The High Priest of Rumba

The High Priest of Rumba wears a flat straw hat, a white guayabera shirt, and black pants. He grips the neck his beer bottle and slouches in his seat under the flowering jacaranda.

An animated crowd fills the Miami courtyard. They sip wine and smoke at black metal tables amidst potted palms sporting tangles of small white lights. It’s warm this evening. As the temperature and the humidity approach the same number-around seventy-eight-the breeze feels more like water than air.

The crescent moon tips, sinking low in the western sky. On a small stage, musicians prepare to play: two congas, maracas, gourds covered with beads, guitar and electric bass. The crowd fidgets. The drummer, black curly hair pulled back, sunglasses on, slaps twice and silently waits. We all wait.

The High Priest of Rumba stands without hurry and saunters to the stage. The drumming begins. As it intensifies, he starts to croon in Spanish, wooing us with his smile. A female vocalist joins in, her strapless top exposing her white shoulders brushed by corkscrews of red hair. Her arms reach forward and pull back, while her hips swivel with the beat.

Strolling between tables, the High Priest of Rumba points at the audience and gestures back toward the musicians, inciting a call and response chant. People begin to dance in pairs. Even the waiter – tall, ebony-skinned with a smooth scalp and sculpted arms — is dancing. The drink orders can wait.

About the author

Necee Regis writes about travel, food, and culture for various publications, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, American Way Magazine, and Tin House.…

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