Nicky Bomba's Bustamento @ The Thornbury Theatre
Mento six-piece Bustamento are more commonly billed as Nicky Bomba’s Bustamento – and rightly so. Bomba has been doing the hard yards in the scene since the '80s, working in various outfits covering reggae, blues, roots and calypso, and he holds mento close to his Maltese heart. From the get-go, you can tell Bomba loves his job – and why wouldn’t he? With his sister in the crowd, his brother on keys and his daughter on merch, this music clearly is his life.
During set-up, the Thornbury Theatre had a relaxed, subdued vibe and it seemed most people would be content to lounge in their padded chairs all evening. Even the band’s entrance didn’t seem to rouse much emotion – but that soon changed. Bomba made every effort to involve the crowd from whoa to go, and before long he had them eating from the skin of his bongos.
The music ebbed and flowed from reggae to mento, ska to Caribbean calypso, and the audience was right there riding every wave. Just one song in and the chairs started to lose their appeal – or the beer started sinking in – and the dance floor soon heaved with life. It was a giant love-in, and everyone was invited. And when infectious single, Mañana, came along, there was little resistance in singing along: “Mañana, mañana, mañana is good enough for me!”
There is clearly an element of spontaneity in Bustamento, although the band is so tuned into each other it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s planned and not. The giant conga line behind Bomba as he moved through the floor – not planned. The simultaneous group pose to the photographer mid-song – planned. The set list – still trying to work that one out.
Throughout the show, punters were invited up one by one to experience “the hot seat”, a last-minute creation inspired by the chair holding up the big umbrella on stage. Each lucky fan could don a sombrero, shake a maraca and groove along to a couple of songs – one birthday boy even got an impromptu song made up for him. Happy birthday, Dave!
A wistful Bomba summed up his life philosophy as he described one of the last tunes of the night: “This happens after the penny drops; it’s called Living The Dream.” And so it continued.
If you want to experience Bustamento, forget the CD and get yourself to one of their gigs. Just try to make it one of those sweaty, underground affairs where you become besties with your neighbour’s flailing arms by the end of the first song. “We should do this once a month,” said Bomba towards the end. And they should – just perhaps at a different venue.
BY JEN WILSON
LOVED: The interaction with the crowd.
HATED: The choice of venue.