Los Van Van proved one thing Tuesday night when they filled the stage at Liberty Hall: An embargo can stifle an economy but it sure as heck can't suffocate a nation's music.
The 15-piece Cuban orchestra -- three singers, two violins, one bass, one flutist, two keyboardists, three horn players, one drummer and two percussionists -- turned the hall into a sweaty barrio of Havana by the end of its 1 1/2-hour nonstop set and encore.
Women from the audience -- some wearing the island's popular dominoes -- joined the all-male band on-stage to gyrate their hips and shimmy their bodies while front-row fans waved a Cuban flag to the timba beat.
Los Van Van, which had to cancel its Oct. 9 performance in Miami because of anti-Castro Cubans, had the crowd in its clutches by its third salsa-laden song, and then turned up the heat with a sizzling improvisation from the lead keyboardist and a rhythmic run from the drummer.
Most impressive was the Latin jazz-flavored work of the flute player, who puffed his way through wild, fluttering melodies.
One violinist couldn't confine his love for his native music to his playing. He first did a slow samba with his violin, holding it as if it were his long-lost lover; later, he got down with his bow, waving it overhead while he pumped his body in front of the crowd.
Los Van Van supposedly is the first in a string of Latin bands that promoters want to bring to Lawrence. The next one can't arrive too soon.
-- Jan Biles' phone message number is 832-7146. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.