Only a few minutes walk from the luxurious Saratoga hotel it seems a world away as bicitaxi drivers loiter outside touting for business. Entering what seems like a semi derelict building we emerge onto the first floor, which is a hive of activity — nicely illuminated, air-conditioned, packed with people who clearly got the memo that this is the place to be.
We are here for the show – the line up highlights the groups’s bonafides, two members of the legendary Buena Vista Social Club and three from the Afro-Cuban All Stars. And they have had international success: they boast two Grammies and another two Grammy nominees.
El Guajirito is a place for tourists looking for the lost nirvana of the 1950s — made so very famous by the success of Buena Vista Social Club. The atmosphere is expectant, waitresses bustling efficiently — it doesn’t hurt that they are all gorgeous! The food, on the other hand, is decent although not spectacular.
As the show starts at 9.30pm, it quickly becomes apparent why the place if full, packed at CUC 50 per head. They are simply superb; maybe there is something in the Cuban air where age defeats reason as an 81 year-old member of the group twirls my date around the dance floor.
This is not stale, stiff or formulaic (à la Tropicana). Instead it seems like they are playing for the first time, craving the audience’s appreciation. The drumming is out of this world—as Luis Mariano Valiente (Betún) performs a solo, the crowd is on its feet (German birdwatchers and all). This is as good and as close as you will get in Cuba to that cliché of the 1950s. Yet it is older and wiser, maybe better in point of fact since the performers have that mellowness that comes from age. They are doing something they love and want to be heard.
Sometimes it is difficult to know if people like something. English politeness, German reserve, French aloofness; who knows what they really think? Not here, and not after that performance – by the end, even the Suecos (Swiss tourists known for having two left feet) are on their feet dancing. This is a simply spectacular show with world class performers.
Members of Legendarios del Guajirito
Benitico Llanes Campana de Oro (1995), Congo de Oro (1996)
Maida Mitchell Star of Tropicana
Eduardo Rico Sierra Maestra (Grammy nominee, 2010)
Luis Valiente ‘Betun’ Cubanísimo 2003-07 / Afro-Cuban All Stars, 2011
Félix Baloy Jr. Afro-Cuban All Stars
Luis Valdés Buena Vista Social Club (Grammy winner)
Lázaro J.Villa Morgan Buena Vista Social Club (Grammy winner)
Carlos Puisseaux Afro-Cuban All Stars (Grammy nominee, 1998)
Other group members
Emilio Ramos, Yelfris Valdés, Jesús Bello, Eduardo Himely, Alejando Suárez
The first floor of this building has actually been split between two restaurants, El Tablao de Pancho and El Guajirito. Slightly confusingly, the show used to be in the Tablao de Pancho. It has now moved into a larger space the other side of the entrance (El Guajirito). Upstairs is the nightclub, Escaleras al Cielo (literally, Stairway to Heaven).
Although the environs are distinctly non-salubrious, this being Havana, it is actually perfectly safe outside just not the sort of street you would walk down late at night back in London.
CUC 50 for dinner & show
Every night from 9.30pm
Reservations can be made through your travel agent or directly at “El Tablao de Pancho”
(restaurant at same address).
Zulueta No. 660 entre Apodaca y Gloria,
Tel: +53 (07) 861-7761
+53 5 422-3648