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Latin music reviews
by dancers for dancers

Our Salsa and Mambo CD Reviews


Los Van Van - Te Pone la Cabeza Mala

When I first came across a CD from Los Van Van many years ago, I could not understand what all the big fuss was about with this group, apparently the most famous in Cuba for over 30 years. Then I bought “Te pone la cabeza mala”, listened to it a few times and fell in love with it! It has become my favourite salsa CD and one that I never tire of. I was initially unused to Cuban music and I needed to get used to a new sound. The music from Los Van Van stands apart from all other salsa music and as with most original works, either you love it or you hate it. Lovers of Cuban music will surely know Los Van Van very well already. Lovers of Puerto Rican, NY or LA salsa may have had only a passing contact with it and may have found it at least unusual. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the sound; Juan Formell a while ago introduced a combination of two trombones and two violins to support the harmony, which is not common in recent Cuban music (post-charanga, I mean). Also the percussions are reinforced by a full drum, common in timba (thanks to Lov Van Van!) but not in non-cuban salsa. Add to this the magical piano riffs of Pupi, and the result is an quite unusual sound. Second, the structure of the music. Most tracks tend to start fairly mellow, with a semi-romantic intro, in which the singer usually tells a story, then they suddenly break in the tumbao, which increase considerably in power. This change of power is far stronger than in non-cuban salsa. Dancers may have to wait for that break in order to increase the energy in the dance. Third, but this is more subtle, Juan Formell does not just writes salsas, he writes songs; most of the tracks have a melody structure which you can easily memorise and could stand by itself even if it was not played as salsa; in other words they are not just about rhythm. As if all this was not enough to enjoy the CD, three among the very best voices of the salsa world sing in this CD, from the young and exuberant Mayito Rivera, to the infinitely deep Roberto "Guayacán" Hernández (my favourite in absolute) to the experienced Pedrito Calvo.

Dancers who are after power will enjoy the opening track from the CD (“Te pone la cabeza mala’) as well as “Ni Bombones Ni Caramelo” and “El Tren Se Va” (pure energy!). “Levala A Tu Vacilon” has a more relaxed pace, but also forces you to move your feet (curiously I noticed experienced ballroom and salsa dancers finding it difficult to tune to its rhythm, which seems quite innocuous to me). “La Que Deja Sebastian” “La Shopimaniaca”, “Que Pasa Con Ella”, “Ella Tiene Algo Que No Se” are slower and often used by intermediate rueda groups for their clear beat. Each single song deserves a full 5 stars.. unbeatable CD


Manolin - Jaque Mate

As crazy as it may sound, when I think of Manolin it is Mozart who comes into my mind. There is no musical connection of course; it is just the impression of Manolin’s personality which I get from hearing his music. Nothing seems to be too serious in his songs, in which over-romantic verses always come up with a touch of irony, as if the he wanted to amaze you with poetic acrobatics rather than with the meaning of the sentence. But, everything flows very naturally, almost obviously. As with Mozart, I like to stick to the image of a Manolin who writes music and lyrics at the same time in a single spur of inspiration. Manolin’s music is often portrayed as ‘romantic timba’ as the Cuban equivalent of romantic salsa; the analogy makes sense, but I do not like it, I like to think of his timba as sweet, or cheeky.

It must be clear from all this that when I listen to this CD I tune completely into it. It is for me one of those CDs which, once it starts, you simply can not turn off. Actually the introductory song is the less impressive, at least for me; “Y Ahora Baila” was clearly designed to be a dance hit, but it is a bit too funk for my tastes and lacks the magic which flows over in the rest of the CD. “La Hiciste Buena “ and “Jaque Mate” are the other powerful and fast tracks. All other songs have a gentle swing, slow pace, and hypnotic rhythm to them; they are meant to be romantic love songs, but they fill me with the demand to dance to which you can’t say no.

Musically this is a relatively simple CD; and not by chance, since this simplicity allows you to tune in mostly on Manolin’s voice, melody and lyrics. The overall arrangements rely on the piano and the bass. The bass busies itself constantly, going much farther than the tamed role it plays in son or non-cuban salsa; it is worth to spend some time listening to it, and notice how much it adds to the syncopation and what tight connection it carries with the percussion. The piano is unusually simple for a timba CD, but famous for the nice tumbaos.. you could easily dance just to it. The brass section may be a bit disappointing, often playing a simple voice, but the entire point is not to overwhelm you, and let you tune into sweet cheeky timba. Irresistible.


Jose Alberto El Canario - Tribute to Machito

Had I any pretence of being a music critic, I would probably snob at the idea of including what is after all a commercial CD into the ‘must have’ collection; thankfully, I have not such concerns and I serenely admit that this CD is among my favourite. Surely, it may not reach the artistic peaks of the other ‘CDs you can’t live without’, but there are several reasons why it deserves recognition. Firstly, and most trivial, all songs are very, very nice; you could very well put it on at a party and for the next 50ish minutes forget not only about DJing but also of all other existential dilemmas, turned into mundanity by the demand to dance. In the days of Itunes and MP3s this may not seem much, but a few years ago it was very handy. Secondly, it is an extremely versatile CD; you could dance both On1 and On2 to each song quite naturally, at least as naturally as this may be possible at all. Also, it includes tracks of various speeds; ‘Oye la banda’, ‘Que bonito es Puerto Rico’ and ‘Soy Salsero’ are slow enough to be usable by beginner or intermediate dancers to practise their new moves; ‘La pealla’ is slightly faster, but still at a very relaxed pace; the others songs are of what I would call normal speed, truly perfect pace for fun. Thankfully, wisdom averted the inclusion of any super-fast track, so you won’t take of risk of looking like a comedian in a Black&White movie from the 20s trying to execute your favourite trick. Finally, the style is what I would call ‘classic salsa’, as classic as it can be, which means that all percussions are very clear, and perform standard rhythm patterns.. in other words it should be fairly easy to follow the right beat even for non advanced dancers.

Most tracks in the CD are classics, which you may know already in their original versions. Musically, the arrangements are remarkable, the band is spotless and the recording impressive so you can enjoy all the pleasures of a big band at its best. If you are into these sort of things, pay attention to the tenor saxes replacing the trombones in the brass lower tones, which gives a distinctive sound and an additional bite.


The Lebron Brothers – SuperHits

Why do salseros in NY, who continuously re-invent the limits of our favourite dance, stubbornly stick to out-of-date, badly-recorded, old salsa music from the 70s? Why do they ignore everything else? The reason is that within that ancient-sounding collection there are some real gems. I sceptically searched for years, suspecting another Eldorado, before discovering that, unlike everything else which is NY, those gems are very well kept secrets and you need to hang around the locals to be offered the privilege to ‘know’. A secret among the secrets, here are the Lebron Brothers, of whom I have never seen any CD in any CD store outside NY.

First a warning; their CDs sound pretty terrible (at least their classics, since the band survived for more than 30 years in various forms); metallic percussion overpowering, timbales which sounds as if they come for the cheapest charity raffle, squeaking trumpets and rough saxes, a garage-band electric bass, unremarkable lead singing and less than unremarkable choruses, an elementary stereo splitting which distributes instruments either to one speaker or the other in an almost all or nothing fashion, and very basic arrangements (with the only exception of the gorgeous piano parts). So why bother? Two reasons, which lie at the core of the meaning of music and dancing; first because the songs are fantastic, with melodic ideas rarely matched in the salsa literature and secondly because dancing On2 to this music is divine, simply divine; how from such unpleasant-to-the-ear ensemble such a natural, smooth impulse to dance may arise is one of those mysteries which confines music beyond rationality; and, really, I do not care understanding because dancing to it feels so good that I do not bother thinking..


