Wednesday, 13 March 2013

'Biking with Che' in Café Lento

Sean Hayes writes:
MESTISA - Beautiful songs from South America
Taking refuge from the surprisingly crisp winds of an early spring evening in the warm confines of the Café Lento was a perfect prelude to the sun-scorched journey of one Ernesto Guevara, (later to re-moniker himself 'Che', which he adopted because it was an Argentinian colloquialism for 'hey you' and used as a general term in other areas of South America to address Argentinians) from Argentina to Florida, taking in much of the continent along the way. 

Our introduction into the world of the young Che began with the specially decorated Café Lento, which featured pictures and illustrations of Guevara (yes, including that one) and as the centre-piece a large-scale map of South America, with the course of Ernesto and Alberto charted via illustration. Mestisa, the band made up of Barbara, Ana Luisa, Mike and Tenley, were setting out their assortment of weird and wonderful authentic instruments as the audience arrived. Amongst their inventory, as they explained during the course of the performance, was a quijada - the jawbones of a donkey played using the teeth, a charango - a small lute-like instrument which traditionally would have been made from the shell of an armadillo and a cajón - a box-shaped instrument developed by slaves whose other instruments had been taken away. To complement the music, wine and food prepared by Jose Gonzalez was served to complete the authentic atmosphere.  From there, we were introduced to an evening immersed in all things Che, as a narration of the biking trip, concisely scripted and read by Richard Wilcocks, based on and featuring extracts from Guevara's own Notas de Viaje (Motorcycle Diaries) provided a combination of irreverent insight and deep historical context to the life of one of the most iconic figures in modern history. 

Our story began with the son of a wealthy property developer. During his days as a medical student at the University of Buenos Aires, Ernesto met Alberto Granada, who was in charge of the distribution of medical supplies in a nearby leper colony. In 1952, after deciding to take a year off from his studies, Ernesto joined Alberto on a trip which had long been their shared ambition: an odyssey across Latin America on a motorcycle, namely their occasionally unreliable 1939 500cc Norton, which was christened La Poderosa - The Mighty One. What followed was a surprisingly funny series of mis-adventures, as Ernesto doggedly journeyed on, not at all resembling the noble freedom fighter that the colossally famous portrait would later depict. Instead, he and Alberto were mangueros motorizados - motorised scroungers - and amongst other exploits they accidentally shot one of their hosts' beloved German Shepherd dog, passed themselves off as expert researchers of leprosy and suffered through an unfortunate vomiting incident while stowed away on a cargo ship. 

This was far from a simple tale of gap-year shenanigans, however. Over the course of Ernesto's journey we saw the origins of his revolutionary leanings, as he encountered the harsh callousness which poverty can bring about in the form of an elderly, dying servant whose chronic asthma was met with apathy from her burdened family. Later, as Ernesto and Alberto's journey took them through a Chile on the brink of a massive presidential election, they encountered a stranded miner and his wife - outcast after being held in prison for his allegiance to the Chilean Communist Party - on their way to seek work in the terrible conditions of a sulphur mine deep in the Chilean mountains. The encounter led Ernesto to describe the couple as “tragic” and “a live representation of the proletariat of any part of the world”. 

Inserted into the narration was one of the poems (in English translation) by Pablo Neruda which Ernesto probably read on his travels, perhaps while dreaming of Chichina, the girl he left behind in Buenos Aires and who dropped him - 'Poem 20', which begins:

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
Write, for example, "The night is starry
and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance"

The music beautifully and powerfully represented Ernesto's feelings in this section of his journey, expressing not just his sadness with the mourning vocals but also using a rhythmic pounding to represent his rising anger and revolutionary spirit.  The music expressed perfectly the emotion of Ernesto's journey, as well as giving an authentic flavour, the songs being interspersed not only with the narration but with traditional Colombian dancing. Participation from the audience lent a sense of distinct camaraderie to the evening. Indeed, 'Biking With Che' was a witty and occasionally wry insight into the early days of an iconic legend, which gave us a powerful impression of the man behind the T-shirts and student posters. 

Sally Bavage adds:
The audience feedback, the delicious food and the atmosphere were fantastic.  Well done yet again to Café Lento, host Richard Lindley, and narrator Richard Wilcocks, for another splendid LitFest event which attracted a wide age range!  Interesting, too, that the importance of having time to read poetry was emphasised as Ernesto developed the foundations for Che.  

To book Mestisa contact Ana Luisa Muñoz  


  1. Hope you get to do "Biking with Che" again sounds like a great event.

  2. Hope you get to do "Biking with Che" again. Sounds like a great event