A jazz group made up of four good Mexican friends of mine is booked next week into an underground jazz club in Guadalajara called the Chango Vudú. I love the Chango Vudú. It is literally underground, accessible through a non-descript “secret” door between a high-end apartment building and a high-end restaurant in Guadalajara’s leafy La Americana neighborhood.
Calling itself a “genderless speakeasy” (no idea), it was originally built as pubic baths in the 19th century. Some remnants of the baths still remain in the form of patches of the original tiles on lower walls, a huge copper and steel hot water heater, probably coal-fired, and a layout that suggest dressing rooms.
I was introduced to the Chango Vudú at the 2018 FIMPRO Latin Americans Music Convention, which booked it for a showcase venue for the wildly popular Chilean singer Paz Court. Our guide showed me the “secret” door that takes you down stairs to the first landing and a table set up to collect cover charges. Down another few stairs and around a corner, you enter the venue itself.
Chango Vudú is sort of divided into two areas by supporting columns, but functionally there is only one room – long, low ceilings, with a bar on the wall as you come in, a small triangular stage at the far end, and tables scattered throughout with some standing room in front of the stage.
The walls have been stripped down to the bare concrete except for tile patches here and there. Brilliantly colored graffiti covers the walls and sporadically placed posters advertise shows long past. In short it is live music heaven.
It is also exactly the kind of place doctors tell you NOT to go because of Covid. Every time I have been there it has been full – standing room only. Tables are packed, people working their way through the crowd to and from the bar and the bathrooms, little air circulation, lots of heavy breathing.
While Guadalajara has begun the flatten the Covid curve with daily reported cases falling from around 9000 to around 4000, many experts believe that the number could be much higher because of low testing rates. Worse, a report has recently come out saying that young people are becoming a Coronavirus vector. Who goes to clubs like the Chango Vudú? Young people.
Now, I go to live music in Ajijic, the small town I live in about an hour from Guadalajara. But almost all of the venues are outdoors, tables are spaced 6 feet apart, and people come in with masks, although they take them off for food and drink. Many of those at the clubs, especially the La Mazcalaria and Meraki, are filled with young middle-class Mexicans, who mingle with us old gringos and gringas. But there is space and air circulation.Not so in Chango Vudú.
So, should I go into Guadalajara with my friends next week and hear them play and shoot video at one of my favorite clubs? Or should I play it safe and beg off? I am torn.
On the one hand, I love the place, I am dying to get out to the city, I love the band, they are all friends, they will drive (always a plus in Guadalajara), and it will generate good video, social media posts, and stories. I have been itching to get back to the city clubs for months now. There was no International Mariachi Festival this year – it was online. There may be no FIMPRO this year. I am going nuts!! I keep waiting for the Governor to declare a “green light” for Guadalajara and say the city is open.
On the other hand, I know that I am not immortal but I feel like it and I want to stay that way. Covid-19 could nip that in the bud for both me and my wife. In a tight, windowless underground room, it would only take one person to infect everyone there. And some of those infected could die – like me!
So, what to do? Check me out next week and I will let you know
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