Thursday, 29 April 2010
Barranquilla is full of nightclubs of all sorts. From what they call in Germany chici miki places full of the glitterati, to reckless whorehouses, most people's tastes are to a certain extent catered for. One place however, stands out. La Troja is a salsa estadero, essentially a shop front with chairs outside, that plays the best salsa on the Carribbean coast. Here is an article I wrote on it for El Heraldo.
The article can be read in Spanish here.
All the cities in the world have nightclubs, but only Barranquilla has La Troja. Just like the Tiendecita de la 44, also covered in sparkling marimondas and Carnaval bulls, this cradle of salsa on the coast forms an integral part of the city's identity.
Brought up in a salsa home, since I was young the big hits of Willie Colon, Gilberto Santa Rosa, and Grupo Niche would accompany me whenever I travelled with my father.
Nonetheless, there is a big difference between listeneing to my father's time-ravaged salsa cassettes through his 1986 Ford Escort speakers, and being surrounded by cold beers, and the inimitable atmosphere of La Troja.
The magic of the place is that in many ways, it functions as a microcosm of the city it has come to symbolise. From the moment one enters, ushered to their table by the waiters, one notes the old couples, waltzing respectfully with each other, the groups of men speaking animatedly amongst themselves, and the young hipster kids, reintegrating themselves with the rich culture of their forefathers.
Having said that, for a salsa beginner, La Troja is an intimidating place. As there is no dance floor per se, people boogie between the tables and chairs, focusing the view of the spectators on the few who are brave enough to ask a girl to dance.
This professional atmosphere is reinfoced by the shows that take place every couple of hours. In the first a dark girl danced so hard and so fast that she lost her shoes. In the second, a rotund women and her slightly more lithe daughter took turns entertaining the public with their sparkly outfits and rustic routine. On top of this though, on the night I attended, La Troja was hosting two special guests, both salsa experts.
With an exclusive set, Jairo Paba (the voice of Barranquilla's most popular breakfast radio show and quite the personality -Ed) arrived to enjoy some cold beers. Later, a Puerto Rican radio presenter, based in New York, dropped by to play some of his favourite records.
By this time, everyone had drunk enough 'frias' (cold beers) and enough aguardiente that most people were on their feet dancing, clapping and sweating smiles.
This therefore meant, that I could no longer hide behind my Club Colombia, and the time had come for me to join the fray. In England, there is little traditional dance culture (aside form perhaps Morris Men -Ed) as there is in Latin America. The idea of asking a girl to dance in front of everyone so that they could see my impressive lack of rhythm, filled me with terror. Thank God I found a teacher who treated me with patience and understanding, proud to show me the basic steps.
With my shame and embarrassment at last overcome (or at least fogged), I started to get confident. One, two, thre; one, two, three, I counted in my head, making mistakes at every stage. Nonetheless, with every error, it seemed to matter less. In La Troja, the important thing is to try, and at the very least, I can surely say I tired.