But when it comes to appeal, The Cuban Brothers are a bit different. They’re some of finest funk players on the planet, having played with a who’s who of musical greats of all stripes: Tom Jones, Mick Jagger, Nick Cave, Amy Winehouse, Edwyn Collins, Prince Buster, Pharrell Williams, Prodigy, Q-Tip — and on their new album, Yo Bonita!, alongside Kurtis Blow, Mica Paris, KT Tunstall, Tenor Fly and Omar.
Like Sugar ‘n Spice
Originally put together to support ‘the hardest working man in show business’, James Brown, they learned from the best.
“We toured with the Godfather [in 2006],” Miguelito Mantovani, aka Mike Keat, says. “We played to 50,000 for the Sydney show and Mr. Brown invited me into his dressing room to have my wig straightened at the same time he was having his hair sorted. He didn't realise my hair was a wig for the performance. It was the first and only time I have ever been starstruck, kind of speechless.”
In the years since, they’ve become known for their no-holds-barred combination of antics, moustaches, breakdancing and some truly unrestrained, deep funk hooks. Mike’s rarely been speechless, under the patronage of celebrity types such as Richard Branson, Damien Hirst, Elton John and Brad Pitt, and in the upcoming Simon Pegg film, Cuban Fury, and the new Proclaimers ‘musical’, Sunshine on Leith.
Even Public Enemy’s Chuck D gave his endorsement, two years ago at Falls Festival in Melbourne.
“During our set,” recalls Miguelito, “Chuck D was pissing himself and throwing elbows [dancing], not a sight I ever thought I would witness, as Chuck is generally quite a serious cat. During our encore he grabbed me, grinning, and told me how dope he thinks our performance was and how we will surpass any fashions in music ‘cause people always wanna be entertained and you keeping they music alive!’”
For their origin story, Mike points to a 2006 Kate Burt interview in The Guardian:
Mike, who — whether DJing, promoting or pretending to be Cuban — has always been an entertainer, was the brains behind the unlikely concept of blending b-boy culture and thongs against a backdrop of 1970s [Cuban culture]. He found inspiration around eight years ago, while working in Palma, Mallorca.
“I've always had a fascination with sub-standard cabaret performers,” he explains in a disarmingly Scottish accent, “and there was this amazing guy working in the hotel I was living in who did the kids’ discos. He was in his early 50s, about five-feet-two and had a big Tom Selleck ‘tache. He’d run out from behind this little console and be like [adopts Spanish accent], ‘Hokay keeds! Eess my fabourite, I sure eess your fabourite ass-well! Less go... Whigfield, Sadurday Night!’
“It was the most hilarious thing I'd ever seen in my life and I just thought, ‘This guy's a genius’ and fell in love with him.” Mike added his own touches — the lascivious twinkle, a slightly shady past and a penchant for peeling off (“just for the wrongness factor”) — and Miguel Mantovani was born.
Mike 4 President
In the years since, they’ve refined their “general vibemanship” — and those with long memories might see a bit of difference between their four-years-ago appearance at the now-defunct Cage and the one upcoming. Part of it is the new album, which contains funk standards like Sly and the Family Stone’s Underdog, hilarious bastardisations like Motorhead’s Ace of Spades and hooky originals like Mike 4 President.
Mike says, “Five-star reviews across the board have been helpful in bringing our shizzat to a new audience who might have only been aware of us as an entertainment proposition rather than a musical one.”
But their live show still sticks to the roots. “Our show is a mixture of all the elements of hip hop culture,” Mike says. “Everything is done with comedy in mind. We take our sh_t seriously — music, performing — but not ourselves. Life is too short, have a dance, have a laugh, celebrate your sh*t, not literally, or maybe if that’s your thing. I am clearly very liberal-minded.
“Just now to be honest I’m just glad to be here, and even more delighted to be in Vietnam this month. It’s definitely going to be a three-pair of underpantalon night — let the mind-bumming begin.”
The Cuban Brothers will play at Q4, 7 Nguyen Tat Thanh, Q4, on Feb. 19. To see them in action go to www.thecubanbrothers.com. Tickets cost VND250,000 and can be purchased online at http://ticketbox.vn/event/the-cuban-brothers-1052?ac=6