whole concept, I'm right with it," he says. "Taking folkloric music and putting it with electronic music. There's not many festivals that lay out the concept like that."
They've had their own disappointments: both of their planned collaborations fell through when they arrived, and they've had to magic up new ones. They invite me to a rehearsal with Aché Meyi, a local group who play a style called bembé, which traditionally accompanies santería religious ceremonies. I catch up with them the following day at their homestay, a cramped room with the windows thrown open and music equipment crowded onto a table. They pack up and we hail a few bikes outside.
The rehearsal space is a sort of community dance hall in a poor neighbourhood, a block over from a street market where chickens crowd into wire cages. It's 3 PM, and only the band's lead singer has arrived at the agreed time. As Olly and Henry set up their gear facing out into the rear courtyard, one of the young drummers comes in. He cranes to look. "Show him around, Henry," says Olly, ceding the headphones to the drummer, who starts tapping out beats on the MPC.
It's ten minutes past four. A second young drummer has arrived, as has Hector, the white-haired bandleader. Singing to himself, Hector unlocks a cupboard and gets out a few upright conga drums. For the key to a second cupboard, where the soundsystem is kept, we have to wait for El Gordito—"the fatty." Olly asks in his measured Spanish whether they could give him a ring. They don't have credit for a call. "It's always something they can't afford," he says, scraping a few pesos out of his pocket. The shadow over one side of the dusty courtyard lengthens. Harry turns up to see how things are going, stressed as usual. At a quarter past five, El Gordito appears, unlocks the cupboard and wheels out an ancient looking hi-fi. They've got, at most, an hour to rehearse.
First the band plays whilst the brothers watch. They open with a beatless section, before launching into a blistering high-speed groove. One drummer hammers out an earsplitting clave rhythm on his cowbell, and the singers turn pentatonic somersaults in yoruba. The music shifts through several sections, each a slightly different tempo. The brothers look puzzled.
Henry makes some swirling FX on his MPC, but the sounds are lost in the cascade of drums. Olly tries doubling the melodies on a soft synth, but the singers, used to having percussion as their only accompaniment, tend to slide off-pitch. Henry has gone very quiet. Olly suggests that the drummers drop out to give the electronics more space, but the band doesn't make any audible changes. It feels like they haven't got anywhere, but given the time available, it would be unreasonable to expect anything more.
"They've spent their whole musical lives learning how to do this and we're trying to deconstruct it," Olly explains when I catch up with him later. "That was met with a bit of puzzlement, indifference and mostly sort of... ignoring us," he laughs. "We've got this amazing opportunity. It's not going well." Henry has gone back to the homestay, demoralised. They're considering bowing out of the collaboration, and allowing the band to perform on their own. Their next session is "make or break."
Other collaborations are unfolding elsewhere in the city. The Warp duo Plaid are in Iris, a jazz club in the classic mould, with percussionists from the contemporary dance group Danza Del Caribe. They play through skeletal rhythm tracks produced after watching the band rehearse, over which the drummers improvise. Tweaks are suggested via an amiable translator, who offers his bottle of rum to the curious journalists passing through. Diogenes, a player of changui, a genteel ancestor of the son from the nearby Guantánamo, is playing an afternoon concert on a baking rooftop terrace. It's for Adrian Sherwood's benefit: he's considering a collaboration, and props up the bar with Skip McDonald, ordering beers for the band.
Over at EGREM, the state studio, Quantic is trying to record an album in the space of two weeks with the help of Sofrito's Frank Merritt. They'll ultimately work with 30 musicians, from rappers to folkloric drummers. Today, a small group of percussionists improvises over songs already bursting with parts. Quantic shuffles from one song project to the next, his laptop perched on a giant mixing desk, while Frank checks things off in a neatly inscribed notebook. They're kicked out of the studio early thanks to a double-booking.
