Girding up my flip-flops and sheltering under a battered orange umbrella held together with spit and safety pins, I set out for my friend the Acrobat’s house across town to see if we might make a plan.
Thus it was that we found ourselves at nearly midnight at the Makena Cantina Club (free entry on Sundays) in leafy Palermo swigging cold beers and waiting for the band to start.
Makena is unashamedly red, black and under-the-top glitzy. I like the little red shiny tiles and the long rectangular fish tank window at the front which always makes me feel deliciously voyeuristic. I like its size – not too small that you know everyone in there inside of 15 minutes, and not so big that you haven’t a chance in hell of ever finding that hottie at the bar who grinned at you so engagingly.
The bar is built on three levels – ground floor for dancing, first floor balcony for sprawling on sofas and the stage on a mezzanine in between. Giant silver mirror balls sparkle and twist in the dim light. Row upon row of liquor bottles are red-backlit behind the long dark bar. The walls are red and black. The art is monochrome. The bathrooms are so tastefully done out that I’d be happy to do up my kitchen in the same style if I had one.
Sunday night is the regular Afro Mama Jams night. These guys are a soul/funk/R&B/hip-hop collective, with a core of regulars and many guests. On the whole they are fantastically talented. The crew is all about having a good time and doing huge amounts of improvisation, which when it works is bloody marvellous, and when it doesn’t makes my ears bleed.
They start off well: low-tempo funk improv. Slide onto sofas on the upper level and let the smooth sounds of well-played guitar, keyboard and sax wash over us. Turns out the saxophonist can sing too. All groovy, literally, but hardly stuff to swing the hips to.
Some of the musicians swap on and off the stage and I gradually become aware that they’re not entirely in tune. Start concentrating and come to the conclusion that they’re starting a quarter to half a key different and staying there for the whole song, all except for the keyboardist who seems to be playing a different melody altogether.
A pretty girl belts out an Erykah Badu cover which would have been wonderful but for the disharmony behind her and the fact that the guy singing the duet with her is so out of tune he should be gagged.
Matters improve when the best regular singer of the crew, a diminutive chap with the most enormous afro hair and the pure funk-soul energy of a younger Michael Jackson jumps up and gives it some welly, but he’s a fighting a losing battle against the discord.
The crowd was sparse this night, but if Sunday finds you low on cash and looking for something to do, there’s always Makena and Afro Mama Jams. It’s usually a better time than the end to the waterlogged weekend detailed here.
Matador’s Focus Page on Buenos Aires is a great place to start whether you’re already here or on your way. From public transportation to volunteering, we’ve got you covered.