There were lots of ways in which X Alfonso’s performance at Dade County Auditorium departed from previous generations of Cuban concerts in Miami.
There was the guitar-powered rock ’n’ roll instead of percussion and horn-heavy dance music.
There was the sophisticated backdrop of videos and photographs that added another layer of meaning to the songs.
And there was the mostly younger audience roaring for the 40-year-old Alfonso— known in Cuba simply as “Equis” (Spanish for “X”) — a new generation of exiles cheering its own musical hero. (He spent a good half hour after the show greeting and posing for pictures with fans.)
If there was often raging urgency in Alfonso’s music Saturday night, the message in the lyrics and visuals seemed more questioning than pointed. The imagery on the big onstage screen were of crowded Havana streets, crumbling buildings, soccer-playing kids and isolated old people, golden shots of the sea and the city — a gritty, elegiac visual stream that got its own cheers of recognition.
The rebellion and urgency Alfsono sings about in Revoluxion is as much personal as social. Conga Gospel was accompanied by video of a children’s choir, in their Cuban Young Pioneer uniforms, singing with Alfonso that “love can be stronger than you and me … it can change our world.”
Lean and dressed in black, his bare arms covered in tattoos, Alfonso is an electric, charismatic performer, confident and fluidly powerful on bass, percussion and keyboards. His three musicians, also in black, on bass, guitar and drums, were equally virtuoso if not as versatile. They injected a taut undercurrent of funk as well as Afro-Cuban and dizzying jazz rhythms into the tightly focused, rock- and guitar-driven music.
The crowd of about 500 sang along for much of the concert. Some of the biggest cheers of the night came for two songs from the movie Habana Blues, for which Alfonso did the soundtrack, and for an actor from the film, Roberto San Martin, who joined the band onstage. In a scene from the movie shown without music, a young, dreadlocked musician rages, “I’m 28 years old and I’ve never been out of this god-damned country” as the crowd roared in appreciation.
But Alfonso made a hopeful, personal appeal in the warm, anthemic finale, Cambiara (It Will Change), decrying hypocrisy and lies and asking people to look for their own destiny. It seemed to be about Cuba and the young exiles in the audience, but also about any frustrated, idealistic younger generation looking to the future.