The Lebron Brothers – I Believe

Salsa and Mambo lovers may be perplexed at this CD, which is really a mix of mambo and Soul music. It needs to be read in the context on when it was released of course and in those days Soul music was the rage. then I say mix of salsa and Soul I do not mean a hybrid style, rather a CD which contains some Latin tracks like 'Solita', 'Tuyo Llegara', 'Run' and 'Enderezate' and some pure Soul music.

'Tuyo Llegara' is a classic and a gorgeous song to dance to, but all together it is my opinion that if dancing mambo or salsa is what you are after you should focus on some other CDs from this band or some of their amazing compilations.. unless you are interested in Soul music too, of course.

Title Style Speed/Pace Our rank
Can't Turn It Back On (Yo No Puedo Volverme Atras)  Pop  
2*
Solita NY Mambo Medium
3*
Together (Juntos) Soul Fast
3*
Tuyo Llegara NY Mambo Slow
4*
Trap (La Trampa) Soul  
3*
I Believe (Yo Creo) Pop  
2*
Run (Correr) NY Mambo Fast
2*
Enderezate Cha Cha Cha Medium
2*
I Knew You Were Gone (Yo Sabia Que Te Ibas) Pop  
2*
Jala Jala Otra Vez  NY Mambo Fast
2*

The Lebron Brothers – Pablo

This CD contains mostly boleros, so it is naturally suited for the romantic at heart. These boleros are unlike what we may traditionally expect however, since they do not have the full band sound of the classic Cuban boleros from the 50s, nor the more acoustic sound of the Son boleros. Here Lebron Brothers maintain they rough, ‘unplugged’ sound, made mostly of metallic percussions, a piano and two also very metallic trumpets for their arrangement; the result is a strident contrast between the inherently mellow spirit of the boleros and the atmosphere created by the band’s sound. It may take a little to get used to, but underlying this surprising solution there is very nice music. Needless to say, if fast music is what you are after you will be disappointed, since only ‘Que Sufrire'’ offers itself to be danced as a mambo and ‘Noche y dia’ as a Cha Cha Cha; so unless bolero is what you like to dance, you may keep in mind that this is a CD more to listen to than to dance to.

Title Style Speed/Pace Our rank
Per que sera Bolero  
3*
Que Sufrire' NY Mambo  
4*
Olvidarme de ti Bolero Fast
4*
Ella es en cielo Bolero Fast
3*
Nunca te olvido Bolero  
3*
Noche y dia Cha Cha Cha Medium
3*
Escala musical Bolero Medium
3*
aguas tranquilas Bolero  
2*

The Lebron Brothers – The New Horizon

Another mix CD from the Lebron Brothers, with some Latin song alternating to some Soul music.

Salsa Mambo dancers will surely enjoy ‘Tengo Testigo’, my favourite, a nice, well paced mambo, full of breaks which will inspire your interpretation. Also nice to dance to are ‘La Memoria’ and a reprise of the immortal classic ‘Como Fue’. ‘El Nuevo Amanecer’ is a less convincing mambo and ‘Tipico Merengue’ a Merengue, though not too compelling. all the other tracks are soul music, in typical 70s style.

Title Style Speed/Pace Our rank
Eres Tu Soul  
2*
Musica, Musica, Musica Samb/Pop  
2*
El Nuevo Amanecer NY Mambo Fast
2*
La Memoria NY Mambo Fast
3*
Theme For A Poor Man Soul  
2*
Tengo Testigo NY Mambo Medium
4*
Como Fue NY Mambo Medium
3*
Tipico Merengue Merengue Medium
2*
Survive Soul  
2*

 


Gilberto Santa Rosa - Esencia

They call him ‘El Caballero de la Salsa’, not for his looks, but for the refined and elegant flavour of his music. He has been around for a while, starting his career in the ‘salsa romantica’ era, and despite the fact that he has received his Latin Grammy only last year, he had already developed his own signature style and reached the finest musical peaks a decade ago, and continues to deliver masterpieces almost yearly.

Esencia is my favourite. It is a collection of romantic salsa songs, thankfully not executed in ‘romantic salsa’ style of the early 90s, rather dressed in pure Armani by stunning arrangements: original, tight and technically spotless. You will find a few slow songs, like Amandote, Esas Lagrimas, Me Falto, Siempre Acabo Igual, Yo no Queria Conocerte, which will help beginners not to rush through their first routines, and faster ones, like No quiero na regala’o and Y Eso Duele, which will please intermediate dancers. But all are really beautiful and I expect experienced dancers will also be captured by the quality of the music, which you may enjoy dancing both on1 and on2. If you can understand Spanish you will find the lyrics exceptionally poetic and you will be captured by his vocal interpretation.

If you twist my arm and ask me to find a spot in this CD, I will say that the music, unlike the songs, may sound at times a bit cold despite the excellent arrangements. It is probably the result of the excessive precision in the execution, almost too perfect, which may sound a bit sterile, compared to the ‘sabor’ we normally enjoy in salsa. But this is almost like complaining about Botticelli’s painting, because they are too pure; and don’t forget that it was not my intention to say this, you just twisted my arm.


Soneros All Stars - ¡Nagüe!

Following the path of the Buena Vista Social Club, Afro-Cuban All Stars, Los Ases de la Timba and others, here is the latest selection of Son VIPs for us to enjoy in a single CD with a mix of Son, Changui and a vague seasoning of Timba.

The format whetted my appetite and I was expecting something extraordinary. In fact, I found something good. There is nothing wrong with this CD at all, but since I was expecting so much, I found missing some of the warm atmosphere usually found in Son.

I guess the CD was produced for a wide audience and with some commercial intentions, and thus includes songs which are a little bit too ‘easy’ and melodies a bit too unchallenging… that kind of music of which, if you are used to son, you can predict the development from the intro and a few bars of singing. Because of this, the CD is mostly suited for beginner dancers, whose taste for hard core Son is not yet well developed. Also, the rhythmic session in surprisingly regular, almost mechanical at times; this also, despite most songs are fairly fast, should suit beginners.

The CD opens with a Son Montuno, ¡Nagüe! ¿Qué Bolá?, on which you may test your Cha-Cha-Cha steps. What follows are a number of fast Son, with strong Changui influences, among which La Tierra Donde Naci has a very good feel. We then have the fastest track, Explotó, followed by the slowest, Soy Amigo, which is suitable for a practice. The best part of the CD comes towards the end with a series of Changui which closely reminds me of Elio Reve’; Changüi A Tres and Goza Este Changüi are my favourite.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a nice Cd, worth buying, maybe I was just expecting too much.


Benny More' - Grabaciones Completas

There are people who are attracted to a certain dance because of the nostalgia of an era in which they never lived; somehow this lures many into tango and swing. If you are the type subject to these temptations you will find this CD irresistibly charming, since it breathes of the 50s and early 60s from every pore and you can almost see the music floating in black and white in front of your eyes. If, like me, you do not like to mysticise the past, you have no reason to worry, since there is plenty to love in this music just for the music’s sake and, of course, for the sake of the dance. The big orchestra is as good as it gets, and has nothing to envy from the other classics of the era, like Benny Goodman or Glenn Miller. Benny More’s voice is velvety soothing and devilish at the same time and the rhythm.. well, that is for us dancers to enjoy.

If you have been into salsa for a while you probably know many of the songs included; they are the classics that so many singers of more recent generations covered, not aiming to emulate (who dares?) but rather to pay respect to one of the myths of Cuban music. As with all legends ‘proper’ who died at the peak of their success (Bob Marley, Jimmy Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Benny More), the record companies try to squeeze every cent from their unresting souls, employing the most perverse combinatorics in order to shuffle the same songs into as many compilations as possible.. after all it is not the record companies’ fault if the stars died before the contract expired, right? So, in order to avoid buying many CDs from Benny More just to find the same tracks over and over, you may very well go for this 3 CD combo and be done with it. You won’t regret it.

