Cuban Mela fires up at Camden Forge



The Cuban Mela was inarguably the LJF’s most vibrant closing event.


Onstage before a giant Cuban flag, a sprawling line-up of London’s finest – trumpeter Nick Smart and his Trogon project; trombonist Justin Thurgur, late of Bellowhead, and his crew – showcased material from forthcoming albums; in demand rumbero Gerardo de Armas & Su Rumbache (featuring a line up of erstwhile bandleaders including vocalist Ednar ‘Picki’ Landa and timbales Godfather Roberto Pla, along with guitarist Chris Montague of Troyka and the Russian-born rumbera Olga Bagley) delivered a rootsy mix of Afro-Cuban chants and heavy duty percussion driven by Oreste ‘Sambroso’ Noda Fernandez


After which they were joined by MOBO-winning British star Denys Baptiste on tenor sax and on double bass, elder statesman Gary Crosby – who later told me that, as a child growing up in coastal Jamaica, he could see Cuba from his bedroom. Aided by classically-trained British Nigerian pianist Jonathan Idiagbonya and a chant-a-long, hands-in-the-air crowd, it was an inventive jam with roots in Africa and the Caribbean ­– and a union that felt like start of something big.

­– Jane Cornwell

– Photos by Deborah Jaffe