REVIEW : The Cuban Jam – The Last Night at the Forge

Cubano Sambroso at The Forge
Photo credit: Guy Levy


The Cuban Jam – The Last Night at the Forge
The Forge Camden Town. 31st March 2017. Review by Dan Bergsagel)


Everyone is dancing: Young and old, big and small, snappily dressed and psychedelically shirted, high-heeled and bare foot. Everyone. After 8 years of brave eclectic programming The Forge - the intriguing cross-cultural venue burrowed into the Camden streetscape is saying goodbye with its regular Friday night Cuban Jam. But it is going down dancing.

Conjunto Sambroso have the honours for the final show, with a set of salsa, 20s classics, and Sambroso Sambroso arrangements. Tireless keys, bright horn lines shuffling between contained trombones and climbing trumpet of Eikel Venegas. But Conjunto are led from the back, with Wilmer Sifontes policing the musicians with a steely eye while Luz Elena Caicedo sings and dances armes with her Guiro, to a backdrop of atmospheric videos of architecture and vintage cars in a classic Hemingway-era Havana.

Between Conjunto live sets we're treated the surreal spectacle of Cuban Miami MTV (white jeans, infinity pools and Enrique Inglesias) to the sound track of Reggaeton, 90s East Coast Hip Hop, and Punjabi MC. The dancing does not stop. The Cuban Jam is evidently a community: people know each other, dance with each other, and are delighted to see each other. It is incongruous to think this is the Cuban Jam's end of days.

"Everyone is Dancing." Conjunto Sambroso at the Forge
Photo credit: Guy Levy

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised - venues are disappearing, in London and further afield. It's often touted that 40% of our venues have closed their doors in the last dozen years. Indeed the North London jazz community is still smarting from Upstairs at the Oxford, a ten minute canter up the road from the Forge, calling an end to Monday night Jazz in August 2016. With compulsory strike-off being held at bay for the last years, this appears to be another sad note in the constant struggle of small creative independent industries to stay afloat.

The curiosity is that, as a bystander, The Forge looks to be in rude health. The venue was at capacity by 21h00, with a long queue of punters eager to join the fun still at 00h00. The building - Burd Haward Architect's tasteful, environmentally-friendly and programmatically versatile concoction is as neat as ever, with the clean exposed concrete frame, warm timber trim and feature green wall in the internal courtyard creating a compelling space the embodiment of a community arts centre. The owners mill around upstairs chatting as everyone carries on their merry way. The venue is still plastered with posters for now-cancelled upcoming gigs, writing its own obituary, calmly orchestrating its own funeral.

While the Camden New Journal does indeed report that the venue is closing for good, but the message doesn't seem to have quite made it through to those on stage: “This is our last night at The Forge. Maybe”.

Well, Goodbye Forge. Maybe. Watch this space, and fingers crossed.

LINK: News piece from 29th March about the imminent closure of The Forge

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