I find Benny More’ at his best in his boleros, which you may use to rehearse being romantic, or even better to dance in a romantic way. But his Cha-Cha-Chas are equally compelling and you will be forced to follow the rhythm with whatever body part is available at the moment. These Cha-Cha-Cha have the curious feature of simply ‘feeling right’ and will make you wonder why the modern ones you hear in the clubs do not seem to flow that well. There are fewer mambos and many are very fast (as was the fashion then) but those few will scream that you ‘do it On2’ and will be perfect to master and enjoy the art of ‘contratiempo’. So, try to see past the black and white, you will find this music is not old, but simply timeless.


Arsenio Rodriguez - Arsenio Rodriguez

You may have heard, in several salsa songs, stars like Celia Cruz saying “Arsenio Rodriguez” in between the lyrics. They were paying their respects to one of the founding fathers of son and Cuban music in general. Well, this is him… he is recognised as having done many important things in the Cuban music tradition, including raising the tres (Cuban guitar) to the status of distinguished instrument, developing much of its playing technique, changing the formation and sound on traditional son bands and leaving as an inheritance a string of hits which has been reprised by so many after him. This collection is great to admire his playing and listen to these classics in their original recording.

You will find mostly boleros and son-montunos, which many of us would find more natural to dance as cha-cha-chas, and a few son. It will probably be more advanced dancers who will enjoy them, not for the challenge they pose in your dancing, as much as because you may need an acquired taste to skim through the very old sounding recording, filter it out and appreciate the music fully. But I think it is worth it; if you don’t like the music, at least you will increase your knowledge of the heritage of the music and dance we like so much.


Bobby Valentin – La Gran Reunion

This CD will not change your life; despite the fact that all songs are original, almost everything here has been ‘heard already’ in the sense that harmonies, melodic ideas and arrangements are all standard for Puerto Rican music and at times slide into some old Salsa Romantica influences. This may be expected from someone, like Bobby Valentin, who has been around for ages and who has himself contributed to develop this classic formula.

Having said that, as we can not expect to see fireworks with every kiss we give, equally it is not realistic to expect ours ears to drop in amazement at each CD. So, accepting the tautology according to which most things are ‘normal’, this should be classified as a fairly good CD. First, it is fully danceable, with the unfortunate exception of a ballad “Se Me Olvido Que Te Olvide” (the song appears also in salsa versions). Secondly, all tracks are fairly ‘unintrusive’, in the sense that they will not demand, nor attract, much of your attention. This may be bad, but if you want to practise your difficult passages, without being distracted by the luring call of firing salsa, this CD will be just perfect. I think intermediate dancers will benefit the most, though the opening (Ahora Me Toca) and closing (Bajo Con Piano, Piano Con Bajo) tracks are very suitable for beginners, with slow pace, clear beat and very precise recording, which makes the percussion crisp and unmissable. Most tracks have a nice ‘medium’ speed, with another 2-3 slightly slower.. very nice pace for dancing.

Apart from students after a practice CD, DJs may also find some of these tracks suitable early in the night, to warm up the atmosphere and prepare the taste for hotter things to come.

I find “Los De La Esquina”, “Sal A Buscar” and “Naci Moreno” the most pleasant tracks, but truly, no song will stand out as being particularly good or particularly bad. In summary, if you buy this one, you won’t thank God for the guidance, but you won’t reproach him either.


Various Artists – Cha Cha Cha me encanta

This is a curious compilation, which includes an unlikely group of artists; from timba heroes like Paulito FG, NG la Banda and Dan Den to the more traditional Conexion Salsera and Geraldo Alfonso, to the heavily commercial Orquestra Jorin and Havana All Stars. As you can expect from this mix, several styles of Cha Cha Chas are represented, from ‘Boom Boom Latin’ kind of night Club music, (“La Enganadora”, “ El baile del suavito”) to romantic ones (“Arebatado Cha Cha Cha”, “Ven a mi cha cha cha’) even to include some bossanova influences (“Cha Cha Tumba Cha”). Hard core mambo lovers of Cuban, Puerto Rican or NY pedigree may play a joke by saying that in all this variety what they forgot to include are ‘real’ cha cha chas.. more seriously, I think this CD will please better ballroom dancers/instructors who are usually less strict in their music choices and who usually have to provide for a wider dancing audience. Personal tastes aside, all tracks are danceable with a good medium or slightly slower pace.


Vocal Sampling – Una forma mas

This is a group made entirelly of vocalists, with no musical instruments. What in the ‘western tradition’ would probably be an ‘a cappella’ ensemble, or a endless display of vocal virtuosity, in Cuban hands becomes a full band (or a ‘sampling’ of it, as the name suggests), in which vocal acrobatics are used to reconstruct the full son or salsa band their music was originally designed for. In other words, we have singers ‘singing’ the percussion, the trombones and trumpets and occasionally even the bass.

What is remarkable about this band is that the end result is not just a mere curiosity, rather ‘music’ in its own right, to the point that it will make you feel like dancing just as much as a salsa band ‘proper’. Whether you like this or not, I believe this CD can be a very good learning experience for intermediate salsa dancers, since it teaches so many important musical lessons. The first one is that the drive to dance is not generated by the power or loudness of the music (as all night club DJs seem to believe), rather by the structure of the song: replace the real conga and the real trombones by a voice, and, if the music is good, you will still enjoy dancing just as much. The second lesson comes from the attention you need to put on the underlying structure of the songs and in noticing how much certain rhythm patterns are inherent in the music, whether or not they are explicitly executed by a percussive instrument; this is why you will feel your dancing flowing so naturally to this ‘percussion free’ music collection. I used to use a number of these tracks for my own salsa practice, exactly for that reason.

It surely helped the success of this CD that Vocal Sampling included a set of classic Cuban songs, so that you can immediately map the original into this vocal variation. There is all you need here to enjoy and use for practicing.. from Son to Cha cha cha, to Rumba, Cumbia, Bolero and even Merengue… yes, you can be driven to dance merengue even without the pumping bass and guiding guiro!!

Most songs have a nice slow pace, which adds to their usefulness as practice material. ‘Que Bueno Baila Usted’, ‘Una Forma Mas’ (Sons), ‘Del Caribe Vengo’ (Merengue) and ‘Canto Al Beny More’ (Cha-Cha-Cha) are my favorites, but no single track will disappoint you.


Vocal Sampling – De Vacaciones

This CD builds mostly on the formula developed in their ‘Una forma mas’ CD (see…) and tries to timidly expand the territory covered by this ‘vocal sampling’ of full Latin bands. The harmonics and vocal intricacies are even more daring (‘Sueno Contigo’, ‘Eso Esta Bueno’) and the genres covered include a couple of Plenas (‘Pa' Puerto Rico’, ‘La Fiesta Ya Empezo’) as addition to the sons, boleros and Merengue already displayed in their previous CD. Somehow I feel this compilation lacks the sparkle of their first work, not because the novelty has gone, rather because I find the choice of the songs not as effective. Or maybe it is just because these songs seem to be better suited to listening than to dancing. I find that you could dance nicely to ‘De Vacaciones’, ‘Eso Esta Bueno’ (Merengue) and ‘Pa' Puerto Rico’ (Plena) but the other Sons are either too mellow of too fast. Still a good CD.. maybe I was expecting too much..


