Music News

Life Is a Cabaret

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Despite Till's departure, his impact on Cabaret Diosa remains a potent one. "There's a certain amount of change and progression that happens naturally, but we do hold on to his vision," DuHamel admits. "I don't know that it would be exactly what he'd envision if he was here. But as far as having a really special ambience and a special feeling, we definitely want to have that."

"That's something we have been successful at achieving every performance: presenting a whole environment that people can come and be in," Ramos says. "More than just it being a place where you go and hear some music or maybe you go and dance, you go and you're in this world where we're all dressed up and we have plants on stage and candles and we invite people to dress up and dance together."

"It's freedom," DuHamel announces, "Freedom of sensuality and..."
"Romanticism," Feder finishes, to a collective nod of accord. "Chris's idea was old-fashioned romanticism, which doesn't exist anywhere anymore. And the music that we're doing is all couple-dancing-oriented. Back in the old days, you didn't just start flailing around. You had to ask someone to dance."

Of course, not everyone at Cabaret Diosa's appearances is familiar with the dances associated with the act's repertoire. For those who are, the players try not to stray too far from the music's roots, believing that a certain retro ratio is necessary to prompt attendees to sashay onto the floor. "A lot of it has to do with having set steps that people know and follow," Rademaekers says.

"But a lot of people don't know those steps," Sherman counters. "So that's why it doesn't matter. Most of the people who are going to dance at a show together with a stranger are going to try to wing it. And that's the whole thing about it. It's like, come on, just fucking wing it--because tomorrow we could all die!"

This attitude is magnetic, and it helps explain why Cabaret Diosa draws such a broad, colorful cross-section of revelers. "I've had gay men, especially, come up to us who have been to our shows and say, 'I feel really comfortable here. We feel like we can express ourselves, like there's a place for us here,'" DuHamel says. "It's a place for expression and extremity where people can let go and get kind of crazy."

"And be flamboyant," Sherman declares. "We want to get men to wear those scarves around their necks again."

Like so much about Cabaret Diosa, the outfit's fashion component can be traced back to Till. "He was completely fashion-driven in a sense," Sherman asserts. "He used to play this one Donna Summer record--'Love to Love You Baby,' in Spanish --over and over again for hours and wear this leopard-skin vest."

Costumes remain an important element of Cabaret Diosa live, but it's hardly the only example of the musicians' flair for drama. They also perform mini-narratives between songs, including one in which Eve nibbles a magic mushroom and decides to be her own boss, and another that requires Diosa's male contingent to dress as women in order to collectively portray a harem in thrall to sheik DuHamel. But their favorite tale remains their maiden theatrical foray, a Till-conceived playlet in which a priest encounters a band of gypsies gathered on a beach and quickly falls in love with a belly dancer.

"That was our first one, and it had the most symbolism working--it was a lot of what Chris was about," Feder maintains. "He would carve all these different shrines to different goddesses. The priest represents the male and Catholicism and hierarchy and male dominance, and the gypsy represents everything that's female and pagan and everything that, in his mind, was positive. She's definitely the stronger character, and he's totally at her mercy and dumbfounded. The gypsy offers to read the priest's palm, so he kind of kneels at her feet in a reversal of confession."

A clerical collar that Till ordered from a Catholic supply company figured prominently in Sherman's initiation into the group's cosmos: "I was over at Chris's house and we're talking about stuff, and I'm still kind of auditioning for the band, and he says, 'Do you think you could wear this?' And he pulls out, on a hanger, a priest's shirt and collar. I'm like, 'Yeah, sure, whatever.'"

"That's what he said to me," DuHamel says, laughing. "'Will you wear fruit on your head?' And I said, 'Well, what kind of fruit?'"

What began as bewildered capitulation soon led to contagious enthusiasm--the cornerstone of the ensemble's appeal. In the words of Cabaret Diosa's incomparable frontman, "All hail the mighty mambo."

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Amy Kiser