In Sala Dolores, meanwhile, there's some kind of school event going on in the main hall, and the corridors are full of well-dressed teens practicing their violin scales. In a rehearsal room at the back is Ariwo, a Cuban-Iranian quartet based in London. The festival's director of sound, Pouya Ehsaei, makes gloomy technoid beats with a table of machines; the Cubans, two percussionists and a blisteringly good trumpeter, fill in the dank spaces. The band owes its existence to Harry, who brought them together to play Manana's Boiler Room session. It's the most convincing example yet of the sort of fusion he and Alaín imagined.
It's not just the musicians who are collaborating, either. Over at Heredia, Reeve Rixon, an enthusiastic Yorkshireman with a baseball cap jammed backwards on his shoulder-length hair, is working with local Afro-Cuban artists to decorate the site. At least he's trying to: they're sorely lacking in tools and materials. That is, until a muscular, moustachioed Cuban in his 50s sidles over, offering to help. It turns out he's worked at the theatre since its construction, and has a studio overlooking the site. In a typical display of Cuban warmth, he offers them the space and any tools they need. I drop in on May 1st, Workers' Day, when most other Cubans are partying in the streets after an early morning parade. Muscle Man, as they're calling him, is in overalls stripped to the waist, helping dig materials out of his storeroom. The walls are stacked with stage scenery and kitschy wedding portraits—his bread and butter—and there's a pull-up bar in one corner.
Jenner has brought his portable speaker over. The music alternates between tuneful electronica (from him) and reggae (from the Cubans). They're sketching designs for large wooden panels that will decorate the site—traditional Cuban instruments merging into modern electronic ones. One of the artists starts chuckling. Reeve looks over and laughs. "Everywhere in the fucking world! You'll be drawing penises next!" The artist has added a couple of lines to one of his sketches and turned it into a vagina. Outside, a security guard sits a short distance away, watching us. I say that I'm surprised she's working on May 1st. "I think where we're involved there's always someone watching," Jenner says.
Over at the office, the collaboration between the two desks is ongoing. It's had its complications. The Manana team turns up with all of their documents in Excel; the Empresa team has never used it, and hours are spent converting everything to Word. Venues for collaborations, supplied by Empresa, are routinely pulled or switched at short notice. Harry estimates that 80% of his time is spent in meetings. Every small detail of the festival has to be discussed, and every government department appeased.
For all their reluctance, the government stands to gain from an event like Manana. Tourism has been central to the Cuban economy since the '90s, when the collapse of the Soviet Union removed a major source of income. It's long been the main stimulus to a sluggish economy. Stories abound of qualified doctors getting higher salaries as taxi drivers. As the island opens up, new kinds of tourism become possible. Harry explains that a law was recently passed forcing cultural institutions to take on projects that encourage visitors. Until recently, he says, you couldn't have a concert in a government venue like Heredia unless there was an acoustic instrument on stage. An electronic music festival would've been out of the question.
Even so, the institutions seem keen to demonstrate that they're in control. There's a lot riding on keeping them happy. Another festival, Musicabana, was planned in Havana on the same weekend as Manana. It was set to be enormous—headliners included Sean Paul—but the government didn't give the go-ahead until a week before the event, by which point the organisers had been forced to cancel. In the end, Musicabana goes ahead but without Sean Paul and much of its lineup. Harry is alarmed by the news, but Alaín reassures him. "Musicabana brings, yeah, huge names. Manana brings huge concepts. Which makes a complete difference."
Music is everywhere in Santiago. It blasts out of every fifth house in the barrios, soundtracking street parties and large political rallies, played by buskers in the main squares and parks and, on Workers' Day, by conga processions roaming the streets, drums thundering. Certain kinds of music have filtered in from the outside world. Reggae is ubiquitous—no surprise given Cuba's proximity to Jamaica—and reggaeton has taken the island by storm. Adele's "Hello" is here, as is Justin Bieber's "Sorry."
But this music brushes shoulders with traditions that date back centuries and are still very much alive. Musical disciplines were brought over by African slaves and mixed with one another and with Spanish culture; many of them became tied to syncretic religions like Santería, which were practiced behind closed doors during centuries of persecution. (Manana organises visits to some of these rum-fuelled ceremonies, which can last late into the night.)