Ismael Rivera - Maelo

They say he is to Puerto Rican salsa what Celia Cruz is to Cuban tradition. Not sure whether the comparison fits, but surely this is great salsa. Ismael Rivera is one of those musicians who represents a myth in the NY/PR tradition and who
is far less well-known outside of it, as least by his name. However, most likely you have danced to some of his tunes without knowing it.. he is 'that guy' with a nasal voice, not always perfectly in tune, accompanied by the typical scratchy sound of salsa from the 60-70s, who sings gorgeous songs; one of those examples in which by putting several badly conceived sounds in the pot you get a soup which sounds like very good music. For us dancers, a few things are important; first, the songs are very nice, made up by simple melodies and simple but effective arrangements. Second, they flow spontaneously and you are
naturally lured into moving your feet straight from the very first bars; third, they fit the on2 side of you like a glove. Whether you are already enjoy dancing on2 or you are learning it, the slow pace of most tracks feels just right. This comes from the music being a natural NY/PR translation of traditional son, both in the rhythmic part and in the arrangement, with piano or tres taking responsibility for the harmonies and a few trumpets dialoguing with the lead voice, without intruding too much or adventuring into sophisticated arrangements. If you are used to sleek commercial latin music, or to the fast hammering of commercial Colombian salsa, it may take a while to get used to this.. but it is surely a worthwhile effort.


Yma Sumac – The Mambo

What does salsa have to do with Opera? Nothing, thank God! But then, look at what I came across recently. This is crazy stuff: old style Mambo, of the old Cuban style, in the like of Xavier Cugat, with a female opera singer who erupts from the arrangements with typical Opera vocalisations and decorations. The result is “interesting”. “Interesting”, when referred to artistic creations, usually means “I don’t like it, but it is worth to have a look at it”, or, ‘I don’t understand it, but I can not admit it”. Here “interesting” is used somehow closer to it dictionary meaning, since some of these songs could in principle be used in a club, admittedly to surprise the audience, but both the mambos and the Cha-cha-chas can surely can be danced and enjoyed. Just keep in mind that this is CD was recorded in 1954, so it feels and sounds different from today’s salsa. Some tracks are nice, others are really crazy, but, for sure, they will catch your attention, unlike many CDs which are so predictable to sound like silence. BTW, it turns out that this Peruvian singer was once very famous, she even has a entry in the Wikipedia; I had never come across this in many years of salsa.. a pity. 11-6-07.


Los Jovenes Clasicos del Son – Fruta Bomba

The common image of Son is that of old, beautiful music, played by old, great musicians. This CD however, contains beautiful music played by young musicians; and it is Son at its best, a refreshing confirmation that you do not need to be 80plus to be a good Son artist and that Son, as a style, is still alive and kicking. All the musicians in this band are outstanding, and the singer and trumpet player are so impressive that they manage to stand out even among such talent. The result is a powerful, fresh sound, without sacrificing anything to the Son tradition. The name of the band truthfully summarises all this.

The songs themselves are very nice, and mostly original in the structure, not just recycled old ideas; some of them have a clear beat which will make then palatable to both beginner and intermediate dancers, while advanced ones will just be carried away by the overall intensity and quality. I like best “Yo me voy contigo“, “Brujeria de que” and “Esa mujer, el traguito” while the romantic ones among you will also enjoy the bolero “Papa siempre tenerte” “and the ballad “Una chula en la habana” .18-6-07.


Tirso Duarte – Si la vida te dice baila

If you are into Timba you are probably familiar with the crisp voice of Tirso Duarte, one of the best in the latest generation of Timba singers; he has provided his talent to La Charanga Habanera, Pupi y los Que Son Son and also features in Los Ases de la Timba and other compilations. What makes Tirso Duarte special is that not only he is a great singer, but he is an even better pianist (an amazing one actually) and a good composer: a bag of talent in a single, still young, artist.

This CD is his first solo effort. It is pleasant, but in some way below what I was expecting from such gifted musician; all tracks are nice, no exception, but somehow the sparkle is missing. What makes this CD worthwhile for a dancer though, is that it offers a good introduction to Timba for beginner dancers and for dancers used to more commercial styles. As we know beginner dancers find it hard to tune into the complex rhythm of salsa, and Timba is even more complex, so CD with a clear sound like this one and with mostly slow tracks can be very useful. You can put the CD on, press the play button and, maybe with the exception of ‘Eso que me pides’, you will find all tracks easy to dance to. Very suitable for intermediate dancers to try hot new moves as well. I also find that Tirso’s singing, so precise and crisp, makes following the beat even easier. The song “Si la vida te dice baila”, which gives the name to the CD, is my favourite, which a happy but melancholic taste, but all tracks are enjoyable. The CD also includes a number of songs from the CD ‘El Charanguero Major’ from la Charanga Habanera, which were originally from Tirso, and are here played with simpler, less Timba and more Salsa, arrangements. 25-6-07


Tirso Duarte – Fin de Juego

This is another offspring from la Charanga Habanera, although the influence here is less strong than in other artists. Tirso Duarte’s talent is overwhelming, from his amazing voice to his unique piano playing we are left to wonder how so much skill ended up concentrated in a single person. And perhaps it is no surprise that so much talent lead to a very rich CD with its own flavour. For a full appreciation of the work you may need to listen to it more than once, from a musician’s point of view there is so much to pick, on top of the voice and the piano playing, the harmonies are a continuum entertainment and so are the overall arrangements. For the dancers, this CD is less straightforward, since this is not text-book timba and the impact on your feet may not be that immediate. Dancers will probably enjoy tracks “Yo Soy Tu Papi”, “La Cosa Mas Bella”, ”El Asesino” and “Maldito Dolor” best. Most tracks have a slow or medium pace except for tracks “Maldito Dolor” and “Ceci” which are markedly faster. Tracks “Fin Del Juego“ and “La Cosa Mas Bella” also have a strong reggeaton influence, while tracks “Yo Soy Tu Papi” shows a Los Van Van influence and the romantic at heart will enjoy track “La Cosa Mas Bella”, mostly to listen to, and tracks “El Asesino “, suitable to dance as well. A good CD, maybe lacking the edge to make it commercially popular but one worth listening to a few times. More suitable for experienced dancers than beginners since the salsa or timba beat are hidden behind the richly interleaved percussions.

Title Style Speed/Pace Our rank
La Madre María Timba Medium
3*
Olvida La Pena Reggaeton  
3*
Fin Del Juego Timba Medium
4*
Yo Soy Tu Papi Timba Slow
4*
Regálame La Silla Ballad  
4*
El Chino Chulo Timba/Reggaeton Slow
3*
La Cosa Mas Bella Timba Medium
4*
El Asesino Timba Fast
4*
Maldito Dolor Timba Fast
3*
Ceci Timba Slow
3*

 


Issac Delgado – La Formula (Malecon)

Despite only a middle age man, Issac Delgado already boasts a career which spans a few decades (first as singer of NG la Banda, then as solo) and has already ensured for himself a lasting position in the hall of fame of Cuban music. Since the very beginning he has toyed with mixing Caribbean rhythms, pop melodies, a bit of experimentation in the arrangements, a touch of timba and an ever present jazz feel in his voice. All of this, especially the jazz feel, reaches the technical peak in his best seller CD ‘La Formula’ (also distributed under the name ‘Malecon’). I remember hearing the single which gives the name to the CD at the Carnival in Havana the year before the CD was released and immediately recognising the irresistible call to dance. That song remains one of the most popular from Issac and you may have danced to it in your club. But, as catchy and danceable as that song may be, this CD contains many more brilliant pearls: ‘O Estas Loca’, ‘Amore sin Etica’ ‘El solar de la California’ and, above all, ‘Malecon’ are not only danceable, but absolutely marvelous songs to listen to as well. I love to dance to them very gently and smoothly, because this is the feel this music suggests to me, and despite a permeating underlying timba flare, you can easily dance to them in NY style. Other tracks are less danceable, mostly romantic, but nevertheless very nice, like ‘Quando’, ‘A ti todo’ and ‘Te perdono’. Issac’s music attracts fans both among the non musically trained, because of the melodies and his charismatic voice, and among the musically trained; if you are one of the latter, you will recognise arrangements of a quality rarely matched even by the best latin bands, executed to perfection, whose details you will enjoy over several listening sessions.

