I had been in the Dominican Republic for over half a year now and I missed seeing some good music. Obviously when you're there, you have to adapt, listen to the local music, but there is only so much Merengue and Salsa a man can take. Back home I went to concerts whenever anything reasonably good came somewhere near me, over here I hadn't seen anything yet. I had missed Mano Negra by just about a month, which would have been brilliant, seeing them in two different parts of the world.
The Coco band were the commercial hit of the moment in the early nineties. Singer Pochy was a big hero, their tapes were sold on the beach by the dozens, illegal copies obviously. It wasn't my music, after a while here, I even knew the difference between traditional local music, good music and commercial crap. The Coco band was the last category. Juan Luis Guerra was making name for himself in the United States and elsewhere, he won Grammy's and all. However, he hardly gave concerts back home anymore and if he did, it was extremely expensive and rapidly sold out. Guerra was for the upper class and upper middle class, although that last category hardly existed in the Dominican Republic. The Coco band was lower class music, music from the street, or, as I found out, music for public buses. Whenever I went to Santo Domingo, a 50 minutes bus tour, it was inevitable that their music came up on the radio. So the volume goes to 10, everyone sings along and tries to move, a major achievement given that there were at average about 35 people (not included children, chickens and luggage) sitting on the 24 seats the mini buses had.
Nevertheless, when you do get the chance to go and see a band live, you adapt and go along. As in Rome do as the Romans, when in Santo Domingo, do as the Dominicans. We arrived well in time, the setting was great, an old fort in the old town of the city, overlooking the harbour of the Rio Ozama. Beautiful weather, nice crowd. Soon I've got my first Cuba libre in my hands. I hardly ever drank anything, but over here, it is almost impossible to avoid them. Only disadvantage is that the rum is cheaper than the coke, you can imagine how they mix them. I had to go back to get an extra coke, to make my own mix.
The first thing I notice is that the public is a bit different from your average concert crowd. Back home you have to be in between 15 and 35 to go to a concert. If you're younger, you get sent home, if you're older, you get stared at and feel the pity. Over here, there is no age limit, either way. Whole families are doing their weekend picnic in the grass, waiting for the band to come on stage, in the meantime loudly singing along with the radio that's always playing. The amount of kids stuns me.
They do even more when the band gets to stage and starts playing their latest hit "Pa' los Coquitos" a song about children not wanting to be beaten by their parents anymore. All kids know the song, from everywhere, they storm up to the stage, and several of them climb up to join the band's background choir and dance along. From the very first tone, this is a huge party. I'm standing in the back and wonder what is happening, this is nothing I have seen anywhere before. After a couple of songs, the children were back into the crowd, the band plays songs I never knew were theirs, though I had heard them several times on the radio. The best view is the fact that everybody is entertaining himself or herself. Nobody just stares and listens, as you so often see at jazz or blues concerts. Everybody is moving, singing and definitely dancing.
A few metres in front of me a grandfather is dancing with his 9-year-old granddaughter, while his wife dances with her 8-year-old grandson. The best view is directly in front of me. A mother with a little baby, the girl must be around 1 year old. She holds her hands down, the girl holds her mothers fingers as a balance and moves. She's actually wiggling her little butt! After a while she gets too tired and loses her balance, so mother picks her up and she continues to dance. I realise this moment that I will never ever be able to dance like a Dominican. I already knew I wasn't very talented, but living here gives me the advantage over all tourists of having more time to master it. Apart from that, with locals helping me out, I always thought I looked reasonable on the dance floor. Merengue isn't too difficult and I was smart enough to go for a drink, a rest or a loo break whenever Salsa was being played. But over here, I see that I have two major disadvantages. I have started 20 years late and I haven't got the music in my blood, as all Dominicans do.
Therefore, although the Coco band was not my music, I still had a great time. Who wouldn't, standing in the middle of a party, surrounded by beautiful and happy people, nice weather, good drinks and a band that is playing for all they're worth?