Viernes Culturales – Calle Ocho (between 14th and 17th avenue)
The last Friday of each month brings a circus of music, art, cigars, drinks and coffee to Miami’s Calle Ocho. The event attracts folks of every age. An older man sporting a guyabera and a sharp fedora strolled down the avenue with his lady. Young men and women danced and carried on. Even a six-year-old boy clumsily kicked around on his skateboard.
By 9:30, the sidewalks between 17th avenue and 14th avenue were bustling with activity. Some people bought drinks from vendors set up at folding plastic tables in front of the stores and restaurants they represented. Some people smoked cigarettes, loudly gabbing laughing the time away.
Standing on the corner of 8th street and 16th avenue was a lesson in dissonance. From that point, one could hear awful hip-hop music from a nearby hookah lounge. An old man sang and played through a PA speaker at Top’s Cigars. A live percussion ensemble vigorously banged out a rhythm in front of a cafeteria across the street. All of this could be heard at the same time. I thought my head was going to explode, but through sheer will I managed to keep my grey matter between my ears.
That wasn’t counting the Mariachis a little further down the street. Their acoustic instruments didn’t stand a chance against the amplified fury of the PA speakers.
Though it’s unnerving to hear it all simultaneously, I feel it’s a blessing to have such a variety of live music to choose from at the same time. The ambiance reminded me of a cross between 6th street in Austin, Texas and Bourbon Street in New Orleans—with a Cuban twist, of course.
Clusters of folks crossed the street when and where they felt it was appropriate. Consequently, traffic slowed as it passed through the festival. It wouldn’t pick up again until it passed Domino Park.
Domino Park was ground zero. A stage was erected at the far end of the plaza for the main act of the night. Along the sides of the plaza leading up to the stage were booths featuring ethnic artwork by local artists. Marlene Gasiba had her 3-D artwork on display there. One of her pieces paid homage to Celia Cruz and Beni More. On it were the three-dimensional likenesses of a guitar, some bongos and congas. Her work can be found on GasibaCubanArt.com.
Other booths featured assortments of beaded jewelry, canvas paintings and plates decorated with representations of the Last Supper and visions of Cuba.
At 10, Morist Jimenez, Jr. and his band took the main stage. They played with a mellow feel, though still rife with rhythmic color. Rows of plastic chairs were set some yards from the stage. Most were filled, some old folks had to give their feet a rest, I suppose. Nearby, some men smoked fat cigars while couples danced—the looks on their faces said they were lost in their own world, spinning and stepping beneath the featureless night sky (all the ambient light wouldn’t let the stars come out, even for the lovers).
Some old Cuban dressed in a white suit and a white top hat danced around enthusiastically with a sign that read, “Murió Fidel Yo Quiero el Cambio.” He made a cutting gesture at his throat to anyone that looked at him. Whether or not Castro is dead is the subject of debate in the Cuban community. Officially, he’s still alive, but news of his “death” has struck Miami before, accompanied by spontaneous celebrations at La Carrettas and other Cuban enclaves throughout the city.
The eight-piece band played until 11, but I was gone before they took their bows. There was more music to come this Friday night.
Stay tuned for part two featuring Addax, Iko-Iko and Cojunto Progresso!