We tried to watch a Wes Anderson film but the theater only had one ticket left.
Isaac sighs, “What do you want to do?”
Jason and I shrug our shoulders.
“Didn’t you want to get a beer?” Jason asks.
Isaac shakes his head, pauses to think, and then suggests that we follow him. We make a left down a narrow street where the drug dealers, cops, and prostitutes all take their particular posts on a chessboard path leading up to one of those hole in the wall places only the locals seem to know about. The sign above the door reads “23” in bright marquee lights. I tip a metaphorical hat to Burroughs and nudge my way past a couple of dudes smoking hash in front of the entrance. The place is tight and not like the expression. Everyone is leaning this way and that to let people pass on their way to the stage. The chairs are arranged in rows of five with just enough room between them to make a path. We grab the only table at the front. A zealous man with loose-fitting safari clothes demands twelve Euros. We pay our fare, he stamps our hands, and then gives us each a piece of paper bearing the same mark as our hands.
“Is this for a free drink?” I ask, looking at the slip of paper.
“I think it’s for in case we wash off the stamp,” Isaac answers.
“That’s stupid,” Jason says.
We all agree it’s very stupid.
The band plays a quick warm up song, says they’ll be back in five minutes, and fifteen minutes later they start the show.
The music is a mixture of salsa, reggae, flamenco, and jazz. In between songs, the front man performs the obligatory introductions of each of the musicians including which country they’re from. The drummer is from Peru, the bassist from Algeria, the keyboard player from Columbia, and the singer points to himself and says, “China.” Everybody laughs and the show goes on.
The intimacy of the bar lends itself well to the band. The singer makes a special connection with each audience member, interacting with them, getting everyone to clap along and to sing his lyrics in both Spanish and English whether they initially wanted to or not. At a certain point he calls to the guy seated in front of us, he feigns reluctance, but in no time at all his djembe is out of its case and he adds to the beat. This really gets everyone going. Isaac, Jason, and I are now the only ones sitting down as chairs are pushed aside to make a dance floor. A sharply dressed man dances behind us until Imad pulls him on stage. He starts spinning around, drops to the floor, leaps up, grabs the front man and they start dancing together totally impromptu. Everyone loses their minds. People are screaming and dancing, sweating and swearing, leaping out of their bodies like cartoon skeletons and demanding one encore after the next. After the fifth encore the singer hoarsely thanks everyone, the band members all take a formal bow, and the evening is closed.
We leave the bar feeling winded from just watching. A prostitute asks repetitively if we want to go with her, the drug dealers eye us suspiciously, and the cops are nowhere to be found. I can’t help feeling a certain sense of serendipity about the evening as we make our way back to Isaac’s flat. Wes Anderson is a good director and all, but imagine how boring it would have been if the theater still had three tickets.