Sadly, this CD comes with a major sin: a bad live cover of an already bad ‘La vida es un carnaval’ popularized by Celia Cruz a few years before this CD was released. It was probably included as a marketing plot and really has nothing to do with the rest of the CD. Fortunately, you can pretend the CD does not contains this track (it is the last one) and avoid ruining the tastes so divinely sharpened by the rest of the CD. A Must. 15-7-07


Issac Delgado – Dando la Hora

This is probably the least known among Issac Delgado’s CDs and the one of least sophisticated production, but I like it, quite a lot. Among the many facets Issac Delgado can offer in this CD we find only the romantic one (no timba, no son, not too much jazz) but the songs are really nice, which is no surprise given the calibre of the song writing which includes some well established Cuban gurus.

The sound is occasionally a bit disappointing, mostly due to the fact that we do not have a full brass ensemble, rather a computerised one. This, together with the smooth, intimate feel of the songs, may not drive you to dance and you will very unlikely ever hear these tracks in a club. But I find all songs very nice to listen to and occasionally to practise with if I feel in a right mood. Among them there are a couple of gems, like ‘Amor de Tierra y Cuerpo’, ‘Un Centímetro de Ti’ and ‘Ella Es un Reloj’ and most important it is impossible to point out a single bad song. They are all salsa, with a remote jazzish feel, except for ‘Entrégate a Mí’ which is a bolero.

Title Style Speed/Pace Our rank

Ella Es un Reloj

Salsa Medium
5*

Aunque Soy Como Soy

Salsa Medium
4*

Un Centímetro de Ti

Salsa Medium
5*

Si la Vuelvo a Encontrar

Salsa Medium
4*

La Novia Que Nunca Tuve

Salsa Medium
4*

Amor de Tierra y Cuerpo

Salsa Medium
5*

Cuando Lejos Estás Inalcanzable

Salsa Medium
4*

Entrégate a Mí

Bolero Medium
4*

Manolito y su Trabuco – Loco por mi Habana

When I used to teach, the first CDs from Manolito would provide good tracks for intermediate courses; because of their mostly slow pace and the absence of typically furious rhythms, his music is a good introduction to modern timba. Within the timba world Manolito represents a sort of exception; while most timba bands frequently change leader, singer and musicians, and consequently their sound and style, Manolito’s firm grip on the band’s arrangements has resulted in a stable smooth development, which you can recognise throughout all his CDs. Without abrupt changes of style, his music have simple got better year by year and this CD is one of my favourite.

The first 2 tracks, ‘Locos por Mi Habana’ and ‘Aqui Cada Una Viene Con lo Suyo’ are pure power, I find them simple irresistible. ‘Ella No Está en Na' is also a brilliant salsa, while ‘En Este Juego’, ‘Diez Años’, and ‘Donde Te Perdi’ have a slower pace and if I was still teaching they would probably be part in my teaching bag of tricks. The second part of the CD is quite different, ‘Amor Todo lo Puede ‘ is almost a ballad, while ‘No Te Pases’ is a mix of cumbia, salsa and pop (this is not the first time Manolito toys with cumbia). ‘Encontré la Forma’ is a gorgeous cha-cha-cha/bolero, excellent both for beginners and advanced cha-cha-cha lovers, while the closing track, ‘Cordoba’, is a danzon with a virtuoso touch.

Musicians will find some remarkable brass arrangements, while novelty is provided by the violins, bringing an old fashioned charanga style into timba. Life won’t be pointless without this CD, but it can surely be better with it. 25-7-07


Manolito y su Trabuco – Control

This is another artist who has perfected a formula over the years ad applies it faithfully to deliver music his fans can rely on. In Manolito’s case I feel a growing confidence with the formula, which makes the arrangement richer and richer and the sound more and more Manolito’s. Musicians will love the counterpoint in the arrangements with the interleaving among trumpets, trombones, violins, flutes and occasionally even a guitar. Dancers will find the familiar slow timba perfect for practising the hardest casino moves or perfecting the coordination of your rueda team. Among all timbas I like “La Habana Me Llama” best, with a medium pace and a drive for dancing. “Niebla Del Riachuelo” is a nice bolero sang by Andy Montanez and “Muevete un poquetico” vaguely remind of the Angel Bonne’s touching melodies.

Title Style Speed/Pace Our rank
Relampago Timba Medium
4*
Loco Por Tus Besos Timba Slow
4*
Comenzar Timba Slow
4*
La Habana Me Llama Timba Medium
4*
Coleccionista De Canciones Ballad Slow
3*
Muevete Timba Slow
3*
Niebla Del Riachuelo Bolero Slow
3*
Corazon Timba Slow
3*
Popurrit Timba Medium
4*
Guines Que Le Pasa a Tata Salsa Very Fast
3*

Adalberto Alvares y su Son – El Son De Adalberto Suena Cubano

Music can express and deliver different feelings. The first 4 tracks of this CD communicate to me something very simple and genuine: happiness; and so much of it that even if the rest of the CD was poor, I would still be thankful of ever coming across it. But there is more: the rest of the CD is also as nice, which is why it ranks so high in my preference list.

Adalberto Alvarez has been synonym with Son Cubano for many decades, thanks to his contribution both as solo and with support bands like Son 14. This is fresh Son though, and it may sound like salsa if you are not very familiar with the subtleties of the different styles: the main harmonies are supported by a piano, rather than the traditional tres, and a full brass section plays in place of the traditional single trumpet. But what really makes all happen is the quality of the arrangement and the simplicity and immediacy of the melodies; the domineering voice of Amaris Galindo adds the last cherry to the already amazing cake. The first track, “Si No Fuera Por Las Mujeres“ is actually closer to a Puerto Rican plena than to a Cuban song, and it may feel a bit too fast to dance as a salsa; “Mi Tumbao”, “Buena Pero No Es Pa' tanto”, “Hablando Como Extranjero” and “Amor A Primera Vista” emit their concentrated happiness at a slower pace, perfect to both enjoy and practise with. “Déjame Llorar”, “Cuentas Verdes Y Amarillas”, “Somos El Son De Cuba“ and “Caprichosa” is perfect for dancing, though less happy than the rest. “Cuatro Sones De Adalberto“ is a mix of old songs, as Adalberto Alvarez likes to include is his CDs and the closing track in a nice bolero. Mostly slower tempos, this is an ideal top-class CD to practise too, though if it makes you as happy as it does to me, you may lose focus and forget what you try to practise. 31-7-07


Adalberto Alvares y su Son – Gozando en la Habana

Adalberto Alvarez has developed his own formula a while ago and he applies it faithfully. In particular the formula has been last updated with the CD ‘Bailando Casino’ and this Gozando En La Habana is very much its sibling; so if you liked dancing to ‘Bailando Casino’ you will surely enjoy this one too, as long as you do not expect surprises. This is son, of course, played by a full band, with rich arrangements and good, very good musicians.
This first track, which gives the name to the CD, simply begs to be danced, with a catchy melody and the right pace it is perfect for your cuban style. “Amore de mentira” is also a nice son, suitable for both a club and for a dance practise. Camina y Prende el Fogan is a much slower song which you may either use to practise your difficult moves or as a cha cha cha. Don’t miss out on the gorgeous solo piano here.

