Albita was belting “Guatanamera” when the moon broke out between the clouds over Lili’s and my heads at the North Beach Bandshell tonight. Ah, moon over Miami — hey isn’t there a song about this (I saw Rufus Wainwright sing it once in South Beach; there’s a picture of me and him and Margarita in some paparazzi’s slush pile from that night. But I digress). It was just another night in the Magic City — except it was the opening night of the Global Cuba festival and the 20th anniversary party for the Miami Light Project, our city’s premiere arts presenting organization. Not to mention it was MLP director Beth Boone’s birthday — happy birthday Beth. I wish it weren’t so cold out.
Celia, and Tito, and Benny More, and salsa in general live in Albita’s strong as history voice. She sang every big salsa hit — isn’t “Guatanamera” the Cuban “Free Bird”? But I couldn’t accuse her of pandering even as she shouted “Azucar!”, for, as she was careful, to note, “Celia tiene tumbao.” Yes, it was a night for the exile community, as she shouted, “Viva Cuba libre!” But as annoying as the old guard can be, and as well coiffed as the night was, isn’t this a huge part of what makes Miami great? Imagine if history truly beknighted the Havana nightclubs of the ’50 the way it does the Harlem clubs of that era; would clave reign supreme? Musicologically speaking, I firmly believe that pop achieved its aesthetic apotheosis in salsa as early as it did in bebop. But maybe the moon has gotten to my head.