By Brad Lopez
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
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For more than two months, the American powers that be have given us plenty of indirect warnings that Westerners who dare set foot on certain soils in certain parts of the world will be immediately jailed, dismembered or at least diabolically scowled at. Yet all of the shadowy imagery that's surrounded the Middle East since September was not enough to prevent one of Boulder's more worldly combos from packing up its timbales, saxophones and frilly suits and boarding an Arab Emirates jet bound for the land of Muhammad. Earlier this month, the members of Cabaret Diosa somehow found themselves sipping cocktails on the beach -- and performing for ruddy throngs of dancing sheikhs -- in Budai, a teeny little country across the Persian Gulf from Iran.
"The circumstances of our invitation were mysterious," says Diosa vocalist/clarinetist/percussionist David Sherman, aka Juan del Queso. "We were hired for outrageous amounts of money by a secret cartel. Some bigwigs found out about us; they wanted us. It was an invitation from abroad -- right from the heart of turmoil and fear."
In a scenario that seems eerily appropriate given the cartoon-caperish quality of its episodic stageshows, Cabaret Diosa has somehow become a hit with Dubai's royal family. According to Sherman, the band came to the family's attention through the Squirrel Nut Zippers, with whom Cabaret has performed in the past and who, it turns out, are big with wealthy families in obscure Middle Eastern countries. The band was originally invited to visit Dubai in September, an offer that was postponed while everyone waited to see if the entire region would be blown to smithereens by landmines or wayward Blackhawk helicopters. And though Sherman says he and his mates debated whether or not to accept a revised offer to perform for nearly two weeks at the Formula One Boat Race -- which the government of Dubai hosts on the Gulf each year -- they eventually landed on the side of adventure. It's not every day you have a chance to use your Latin exotica big-band spectacle to help improve international relations, after all.
"We decided that even if we did get blown up, at least it would be good publicity -- because there is no greater publicity than getting blown up," Sherman says. "We knew we had to seize the chance to make a difference through mambo. We wanted to jump into the apocalypse and spread our message of love. And the pay was pretty good, and I got a free dental cleaning out of it."
Indeed, if local bands lament the paltry wages they sometimes squeeze out of area club owners, they might want to consider stealing a page from Cabaret's well-traveled book: The band keeps its wheels and its hair greased by seeking out the kinds of gigs that actually pay cash money, typically playing 200 lives shows a year -- only a few of which are in Colorado. (The band's next local gig is a New Year's Eve gala at Tulagi in Boulder.) Last year the band traveled to Cuba -- another country they'd been cautioned against visiting. (Asked how they got around that pesky little travel restriction/trade embargo situation, Sherman is incredulous: "Restrictions? I had no idea. I just went down there for a cigar convention. And, well, let's just say we travel at night.")
This time around, the band was put up in a four-star Dubai resort ("the likes of which Liberace has not seen," according to Sherman), fed and watered and afforded the opportunity to smash some stereotypes from the stage. Although Cabaret Diosa is more accustomed to entertaining drunken, English-speaking college kids than the international business community, Sherman says the demographic divide dissolved after the first thump of a conga drum.
"We played for a bunch of aristocrats who race their boats on the sea," Sherman says. "The sheikhs were all shaking it up. They were all in a conga line. It was very fulfilling. All the British racers and the Arabs were joining hands and doing the hora. A lot of the people at our shows didn't understand any of what we were saying, but they were practically breaking every rule in the Koran while we played."
Cabaret Diosa spent eleven days in Dubai, a period they filled with lots of fruity beverages, trips to the market and impromptu sightseeing expeditions. On his first night in town, Sherman was given a personal tour of the city's mosques and attractions while he and the driver, an Iraqi father, discussed international politics.
"I think the most gratifying part of it was just having our preconceptions debunked. We met Palestinian, Jordanians, and we all talked. They were happy to hear that we didn't think everything that the USA did was good. And most of them were sad, and in mourning, about what happened on September 11."
Sherman says Cabaret hopes to return to Dubai as much as possible, and it's easy to see why: Traveling overseas as the guest of a ruling royal family beats paying for your own hotel in, say, Grand Junction.
"It was like a dream," he says. "At first we were definitely a little bit afraid to go. But I think what we got out of it...it showed me that not knowing is what causes fear -- ignorance causes fear. Now, we're looking forward to becoming the pet band of major Arabic international airlines."