It all started with a flyer on a concrete wall. During our first full day in Cordoba, Argentina, Melissa and I were on our way to pay the tab for our apartment rental. As we strolled along the pedestrian only walkway on Avenida 25 de Mayo, my eye spied a protruding section of gray wall. Recognizing the familiar fonts of music promotion, I quickly grabbed a notebook from my cargo pants pocket and hurriedly scribbled the pertinent details for several upcoming area concerts.
One particular 8 1/2 by 11 sheet immediately piqued my attention. It was decorated with a symbolic leaf and I quickly realized that its content announced a pre-party for a protest that Melissa and I were anxious to join. I knew I needed to attend the concert to make contacts for the following day’s march. I also knew I’d be going to the concert solo because concerts at clubs in Cordoba rarely begin before 1 in the morning. Melissa wouldn’t be able to start the night that late. I could sense that this show was somehow Important, but I couldn’t fathom that attending it could change my life altogether.
Live music in Cordoba Argentina
Cordoba is probably the most musically inclined city I’ve traveled to. It’s the kind of place where you are destined to hear live music every time you leave home. Local musicians and wandering performers are everywhere, and drum circles sprout up in parks and plazas. Eight hours after spotting that fateful flyer I left our apartment on a mission to find 990 Arte Club and check out some bands.
Half past midnight, I crossed a puente (bridge) and walked passed Las Heras Park, the culminating spot of the march later that day. The map I had was limited so it took me 45 minutes to find the club. I nearly gave up after losing my way and coming to a graffiti covered brick wall. But after speaking to some locals, I persevered and found the shady alley which led to the back entrance of 990 Arte Club. A burly bouncer eyed me with suspicion because the venue doesn’t get many foreign backpackers. But I was focused and would not be phased or daunted.
The bouncer led me through 990 to buy an entrance ticket at the front. Then I ordered a Fernando, a local concoction made with a bitter spirit called fernet, ice, and cola. A group of patrons played foosball, twisting their dizzied competitors, and alternating turns after nearly every goal. I was entertained by this and by the art on the walls, but soon felt out of place. I must have seemed like a rejected puppy looking to be temporarily adopted by a pack of strangers. I even contemplated hiking back to our apartment before the first band went onstage.
Live music show at 990 Arte Club
At 2:22AM an 11-piece instrumental jazz group tweaked their first notes. The stage could hardly contain all the members, their equipment, and gear. Never phased by this confined space, they jammed and nodded at each other with grinning glances.
The band consisted of a drummer, percussionist, keyboardist, guitarist, bassist, two saxophone players, a guy on accordion, another playing harmonica, a trumpeter, and a man manning a slide trombone. Each possessed a unique look and distinct playing styles but filled their roles like members of a football team. Their songs and the caffeine from my Fernando rejuvenated my spirits, so I opted to stick around for awhile.
Meeting new friends and band number two at 9-90
The band exited the stage and I followed a knowing crowd outside via the back entrance. I could quickly smell that Argentines know how to party. Citizens of Argentina enjoy relaxed laws in regards to recreational habits. They take advantage of freedoms once prevalent in the USA until some moron named Anslinger made it a goal to strip liberties and ruin the fun for us all.
Near a graffiti splashed mural, I spotted an amiable looking fellow with thick dreadlocks and was immediately drawn to his relaxed demeanor. I explained that I was new in town and needed information and provisions for the upcoming Marcha Mundial (World March). He shared with me and explained that he was a University student from Spain. His name was Fernando, (same as my drink). He majored in environmental studies and formed a group called Los Harapos with his girlfriend, Jara.
Fernando introduced me to Jara and their friends Javier and Marylaine and we exchanged bios and contact information. All of a sudden I had new friends and was rolling five-deep back into the club. A three-piece rock band, intermittently joined by a singer, was performing. The stage seemed as spacious as an African plane with only four musicians compared to the previous eleven. I filmed some short video clips and snapped a few pictures while continuing to admire art on the wall.
Lilan Sur Expres performs at 990 Arte Club
After the second set I went outside but wasn’t joined by my new buddies. They stayed indoors and claimed a spot to watch their friends, the guys from Lilan Sur Expres. Lilan Sur Expres was the third and final band and the six members hit the stage around 4AM. In the back of my mind I figured I’d stay for half the set. But once the band began their jam my feet anchored like cement blocks and I barely moved.
The rest of the crowd was bouncing, bopping, dancing, and hopping as lead singer and guitarist, Lilan, belted lyrics and chords. His band backed him with drums, bongos, a keyboard, percussion, harmonica, vocals, and bass. They seemed as if they’d been playing together for years but I later learned that they had formed only eight months prior.
Meeting Lilan after the show
After Lilan Sur Expres vacated the stage, I followed the crowd outside to locate my new Spanish friends. When I asked Fernando how to get my hands on the band’s CD, he pointed to Lilan who was standing in a circle with friends passing around post-show refreshments.
I introduced myself to Lilan, and mentioned that I was looking for a band to work with on several projects. While I was in Cordoba I wanted to teach them interactive English lessons. I also intended to record Lilan Sur Expres at multiple venues and during rehearsals, so that I could eventually edit a series of music videos. Lilan jumped at the ideas and handed me a CD that bassist Marcos had dug up. We agreed to discuss these projects at the march later that day.
For the next 10 days I would get to know the musicians in Lilan Sur Expres in an in-depth fashion. I also was fortunate to get to know their friends and supporters. In my remaining time in Cordoba, I spent time with the band at clubs, studios, radio stations, and Lilan’s house. We shared meals, mate, Fernandos, and laughs, and I was able to create a template for several music themed English lesson plans. I videotaped hours of music including a show at La Fabrica but never had the chance to teach my lessons to the band. But I didn’t care. I was too busy enjoying 10 days aboard the Lilan Sur Expres.