Title Style Speed/Pace Our rank
Gozando en la habana Son Medium
5*
Amor de mentira Son Medium
4*
Poupurrit de los 90 Son Medium
3*
Camina y prende el fogan Son Medium
4*
La mania de caridad Son Medium
4*
Hasta aqui llego este amor Bolero Medium
3*
Poupurrit de los 80 Son Medium
4*
Que voy a hacer muchacho Son Slow
3*
Si no vas a bailar Son Medium
4*

Pupy y Los Que Son Son - Que cosas tiene la vida

Pupi has made his name as pianist of Los Van Van. On top of playing he piano, and developing his own piano tumbao style, he has also contributed many songs and arrangements to Los Van Van repertoir over the years, and occasionally produced solo albums. While, more recently, Los Van Van spent 5 years without new albums (between LLego Van Van and Chapeando), Pupi left the band, formed a new one and gave us an impressive string of closely released CDs; one better than the other.

The first impact with Pupi’s music may be a shock, a pure avalange of music and power. It may also be intimidating, since the impression is that all instruments play at full power, all together, all the time. Obviously, it is not the case, and the arrangements are cleverly designed and often brilliant. However, if you are a beginner salsa dancers and you are still hesitating in finding the timing to dance to, this will not make your life easy; it is timba at its best, but with no economy of ideas and musical virtuosity. But.. !! If you are an advanced dancer, and in general you like Cuban music, you will be in paradise and you will be able to enjoy this whether dancing is all you care or whether you like to listen to music with the ear of a musician. Pupi is a ‘senior’ musician but, thanks to his reputation, he has surrounded himself with young talents, the best of the best, and his music appeals to everyone in Cuba, and young and former-young alike.

While most old style timba songs have the peculiarity of starting slow, with a melodic intro, and suddenly breaking in a powerful tumbao, where all the energy of the song gets released, most of Pupi’s songs hits you with maximum impact from the very first note: no messing around.. just getting straight to the point. The first track, ‘Que cosas tiene la vida’ is a perfect example: “If you don’t dance to this one, you won’t dance to anything” the introductory lyrics make the point very explicitly! “El gato amaga y no arena” is catchy, pure enjoinment to dance to (and even funny if you can understand the lyrics) with the voice of Tirso Duarte as an unexpected extra gift. “Manita portate bien’ short-circuits my brain.. the combination of the arrangements and the surprising harmonies prevent me to think and take me directly to Lah-Lah land: Pupi at its best. ‘La bomba so yo; is a reprise from a classic from Los Van Van. El pregonero’, ‘Juegala’ and ‘Hoy se sumplen seis semanas’ are also powerful songs, quite fast to dance to, while ‘Te molesta que sea feliz’ is a beautiful, more ‘serious’ song decorated once again by the great voice of Tirso Duarte and by masterful arrangements. Not a single track will disappoint you; let’s hope Pupi will continue delivering such masterpieces for many years.. 6-8-07


Picason Y Ernsto Manutt - Timba

This is Timba, but without the typical frenetic energy, sleek sound and super modern arrangements; in their place, you find more swing, even a touch of funk and a more traditional, rustic sound. It took me a little while to get used to it and probably this CD will never make it my personal top list, but this is a matter of individual tastes and this collection of track surely does not deserve to be dismissed.

You will enjoy it better if you are into Cuban music, of course, and if you like to dance Cuban style. I also think it would be a good addition to your practise repertoire, since the pace is relaxed and the rhythm not too demanding.

The CD starts with a short introductory track, as it is customary in many Timba CDs. “El Bombero” has a medium speed and I could imagine even non-cuban dancer managing to make a good dance out of it. “Te doy” is very slow, and surely can help beginner dancers going through those complicated routines without having to turn the music off. “Que bellas son las Cubana” can be danced as a fast tempo Cha Cha Cha. “Ni en un million de anos’ has a lot of funk and jazz into it, as you will notice from the very intro, and almost a touch of 70s sound; so does “Himenaje a un Cha Cha Cha”: I can envisage this Cha Cha Cha being played in clubs, though it sounds a bit too commercial for my own tastes. “Comportate”, “El Desagradable” and “Mucho quidado” are my favourite tracks; with that inner sense of irony that many happy timba songs share, you can surely dance them out, whether for pure fun or for the purpose of a practise. I find “Entremage tu cuerpo” and “Monna Lisa” bit too mellow. Maybe not timba enough if you are a timba fanatic as I am, but an enjoyable CD nevertheless. 20-8-07


NG la Banda - Oye Siii...

Several years ago, browsing the net, I found out that NG la Banda had been a very influential band in the history of Cuban music, to the point of being acknowledged by some as the creator of timba. Whether this is true or not I leave to historians and musicologists to work out, but I found their drive towards musical experimentation intriguing and I decided to check them out. A few years and many CDs after, I came to the conclusion that most what I read was true. As someone who grew up with pop-rock, NG la Banda reminds to me of bands like Talking Head or King Crimson, whose desire to explore the boundaries of the musically-known brings more popularity among critics than the general public. Naturally, we all know, when you experiment you are bound to come up with crafts which are better leave in the ‘never to try again’ basket, as well as some occasional successes. This is what I feel anytime I listen to a CD from NG la Banda: they are usually a bit strange, full of very different ideas, some not fully developed, others which you can clearly recognise as having influenced a lot of contemporary Timba.

I chose to review this CD simply because it is more recent than many others, and it is a perfect example of their approach to music. Listening to it is like browsing a Sunday market, in which you find the most bizarre and diverse objects with the most confusing names: “Samba De Amalphi” is actually a bassanova, sung in Italian with a sort of Spanish accent, “Un Bolero” is truly a slow pop-ballad, “Y Si Manaña” is a salsa reprise of an old Italian pop hit, sung by the now unavoidable Haila, “My Heart Will Go On” is the bolero version of the famous Titanic soundtrack, “El Cumbanchero” is a sort of samba, “Ave Maria” is a super-romantic, tears developing (and very nice) instrumental piece, “Camaron” is a sort of tropical merengue and “Vacila Conmigo” a commercial salsa, also sung by Haila.

But if the above does not sound appealing (and it is not) , fear not, because I left the best to the end. Interspersed among such brick-a-brack are 4 gems, “Santa Palabra”, “El Abuso” , “El Papi” and “Si Yo Tuviera 20” are by themselves well worth the CD. They have it all: they are happy, catchy, danceable and cleverly arranged. It may not be music to practise with, or to play in a strictly salsa club, but I believe would make it perfect for a party, especially if you need to mix salsa and non salsa people, since you can dance to them either in casino style or freely. Give it a go. 27-8-07


Elio Reve’ y su Charangon – Se sigue comentando

In Cuban music, the name Reve’ could very well be the subject of one of those Latin novels in which you fallow a family for several generations. They have created music for over 40 years, first under the direction of Elio Reve’ Senior and now under Elio Reve’ Junior, and through this band so many star musician came out… I am talking about names like Juan Formell, Pupi, Yumuri and others.

The music they play is called Changui but for what matters to everyday salsero you may very well consider it Son. Also, it survived over 40 years because it managed to adapt to recent trends and developments; so it won’t sounds ancient at all, rather you may even grasp some timba feelings here and there. The sound is based heavily on the tres and on the dialogue between vocalist and the trombones, which alone form the brass section. I love the resulting impact.

