Before Gente de Zona arrives, the Ciudad Deportiva’s sportsfield looks like a scene from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Looking out from the stage, to be seen is a sea of people from the entrance to the back of the field. Despite the protection offered by umbrellas and parkas, the rain wets bodies.
“I’ve been here since 5:00pm to see Laura and Gente de Zona (GDZ). I love Alexander and Randy’s reggaeton,” says Marialides, a fourth year university economics student, while she focuses her cell phone camera on the stage, waiting for the show to begin.
“I never thought that a Gente de Zona concert like this would be possible. I’ve never been able to see them live until today, and much less Laura,” she tells me with the excitement of a young girl.
There seems to be no end to the downpour. It’s almost 11:00pm (July 27) and spirits are still high. “Laura, Laura,” shout hundreds of women from under their umbrellas.
Thousands of people have been at the Ciudad Deportiva since early afternoon, and they endure the angry sky with the stoicism of an army.
“Thank you, Cuba, for waiting on us! The rain is not going to stop this concert, the party is on, no matter what!” shouts Alexander Delgado to kick off the Caribbean liturgy with Randy Malcom and their musicians. The crowd welcomes the reggaeton idols with cheers, lifting their cell phones into the air, recording their own images of the moment that must be on thousands of social media accounts by now.
“We always represent Cuba. We are Cuban, and for some time now, we’ve been wanting to do a concert like this,” Alexander adds before giving the band the green light.
It’s not only reggaeton that flows from the stage - erected near the same location where two years ago the Rolling Stones played – but more of a mix that has this genre as a foundation, incorporating other tropical and urban styles.
“Bailando” sounds and fans put their bodies in motion.
“This is my soundtrack,” 27 year old Alberto Vidal tells me, and later shows me all the Gente songs on his phone, along with those of Micha. The musicians talk about their love and affection for Cuba.
Alexander announces that among spectators on the field is Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, and asks for a round of applause, saying, “I want to say hello to someone special, I think it’s something pretty nice, and I want you to know that we have his presence here, and I want to thank him for coming to share this moment with us and especially with you, who are the people that we represent. Let’s have a hand for our President Díaz-Canel, who is here. Thank you for being here at this time, in front of the people, alongside the people, spending time with Gente de Zona,” Alexander said.
The musician sings with his deep voice, and talks with his hands, and his body. At his side, Randy smiles, and asks if the party should go on. The answer comes with a flood of adrenalin.
“I’ve been a Van Van fan all my life,” Alfredo Martínez tells me, as he shows me a couple dance moves, and adds “But I recognize that Gente de Zona are professionals. I don’t like reggaeton, but whatever they do, I can’t miss it.”
Dressed up in a white suit and hat, he assures me this is a good opportunity for Cubans. I look at the stage and the faces under the umbrellas, and say, “You’re right,” and he starts to dance again like Pedrito Calvo, without letting go of my hand.
Gente de Zona recalls Juan Formell, too, dedicating a few words to Los Van Van and its founder. Randy Malcom smiles as he tries out a raspy voice to sing like Pedrito.
“I adore women,” Alexander says to reassure fans before launching into
“Traidora,” the hit they recorded with Marc Anthony.
Gente de Zona are a tight duo, and have grown on stage since Enrique Iglesias gave them a hands-up in the Latino market.
The pair begins to call up guests. Introducing Diana Fuentes, they say, “We love her so much,” before the threesome sings “La vida me cambió,” and the crowd jumps as if possessed.
Maykel seems to be a killjoy, the only one among a group of teenagers who is not moving at all. He explains, “Reggaeton is not my thing,” as his female friends playfully flirt, rub his back, and tell him to stop acting like “a statue.”
Zion and Lennox appear onstage, shocking the crowd.
“This is getting hot,” David tells me when I approach to meet the group he arrived with.
“My team won today and now I’m gonna have a tremendous party with Gente de Zona. You can’t ask for more,” said the young lawyer wearing an Argentina t-shirt with Messi’s name on the back.
“Súbeme la radio” is up next, GDZ with Zion and Lennox, who add fuel to the song. It’s not Enrique Iglesias, the other star who recorded the track, although people think he could appear at any minute.
“With Gente de Zona you never know. They are in the know and can bring anybody they want to Cuba,” comments Liney, a young olive-skinned woman, with coffee colored eyes.
The Puerto Ricans thank Randy and Alexander for the opportunity to perform in Havana, “We’ve wanted to come to Cuba for years, and we made it thanks to Gente de Zona,” they say.
The shouts of “Laura, Laura,” are a rising wave, coming from a line of girls that arrived early in the afternoon. They are soaked. Their bodies covered in rivers of rainwater, sweat, and full of adrenalin.
Laura Pausini arrives like a lightning bolt onstage. She can’t wait. She sings “Se fue,” with the crowd joining in. At my side, a 70-year-old woman sings along like any other teenager. She knows all the extroverted Italian’s lyrics by heart.
Laura sings three songs, a tribute to spontaneity and gratitude, saying, “I carry the colors of the Cuban flag in my heart, too,” before sharing a warm embrace with GDZ, and launching into a stormy “Nadie ha dicho,” the track she recorded with the Cuban duo.
The rain doesn’t stop, and nor do Gente de Zona. The packed party continues with cell phones held high. They put all their energy into “Más macarena,”“Quédate conmigo” and “Si no vuelves.” Everyone sings and moves to the stylized reggaeton beat. The ritual, worthy of a photograph, is a confirmation. Almost everyone came to hear Gente de Zona and relive - in the flesh - their songs that are part of the city’s sound track.
Alexander and Randy embrace. The groups of young people around me, behind me, do the same. The concert ends and the crowd leaves singing the contagious chorus, “Y se formó la gozadera,” (The party is on). It is repeated as the partygoers disperse onto Cerro’s streets and into alleys, metaphorically hundreds of kilometers from Alamar where Gente de Zona was born, before becoming a world phenomenon of Cuban music.