After the revolution, state-funded groups were set up to celebrate these Afro-Cuban traditions. Santiago's groups, several of which are integral to Manana, are packed with young, extremely good drummers and singers. "If you think about how many young people from the communities are involved in the folkloric music, you see how safe the future of that music is," Alaín tells me. "Because it's something spontaneous. I learned how to play batá when I was a kid, in my neighbourhood. That's an activity of every child."
The first day of the festival comes around. Young tourists populate the hotel terrace bars and city squares, and Heredia is bustling. Having seen the festival's shaky logistical foundations, I can't quite believe it's going to stand up. Sure enough, many things that could go wrong, do.
Set times drift in classic Cuban style; Muscle Man is kept busy rewriting the schedule on a whiteboard in a meticulous hand. The box of Manana t-shirts is liberated from the festival office, meaning there are none to sell. The food court never does materialise. In spite of the team doing local and national press, the Cuban turnout is lower than hoped. Many of them linger around the site, curious but unwilling or unable to pay the local price for a night's entry: 2 CUC, about €1.80.
And then there's the rain. We're on the edge of rainy season, and the first storm blows in at the end of the first night. The next morning the sky is an apocalyptic smudge. An older member of the Heredia staff fixes me with a concerned look as I walk past, mimicking a downpour with his wiggling fingers and making a wet farting noise with his lips. Harry speeds past a few minutes later. His stress levels appear to have reached the stratosphere. The equipment from the outdoor stage, where the biggest acts were to play, has to be moved into the theatre; many performances are rescheduled and some cancelled, including Soundspecies' second collaboration, with a cast of local rappers. The 2,500-capacity theatre is far from an ideal venue. It feels empty for most of the festival, and there's only a sliver of floor between front row and stage to serve as a dance floor.
Still, everybody makes a go of it, and we're treated to a pleasant jumble of music under the banner of "fusion." Quantic just about manages to bring his extravaganza to the stage on the first afternoon, and Pouya—of Ariwo—provides a spacy synth backing for local cultural hero Mililian Galís, a master of the hypnotic batá drumming. On the second night, New York's Sabine Blaizin and Manchester's Madam X play killer sets of very different kinds. When a hoarse Alaín jumps on the mic for Madam X he triggers the first rewind of the festival. Sadly, he's too exhausted to manage more than 16 bars. Later that evening, Adrian Sherwood, whose set had initially been cancelled, ploughs out a couple of hours of cartoonish dub. Over by the toilets, a group of local MCs in Manana t-shirts form a tight circle, battling intently over the music.
The folkloric ensembles are a great success. The visiting crowd can't get enough of rumba's delirious energy, and it's probably the style most danced to across the festival's three days. Cubans, meanwhile, respond to synthetic sounds in the more club-like Café stage—the global ghetto collisions of Uproot Andy, for instance—or else local heroes, like roots reggae band Cuban Lions.
Contemporary Cuban music also gets a showing. On the hip-hop front there's Kumar Sublevao-Beat, a Barcelona transplant whose theatrical show echoes jazz and Afro-Cuban traditions. Reggaeton is conspicuously absent, but there's evidence of a Cuban club music scene in its infancy. Most of these artists come from whiter, more international parts of the island. Pauza, a duo from Havana, play an EDM-leaning set with Caribbean flavours. Electrozona, from Holguín to the north, delivers half an hour of Ibiza-style tech house before detouring into a cover of "Hey Jude" for violin and IDM drums. Cuban electronic music often takes these puzzling turns.
The unexpected highlight of the festival is Soundspecies and Aché Meyi. I missed their "make or break" rehearsal and have low expectations as I slip into the half-empty theatre. They've just started, and the band are playing through their repertoire while the brothers provide some tasteful FX between songs. I wonder if that's all they're going to do.
Then the band steps away from their drums. Henry leans over his MPC, coaxing Afro-Cuban percussion samples into a slow, slinky techno beat. He patiently builds and cuts, teasing swoops of sub-bass that shudder out of the theatre's sizeable stacks. At some point a booming kick drum moves into view, and then the band enters, singing call-and-response patterns led by Hector. The brothers wreath the singing in vapour-trails of delay, and the younger drummers mimic animal calls in the swirl. After Bembé's frantic syncopations, the slower, weightier groove hits like a wrecking ball. Someone in the crowd produces a glowstick, and within five minutes people are clambering onto the stage for more space to dance. Even Harry, who manages the ensuing stage invasion, seems to be enjoying himself.
