When Mark Beaty was living in Havana studying music, he quickly became acquainted with the songs of Los Van Van, a band that has drawn fans of all ages in Cuba.
“In Cuba, everyone knows about Los Van Van,” Beaty told the Straight by phone.
“Everybody from kids up to grandparents you will find salsa dancing to Los Van Van, but abroad, not that many people know about them.”
The fact that few people have heard of the institution outside of Cuba was partly what prompted Beaty to organize a tribute to the group in Vancouver.
On Saturday (May 2) at the WISE Hall, Beaty’s band La Candela, along with six musicians from the Cuban community, will perform Los Van Van songs to honour the group and its famous band leader Juan Formell, who died in May 2014.
Beaty notes he was first introduced to Los Van Van’s music through salsa in Havana.
“I had a private salsa teacher, because I needed that kind of intervention, and every single class, that’s all he would play, like as music for the classes: it was always Los Van Van,” Beaty recounted.
“And so that’s sort of where I really got familiar with them, and just started to appreciate the depth and the humour, and everything that goes on in their music.”
Now, when Beaty isn’t playing double bass with the symphony, he’s playing Cuban music, and he cites Formell as a major musical influence.
Some of the musicians Beaty has recruited for Saturday’s tribute band include string and trombone players. He notes Los Van Van’s signature sound incorporates a trombone section, violin, and viola. They are also known for Formell’s unique arrangements.
“They just have this very playful, very warm side, which is actually quite atypical in salsa,” he said. “Salsa music is typically quite brassy, high trumpets—there’s a lot of sort of treble to it.”
Beaty hopes the Vanvanéate event on Saturday will draw Vancouver’s Cuban and Latino communities, as well as local salsa dancers, East Vancouver residents, and music lovers from across the city.
The group Más Movement will perform a Cuban dance demonstration at 8 p.m., followed by the band at 9 p.m., and then a DJ for the rest of the evening.
Attendees can also sample a traditional Cuban stew that will be served starting at 7 p.m., and view photos and biographical information about Los Van Van, which formed in 1969.
In Beaty’s view, the group has resonated so well with audiences in their home country because “they just seem to have tapped into the Cuban psyche”.
“The lyrics are often quite playful, but they are often social commentary on the struggles and challenges that Cubans have lived with through the revolution,” he said.
“And just done in a way that, as so many artists have done…they kind of just ride the line between being a little bit critical and hiding that criticism within metaphor and other things. So the lyrics are fun, but I think just musically, they are one of the most powerful and energetic salsa bands of our time.”