Scottish/Cuban hip hop lunacy comes to Dubai. And we couldn't be happier. Time Out has a chat with the bonkers Cuban Brothers.
Four men from Scotland slap on fake tan, polyester pants and chest rugs then bare their Cuban alter egos while prancing around to golden era hip hop. You wouldn’t think this was a winning recipe for an international DJ act, but it’s come up trumps for The Cuban Brothers for the past 10 years. Becky Lucas spoke to Mike Keat aka Miguel Mantovani – the front mustachioed man in perhaps the only club cabaret act in the world.
What are you doing right now? Waiting for a taxi to pick me up to go to New York to play a club. I got married yesterday and had a baby last week so it’s all a bit mental.
Are you Miguel right now or Mike? I think I’m Mike. I actually don’t know myself. The characters definitely overlap. Miguel’s a fully-rounded character. I’ve been doing him for 10 years now so he’s pretty four-dimensional. He’s not just some dude with a dodgy ‘tache and a Latin machismo kind of attitude. When I initially started doing him, his character let me get away with murder. When you’re playing a character you can say what you like, you can do what you like as long as you’re not being outright offensive. I would never want to do that anyway.
Did you create the act by design or accident in the first place? It was by design. I started playing Miguel about 10 years ago when I used to DJ in an Edinburgh jazz club. The character of Miguel is as a way to sing, tell gags and dance and do stuff I’d probably feel too self-conscious to do without make-up and a wig. I grew up as a DJ and was in clubs from the age of 15. I watched the scene disappear up its own a**. There was a lot of chin stroking: people standing against walls and nodding their heads, rather then jumping up and down and partying. It was kind of an anti-chin stroking movement. Within three weeks the bar was packed and taking so much money.
When did you meet your brother, Archerio Mantovani (aka Archie Easton)? A year later. He was on tour with The Prodigy at the time as a breakdancer and was the UK’s number one B-boy two years running. We hit it off straight away.
You’re probably the only club cabaret act in existence. Who inspires you? We went on tour with James Brown. He has been our biggest inspiration: he was a great musician but he’d also tell a few stories, do some gags, act like a little bit of a c***. He essentially invented what is now black music – there wouldn’t be any hip hop or R&B or soul without him. As for comedians, I was a compere for Ken Dodd and worked with Frank Carson. So I’ve got a grounding in comedy which probably isn’t trendy these days.
Do you have to adapt your act for a more sensitive Dubai crowd? I try to choose different numbers and stories all the time: we never put on the same show twice, but in Dubai we’re more aware that we’re in a moderate country and that we might not be able to get as loose as we would in Europe. At the same time though, we do what we do. We’re always going to push the boundaries as far as we can.
How did you find Dubai last time you were over? We had a brilliant time. Everyone knew who The Cubans were and the crowd was really receptive and enthusiastic. We went to Wild Wadi. Fat Phil, one of my best mates who was DJing with us, went down the big slide. I’ve never seen a 22-stone man with a pair of shorts so far up to his nipples that the toggles were hanging around his ears: it was hilarious.
What’s happening with your TV show? We’ve had the terrestrial channels approach us over the years but, without sounding really w**** about it, we wanted to hang onto our artistic integrity. So we’ve produced it ourselves. It should be ready by June or July.
Finally, have you been to Cuba? I’ve been about nine times and done three or four gigs. A couple of them were unannounced in the street, out of the back of a car. I was a bit worried about what they would think, but they loved it – we were even carried out on shoulders and stuff. I mean, we weren’t taking the p*** out of them or their culture, it’s more like we were taking the p*** out of ourselves and how Europeans perceive Cubans completely wrongly. [In Miguel accent] But it helped that I speak a wee bit of Spanish.
The Cuban Brothers play at Plan B, 10pm-3am, Dhs120 or Dhs3,000 (inc Dhs2,000 beverages and eight tickets). Email firstname.lastname@example.org. The new single featuring tracks ‘Mike For President’ and ‘I Can’ is out at the end of March.