Around all this I'm chasing down interviews with Cuban artists. In the chaos of the city I've been forgetting to ask the obvious questions: about the embargo, and how Cubans regard the changes in their own country. For all the government slogans decorating the city, politics is rarely discussed—no surprise in a place where censorship and political stasis are decades-old traditions. The closest thing to a dissenting opinion comes from one of my taxi-bikers, on my way to Heredia one afternoon. There's a car with a bullhorn speaker ahead of us, blaring political slogans the old-fashioned way. My driver mutely sticks out his middle finger, though he withdraws it before we pull level with the windows.
"I am 100% convinced that change in Cuba depends on Cubans," Alaín tells me when I pose him the embargo question. "Yeah, the re-establishment of the relationship with the States can be good in a commercial sense. But I don't want the States interfering in Cuba. Because I've had the opportunity to see what they do with countries around the world. They interfere. The future of the Cuban music doesn't depend on how much money we get from the States."
When I pitch the question to Galis, the venerable batá master, he finds it hilarious. "I'm not afraid to talk, I'm 76," he says through a translator. "There has to be change because this does not work. I want more opinions, and for it to be more free. I'm proud that America could have a black president. That's never happened here." I'm struck by the speed at which he jumps from the embargo issue to one of race. Younger Cubans skirt the issue more carefully.
"I'm a little bit worried about those who don't benefit from family who live abroad," says Hammadi Valdes, one of the percussionists from the London-based Ariwo. "Cuba is taking a different direction, where rich people have access to some of the benefits that poor people don't have. And that's what we fought against for generations. It would be nice to develop as a country—our economy especially needs to develop—but keep what we managed to achieve. Free education, free healthcare, and especially the traditions. The culture is very, very strong. We all admire America. I'm a massive fan of American music since I was a child. But we have to know what we are. That's what makes us special, unique."
In spite of all the setbacks and complications, Manana convincingly suggests a softer model for cultural exchange in the new Cuba. It was jointly conceived by Cubans and outsiders, and it celebrates the country's traditions while treating them as living and open to exchange. All week, locals and visitors socialised and collaborated, gamely crossing an often huge cultural divide. I wouldn't be surprised if some of these friendships outlast the festival. Olly called the whole thing a giant social experiment, and I think he's right.
"I work a lot in music education in the UK and people are always wondering, 'Where can I go to learn Cuban music? Can I do an exchange there?'", says Hammadi. "I hope Manana opens doors. This is a new era, and it's time for a dialogue, politically, socially and culturally as well. It's time for us to be in the world. Part of the world."
I wasn't there for what might have been Manana's finest hour, but I'm told it went something like this. The rain started just as Nicolas Jaar took to the outdoor stage at 1 AM on the first night. He held out for a while, playing slow-mo, romantic house, but as the drizzle became a torrent the decision was made to move him into the Café, where Peru's Dengue Dengue Dengue were just finishing. The room was packed and chaotic as festival-goers sluiced in from other parts of the site, and getting Jaar set up was a nightmare. Eventually he started playing again and, enjoying himself, asked if some of the Cuban percussionists would play with him.
A sound man went off to find musicians still around after their earlier performances. Just as they were getting mic'd and limbered up, the power cut out. Jaar couldn't play on, but Yelfris Valdes, Ariwo's trumpeter, started playing anyway, and the other Cubans joined in. Excitable on the first night, the crowd was glad of the opportunity to keep partying. Eventually they formed a conga—that most Cuban of traditions—and filed out into the covered concourse between Heredia's stages. The bars had shut, but everyone passed around the dregs of their rum bottles, and the drummers played and people danced until 5 or 6 AM. The rain was hammering down at this point, but if you had walked out onto Plaza De La Revolución, you would have been able to hear the echoes of the drums.