Whilst in Bs As previously we'd discovered that Olodum, the big samba reggae group from Bahia, Brazil, were going to be playing. Some of you will remember them playing on Paul Simon’s record 'the rhythm of the saints’. So we bought tickets before we left and, as it was going to be a very late night, also found a place to stay close by and booked it on line. How organised!
However, the best laid plans... Just before we left Colonia, we checked the confirmation email for the hotel address and discovered it was about a mile away from where we thought it was. We hadn’t realised that there were two Hotel Marbellas and we’d booked the wrong one! The one we wanted to be in now had no vacancies and we just didn’t have time to find anything else. Oh well, exercise is good for us even if it is in the early hours of the morning!
Anyway, excitement of excitement, whilst waiting for the boat at the Buquebus terminal, a few guys with rather whacky hairstyles (fluorescent dreadlocks etc) turned up and sat a few feet away from us. Gradually more joined them, several wearing Olodum t-shirts.
As the group grew and the number of different Olodum t-shirts increased we realised that we were probably in the presence of the great Olodum themselves! How exciting! We resisted the temptation to try and converse with them as it’s hard enough to understand what people are saying to us in Spanish and they, being from Brasil, were speaking very fast Portuguese, of which we understood virtually nothing at all!
We found our hotel and were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves next door to 36 Billares, birthplace of the Argentine Billiards Association.
So the error had a positive side! We had some time to spare before the gig as it wasn’t scheduled to start until half past midnight so we enjoyed re-aquainting ourselves with BsAs. Returning to a place where you have spent time is always enjoyable as you are not required to find out where, when and how everything happens.
A glow of familiarity came upon us, we know this city, the streets and what to do. We spent some of the time trying to understand the less familiar Argentine mobile phone system to replace TP’s phone (lost in Uruguay). Anyone who has tried to choose a phone in UK will understand how impenetrable the whole thing is; now try to do it in rudimentary Spanish!
We made our way to the gig, stopping en route for a bite to eat. When we got to the gig at 12:30 (TP being sure that it would not start on time) we found that the queue to get in had made its way around all four sides of the block in which Konex (see our earlier blog about the drumming gig) was located. For some while there was a lot of inactivity but in time people were being let into the gig and around 1am we got in. Jenny was stopped at the door and her bag searched and contraband discovered. No, there was no concern about any drugs (the dope smoke here is pretty dense considering this is a no smoking venue) instead the woman confiscated some small packets of breadsticks that J had purloined from the restaurant! ‘We’ll have no eating in this shed’.
The warm up act were 7/8, the batucada bateria that we had seen with Carlinhos Brown, who made a pretty good start augmented by some guitar and brass and the berimbao player who had played with La Bomba. They perhaps made the wrong move, though, by including a samba reggae in the act, Olodum are practically the owners of that riff! And it proved so when Olodum took the stage.
Placing the big drums (surdos) either side of the stage with one or two cortador drums centrally the impact was fantastic. The two big surdo players are such showmen, the wild hair, juggling with their sticks (even with each other across the stage at times) but all the time keeping the thundering rock solid riff.
The group has a number of other drummers playing subsidiary roles and a sprinkling of brass, keyboards and guitar and then rings the changes with a gang of different singers/rappers that join them for a few numbers each. As usual, at these sort of gigs, we are aware of how little we in Europe hear of these outfits. There are obviously very big hits (that everyone knows the words to and sing along with) that we have not even heard (and we are interested in this type of music).
Many of you will know that Jenny is not always a night owl but she was up and bopping happily until the gig finally ended at around 4am. We were both quite pleased to note that several, younger Portenos had found the pace too much and were falling asleep around the place. However, this may have been power naps before heading off to the discos!
We made our way back through the streets where most places were closed and shuttered although there were plenty of cafes still open serving hardy crowds and some areas such as Plaza Miserere were quite full. We had been warned that this can be a dangerous place at night but we found it well lit and not really threatening at all although it was clear that the stalls were not catering for the rich and famous.
The following night we took advatage of being next door to 36 Billares to watch one of their Tango shows.
These are well established but more low key than some of the glitzy shows elsewhere. There’s a lot of banter in the show and we did not follow all of it as the only concession to English was the introductory announcement and the interval notice. We quite enjoyed the combination of music, singing and dancing as we ate our noquis.
We went on the 29th November and it is a tradition that people eat gnocci on the 29th of each month. Apparently this dates from the notion that money was short by the end of each month and all that people could afford to eat would be these little potato dumplings (ie no meat!) Several cafes and bars still put out signs on 29th to indicate that they are serving noquis today.
The next day, despite our clinging to a veggie diet (just) TP was sufficiently intrigued by the smoky asado stall at Retiro station to try a Choripan (barbcued chorizo sausage in a bread roll with extra herbs and spices). Ít was a bit spicy but also a bit gristly and we have both decided to continue the 'no meat if possible' policy!
Some of the rest of our time in BsAs has been spent sorting out some of our future movements and booking buses and hostals. We have now arranged where we will be for Christmas (Salta) and for the New Year (Cafayate). However, a less secure part of our journey may come quite soon as we are reading newspapers and watching the TV anxiously because many parts of Argentine, including some that we are hoping to travel through, are experiencing heavy flooding with many thousands of people being evacuated. We have not yet had any clear information about disruption to transport or any advice to not travel but we are aware that we may have to make adjustments to our journey.
The borders between Uruguay and Argentina are rivers but the northern bridge crossing has been almost constantly blockaded by Argentine workers for the last couple of years. As a result, it is falling into disuse as nobody can be sure that it will be open and so make alternative plans. In our case we got the boat back to Buenos Aires, just an hour across the Rio Plata.