“In Havana, they are doing what we do — they just do it without the same equipment,” says Rolando Rojas, pulling out his phone, showing a video of musicians on the streets of Havana. As he says, they are making an incredible sound — like a band much bigger than the four men on the corner — without a microphone or speakers. “The music revolves around percussion,” he says, “that and piano, and horns.”
On Saturday night, Aug. 17, guitar virtuoso Rojas and a band of accomplished musicians and dancers will take the stage at Key West Theater, bringing with them the music of Cuba — and Chile, Venezuela, New York and Key West. Rojas has been playing Latin music in Key West for over 25 years, after having classically trained on guitar and piano in his native Chile.
Rojas’s original home is in the vineyard and wine-making region of Viña Del Mar in Chile.
His first gig in 1993 was with the original Conjunto Caribe band with Jose Rodriquez. At its formation in 1989, it was a 12-piece band with mostly Navy guys playing. In 1993, the original band downsized and changed its name to Caribe of Key West. The combination of Conjunto Caribe and Caribe of Key West have been playing together for probably the longest run of any Key West band.
On Saturday, Rojas will be joined on stage by Evelyn Suarez Calero, a celebrated Cuban American flutist and saxophonist — and music teacher — down from Miami, along with powerhouse vocalist Lu Annen, as well as Hiram Garzaro on percussion, Mario Quintero on piano and Caribe member Kenny Fradley on trumpet. They’ll be joined by the Key West Dancers, performing cha cha, merengue, salsa and bachata. This is the third time the group has been united as “Havana Nights.”
Rojas and an ensemble of musicians have been performing Latin music at El Meson de Pepe, Sloppy Joe’s and Virgilio’s (and more recently, Saturday afternoons poolside at Havana Cabana) for years. Ralph De Palma, producer of the show, musical documentarian and aficionado, calls Rojas and his rotating band members the “keepers of the flame” of the eclectic Key West music scene. Rojas plays on average 300 shows a year, often working seven days a week.
“This is the most unique music scene in the country,” says De Palma, “and musicians can work. We have a half dozen bars here that have three sets a day.”
The evening of “Havana Nights,” too, will reflect diverse influences rather than strictly traditional Cuban music. Rojas promises a “good combo of slow and fast Latin music, music from current stars and Top 40, as well as great old Cuban music.” He draws from a range of influences, promising even a jam that starts with “I Like it Like That” and ends with a rendition of Metallica. There will be two high-energy sets with an intermission between. While the musical mix may be unorthodox, Rojas promises a show like those at the famous Tropicana in Havana.
“But that’s 1200 people, and this is 300,” he laughs. The theater will clear out the first three rows for a dance floor twice the size as it has been in years past, so that the audience can join in when the rhythm moves them. There will be cocktail service to embolden those who are rusty, and as Rojas says, “Trust me—there will be lots of guitar.”
Saturday, August 17
Doors at 7 p.m. Show at 8 p.m.
Key West Theater
512 Eaton St.
www.keywesttheater.com for tickets