Trying to put myself into the shoes of a beginner dancer, I suspect this music won’t be too easy to dance to, and a few songs are a bit fast, but it is a great CD. “Tú No Me Llenas” and “Verano” are my favourite tracks, they just make me happy and I can’t stop playing them. “Mi Vecina”, “Dale Agua al Dominó” and “1999” have fast tempo, while “A Mi lo Mismo Me Da”, “Déjala Que Siga”, “Tu Zorreo” and “Se Sigue Comentando” have slower pace. All this tracks are great to dance to, while “Vamos a Casa de Pipi en Yateras” may be a bit too fast and “Si Tú Supieras Corazón” is a pop ballad which is better forget and simply dioes nto belong to this CD.. a sin I am happy to forgive, given the quality of the rest of the music. 10-9-07


Orquestra Aragon – Por Siempre

Another long standing living myth of Cuban music. If the longevity of Orquestra Reve’ and Los Van Van is already astonishing for western standards, nothing compares with a band which has been around since 1939! This CD is a compilation of their hits, most of which are very old. And make no mistake, the CD does not come with nay make up, face lifting and hair colour to mask its age, you will notice from the very first notes that this is grandpa’s music. The reason this CD does not deserve to be relegated to a dusty museum is that so many of these tracks are classics, which you have surely already danced in more recent versions; plus, of course, the music is nice. The sound impact of very different from more recent latin bands: the piano and bass are very tamed and most of the harmonies are delegated to the violins; in place of the traditional powerful brass section dialoguing with the lead singer here we have a masterful single flute, quite bizarre for today’s standards, so the high pitches of the flute and the violins create the impact which will lead you all through the CD. And not much power.. those were not the days yet for it.

This CD will be mostly enjoyed by Cha-Cha-Cha lovers, since this is Orquestra Aragon trademark and there are so many here; they are not powerful but joyful and fun to dance to. Strictly salsa lovers will find only two tracks “El Paso De Encarnacion” and the cumbia-ish “Yo No Bailo Con Juana”, but, at least the first one, is a must. A good CD to have to give variety and touch of history to your collection. 24-9-07


Ismael Miranda & Orchestra Harlow – Abran Paso

So much power in this CD and it hits you from the very first track. This is one of the best works from Orchestra Harlow and it comes with Ismael Miranda’s voice as a bonus. We are talking about classic NY salsa from the 70s, with its typically abrasive street feel; it is not easy listening of course, and beginner dancers may struggle a little bit, but not that much, so an early intermediate can surely adventure in this.

‘Abran Paso’ gives you the immediate feel of what the rest of the CD will offer. It is a nice salsa, a bit fast but not rushed, and with plenty of energy, one of those which makes you dance whether you want or not. “Donde Llevas el Son” is an equally luring cha cha cha, so is ‘Abandonada Fué’ and ‘Vengo Virao’, my favourite one. ‘Oigan Bien Mi Guaguanco’ is by far my favourite salsa in this CD and you may recognise it as a classics of the repertoire of any salsa congress. In case this is not good enough for a single CD, you can enjoy the equally powerful and danceable ‘Dolor y Amor‘. In addition to these salsa and cha cha chas, you will find a bolero, ‘Ayer Me Enteré’; I find the boleros from this era lacking the magic of the classic cuban ones, but it may very well just be my personal taste, since th song is not bad afterall. Unfortunately the CD also includes a sin, ‘Rise up’, which is a terrifying Bogaloo, but it is probably a by-product of the days this CD was released and we will pretend we did not notice it and will make sure we skip the track from now on. This is a CD more suitable to party animals and DJs than to instructors or students after some music for practise; if you like NY salsa, this is a must; if you are no sure, this may be a CD to try. 2-10-07


Africando - Gombo Salsa

When I used to teach salsa, on top of our own rhythm CD, I used to rely heavily of the tracks from this CD for my beginners classes and at times for intermediate levels too. This CD almost seems designed purposely for beginner students; there are so many slow tracks and with such a clear beat that I believe it should be in the repertoire of most salsa instructors and a must buy for beginner salsa students. The nice part of all this, is that the tracks are not only ‘useful’ but also nice so that going through them will not be felt only as a necessary sacrifice. In my opinion this is the best CD from Africando, at the times when their production was not yet mostly recycling of a handful of ideas and when their salsa was not ‘just’ son, but an interesting mix with some African influences. Don’t get me wrong, it is not some sort of world music fusion, rather a sort of hybrid between son and salsa, with some occasional original ideas in the arrangement and the choice of the instruments and, most important, it is music well played and well sung. “Diaraf”, “Musica en vérité”, “Dagamasi”, “Sakhar” and “Maral” are the tracks to use for beginner classes: slow, with a very clear conga and rhythmically simple piano tumbao and, which helps a lot, a clear cow-bell on the strong beat. If this is not enough, and you are really desperate (either as a teacher or as a student) “Grog Moin” and “Walo” are REALLY slow, basically at cha-cha-cha or bolero speed, but somehow still with the feeling of a salsa/son, a life saver in extreme cases.

Forgetting about the needs of students and instructors, the opening track ‘Gombo’ is a treat and I like “Paquita” and “Colombia, mi corazon” too, the second one being a cumbia. Pity that Africando lost the original touch in more recent productions and turned a bit commercial, but this CD is handy to have. 7-10-07


Roberto Roena y su Apollo 3

Not all tracks are danceable in this CD from this Puerto Rican legend, but the ones which are, well, are really good! Which may come to no surprise since Roberto Roena is a famous good dancer too.. who else could produce good dance music if not a professional musician, a percussionist (!), who also dances?

This is an old CD, one of those for which you need an acquired tastes, but a good investment if you intent to acquire exactly that taste. You will find 2 nice mambos here, “Te Vas A Acordar De Mi” and “El Traqueteo”, by far my favourite, really irresistible, one of those which you can leave on ‘repeat’ and dance by yourself for ages. Cha Cha Cha lovers will also enjoy this CD thanks to “Yo Soy Chambelin”, “Soy El Terror “ and “Que Salga Pascual“. “Hagan Silencio” and “Se Pone Bueno” are mambos, but a bit too fast for my personal tastes, while I find that the boleros “Que Enganada Estas“, “Soy” and “Ilumina Mi Camina” make neither my feet nor my emotions move. I believe the good songs in this CD are enough to make it a good buy.. you definitely need to dance to “El Traqueteo”! 15-10-07


Angel Bonne – Bonne & Bonne Co.

This is timba, but a timba of its own. The first time I went to Cuba, long ago, just arrived, I found myself in a live concert of Angel Bonne, whom at that time I did not know. I was really captivated by this slow, gentle timba which starts with the feel of a song or a ballad and then breaks into the usual timba feel, but without the overwhelming power of other more popular bands, somehow still maintaining a sort of sweet romantic feel. Later I found out that Angel Bonne had a long reputation in Cuban music, having been a singer of Los Van Van, but somehow the locals judged him as an ‘unlucky’ artist who would not make it among the popular favourites; a local CD store keeper even tried to dissuade me from buying his CDs! He did not succeed, I now have them all and I like his music a lot.

Strictly, this is not ‘dancing’ music, rather more a collection of songs arranged in timba style. Angel Boone, who writes most of his own music, could very well sing the same songs in a different style. It is thus unlikely that your DJ will ever play him, nor would it make much sense for a dance instructor to use his music during a salsa class or for students to use it for their practises. However, if like me you just love to dance to any salsa you like, then you may want to experiment and may find him growing in you slowly.

Among his CDs I think this is the most danceable and the one produced with more care, even though maybe not my own favourite. I like all timbas in this CD, with
‘Yo Se Que Eres Tu’, ‘Tierra Donde Naci’, ‘Imagino’ and ‘Pepe Cabecita’ my favourites. Among them, you will also find a classics from Juan Formell ‘Havana City’ and a poppish ballad ‘Hagamos Eterno Este Instante’ which does not make it for me, but may squeeze the heart of the most romantic among you. Angel Bonne has many talents, he sings, writes music, arranges music and even plays the flute and the sax; actually maybe one talent too many, since his sax could possibly be done without, still his unique writing touch more than compensate for this. 30-10-07


Various artists – El Guaguanco, Origen de la Salsa

A few years ago there has been a surge of interest among salsa dancers for rumba, and we started to see rumba workshops at main salsa congresses as well as rumba DVDs in the market. Soon after, students realized that making the transition between rumba and salsa, or incorporating the recently learnt rumba movements in salsa, was not trivial. One of the issues, of course, is recognizing the rumba roots in contemporary salsa music. As far as I gather, this CD was meant to achieve roughly this, to show Guaguanco (one of the rumba styles and probably the closest to our modern conception of salsa) in its original form and how it made its way into the more familiar salsa sound.

