The rhythm of the night

Britain's best known show promoter has passed up the chance to put on The Rolling Stones at Wembley. Instead he and fellow pop entrepreneur Bill Curbishley, the manager of The Who, plan to turn the Royal Albert Hall into a sea of exotic costumes amid pulsating salsa and rumba rhythms and intricate latin jazz for 10 shows next month. Entranced by what they saw on a visit to Havana, the pair are bringing across the dancers, musicians and singers Tropicana, the most famous night club in Latin America.

They have financial as well as artistic reasons. Rock stars nowadays keep so much of their profits as to make life for the poor promoter a little precarious. The singers and dancers from poverty-stricken Cuba have no such pretensions. And the colour, dance routines and latin rhythms of the 90-minute whirlwind of energy that is Tropicana are likely to entrance British audiences. Tropicana comes with nearly 60 years of musical pedigree.

Immersed in musical history, it has witnessed Nat King Cole and Sarah Vaughan jamming for over five hours until dawn. Even the lugubrious Cuban leader Fidel Castro can occasionally be spied tapping a foot in the audience.

Seeing the show in Havana, it is easy to see how Goldsmith and Curbishley were seduced beneath the Carribean skies, and indeed why the mafia offered $5m dollars for the "paradise under the stars" in 1958.

The club is set in a garden of palm trees, with walkways emerging high above the audience and joining the main stage. The pace is frenetic. Just as one finishes watching an exotic, erotic, routine of beautiful girls dressed in garish plumage, wearing mock chandeliers on their heads and a small thong between their buttocks, one's attention is diverted to another walkway where another routine starts - perhaps a three-part harmony or a ballet sequence prior to a dose of latin jazz from the 21-string orchestra. Food and drink are served at tables from which one watches the show, a set-up which will be replicated at the Royal Albert Hall.

There is an old joke one hears backstage at the Tropicana: What is the definition of a quartet? Answer: A Cuban orchestra at the end of a foreign tour. Tropicana's artistic director Santiago Alfonso, who has been there 33 years, has no illusions that there may well be political defections on the his troupe's first visit to Britain. "I have dancers all over the world," he remarks drily.

In Britain the dancers will certainly cause a stir. Model agencies have been in touch with Goldsmith inquiring about the girls. More significantly, minders have been employed to accompany them everywhere - in other words, to stop them defecting.

One only has to spend a night in Havana to see why few of these artists will be keen to return. The music and dancing may be infectious but they are increasingly a backdrop to prostitution. At the top Salsa club in Havana half the audience will be prostitutes - students, teachers, doctors, engineers, all desperate to earn the US dollar which is the only currency in Cuba that matters. The peso is the official currency, but it buys very little. Shops that take dollars, formerly a black market currency now legalised, give a chance of a better lifestyle, but the average wage is around $20 dollars a month. Poverty is widespread, and prostitution has mushroomed in Havana to breathtaking proportions. The Malecon, the sea wall in the heart of the city, is outlined with girls from dusk onwards, as are the centres of the streets awaiting kerb crawlers.

And then there are the clubs. I went to Palacio de Salsa, the famed club, in the centre of Havana. As I entered a girl slipped her arm through mine to gain entry. Any male, either alone or in a group of other males, finds a girl moves in to sit next to him and asks for a cuba libre, the exotically named rum and coke.

Elena is 19, has dyed her hair blonde and wears gaudy yellow platform shoes. She is also working for her diploma in tourism studies and is on an English course at college. Her story is typical: "I live with my mother and my sister," she said. "My mother works in a factory earning the equivalent of $20 dollars a month. I'm 19 and I've been doing this for about a year. My mother wasn't wild about it when I started, but she understands. We have to have dollars to live properly and the foreign tourists are the one way of getting them. I charge up to $100 dollars, depending on what they want, down to $50." How many of her fellow students at college had turned to prostitution? "All of them," she replied.

"Cuban culture has always had a sexual environment," says Tropicana artistic director Santiago Alfonso. "In our dancing, the movement is always sexual because dance is sex in some sense. Dancers are trained to provoke a sexual response to each other. Rumba is a sexual relation between a couple."

This artistic, aesthetic and thrilling symbolic sex is what the audiences at the Royal Albert Hall will applaud in a colourful and exuberant show. It will be promoted as a taste of Cuba. But the real taste of Havana today is calculated, mercenary sex to stave off hunger by a population that remains proud of its best-known night club, but at $60 a visit could never afford to enjoy it.

Tickets for `Club Tropicana' at the Royal Albert Hall priced pounds 17.50 to pounds 35, tel 0171-589 8212

Rock promoter Harvey Goldsmith is staging his biggest gamble yet, deserting rock 'n' roll to bring Cuba's spectacular cabaret night, `Club Tropicana', to Britain for the first time. There will be 10 shows at the Royal Albert Hall, for which a massive advertising campaign begins this week. David Lister travelled to Havana to see the original show and stumbled upon a darker side to night life in the Cuban capital.

News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links