Whether the aim has been achieved I am not 100% sure, since this collection contains some ‘pure’ rumbas (“Illabo”, “Lamento Esclavo” and “La Gitana” from Los Munequitos De Matanzas), some salsas in which the guaguanco link is obvious (“O Mi Chango” from Mongo Santamaria and “Medley” from Eddie Palmieri) and others where it is no more obvious than in many others salsas, except that guaguanco is the topic of the lyrics.

Said that, this is a cool CD (very cool actually!); the choice of songs is really good, mostly in old Puerto Rican/NY style and if you are not familiar with this sort of music this may be a very good way to get into it, since it covers many of the best artists.

Dance-wise, if you are not into rumba, there is no reason to worry since you can use most tracks anyway: “Guaguanco De Amor” (Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez), “Guaguanco Con Sabor” (Cheche Abreu) and “Guaguanco Pa'l Que Sabe” (Johnny Pacheco) make perfect sons, “Guaguanco Raro” (Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz), “Esto Es El Guaguanco” (Cheo Feliciano), and “Avisale A Mi Contrario” (Roberto Roena) are perfect salsas and “La Vivora” (Bobby Valentin) makes a perfect Cha Cha Cha.

Highly recommended. 5-11-07


Albita – Dicen que

In my opinion, there is no voice like Albita’s and no-one uses her voice like Albita does; basically for me it is enough to listen to her singing to feel my feet in contact with the earth and my spirit somewhere 3 meters off the ground. It follows that I like her CDs a lot and my judgement may be very much biased.

Albita never really made it in the salsa scene, except for a brief interlude after her appearance in the movie ‘Dance with me’, mostly because perceived (at times rightly so) as too commercial; this is the price to pay for an immense talent too early put in contact with the top ranks of big record companies, who decided from the start that she was Grammy material. She was nominated 4 times and eventually got one, ironically for her least interesting album.

All this is a pity because Albita, Cuban born and escaped/emigrated to the US, has been loyal to her Cuban spirit all along. Her music is made up of son, rumba, boleros, ballads, all deeply Cuban, at times performed in immaculate Cuban style, at times slightly stained by commercial touches, but always very Cuban at heart.

Her CDs usually contain only a few danceable tracks (unless you also like to dance boleros) but those few are always very well worthwhile. In this CD in particular “El Chico Chevere”, “Mirame, Rozame, Amame”, “El Son Del Tahurete”, “Dicen Que Tu Amor” are beautiful sons, some a bit fast, maybe not suitable for beginners dancers, but I have often used them for my own practises, while “Valga El Brillo De Tus Ojos”, a bit more commercial, can also be danced and enjoyed. “Hoy No Voy A Trabajar” and “Corazon Rumbero” clearly show the rumba influence, while “Hoy No Voy A Trabajar” and “Ay Mi Barrio “ are nice ballads and “Si Nos Llegamos A Amar” is a fantastic bolero. Worth a try, at least for her magnificent voice. 12-11-07


Joe Arroyo - Fire on my mind

I have never been a fan of Colombian salsa, not because there is anything wrong with it, but because I have been turned off by the overload of commercial cumbia-like and bugaloo-like salsa that some popular Colombian bands have brought in salsa clubs in recent years. Joe Arroyo is a perfect example that Colombian salsa has much more to offer than that and he is always been one of my favourite.

Many features set him apart not only from other Colombian artists, but from other salsa artists in general. First, his salsas are salsas, not cumbia-salsa; you will even notice some clear rumba influence; in general his music is really Caribbean and you will notice a clave feel to most of his salsa which will make them natural to dance on 2. And when he wants to play cumbia, he does so, and the outcome is also very nice.

Second, his composition skills are quite unique: many of his songs develop through several parts, rather than the usual 2-3 main themes of traditional salsa music writing. The arrangements are not outstanding, but full of nice and clear breaks, which you can enjoy interpreting in order to decorate your dance. From the music point of view, the piano playing in this CD is great, and some of the solo simply stunning.

Not all songs are salsas in this collection, “Sis si Gole” and “La Rumbera” are ‘very’ African, while the tropics come out from every note of “Las Cajas” and “Sin son ni ton”. “Noche” and “A Mi Dios Todo Le Debo” are beautiful cumbias, while “Quien lo sabe baila”, “La bollera” and “La ceiba“ are sort of merengues, though quite average ones.

Among the salsas, “Por Ti No Moriré “, “Fuego En Mi Mente”, “Carnaval” are quite slow with clear beat and I used to use them in my intermediate salsa classes; beginner and intermediate dancers will find them very good to practise with. Others, like “En Barranquilla me quedo“, “Triste lamento”, “Con gusto y gana “ and “El labriego“ have a normal pace, nice for both practise and fun.

Finally a warning.. Joe Arroyo has been around for a while and there are many compilations of his music available. This one is just one of them and there are many other just as nice. If you decide to buy more than one though, be careful, because you may end up with many of the songs you already have.. check out the song list. 29-11-07


Oscar D’Leon - Sonero del Mundo

5 to 10 years ago, no one would have started dancing salsa without going through Oscar D’Leon’ music; together with Celia Cruz and the Buena Vista Social Club he would have been a basic component of everyone’s salsa experience. Today he is a little bit less popular, which is a pity, but much of is music still deserves considerable respect. He has been around since ever, and his amazing voice is just as nice as it ever was. Early in his career his music would have surely be defined as ‘tropical’, later his salsa became more ‘romantic’, but not in the ‘romantic salsa’ meaning and style, simply because many of his songs tend to be romantic, in the lyrics as in the melody and feel.

Listening back to his music now, I get the feel it could be taken as perfect example of what ‘classic’ salsa is; very few surprises reach your ears, melodies are what you expect of salsa, the harmonies obvious to the extreme and the arrangements text-book like. Still, I never find it boring, simply ‘right’. Because of this lack of surprise or challenge, it is well suited to beginner dancers: clear beat, often slowish pace and an un mistakable salsa taste.

This CD is typical of Oscar D’Leon’s production during the 90s. Maybe a bit more commercial than others, maybe a bit more commercial than needed, but still a good aid for beginner and intermediate dancers. You will find slow tracks like “Mirala come se menea” and “Lastima que seas ajena”, more normal pace like “Amor no se llama”, “Mi gente” and “Que me quiten lo baila” and faster ones like “Cuando ya ne me querias” and “Orinoco” as well as two slow Cha Cha Chas, both very popular, “Traicionera” and “Volver a verte”; “Tu me olvidas” goes a little bit too far in commercial land for my tastes, but that can be forgiven.

Some 5 years ago I had the luck of seeing him live and I found his show one of the most powerful and compelling of my salsa experience. Some health problems occurred in the mean time, so I am not sure how his shows are now, but if he ever passes by your town, don’t miss him.12-12-07


Pedrito Carvo - Raices

Pedrito Carvo is an icon in Cuban music, having been the lead singer for Los Van Van for many years. His voice is unmistakable, mostly suited to romantic or ironic lyrics, as unmistakable is his look and his floor presence. More recently he left Los Van Van and has focussed in solo career, which started a few years back, although his voice, unfortunately, is showing its age, and his tuning, which has never been spot-less but which was a feature of his singing, now is possibly a little bit too much on the ‘other side’.

This is a curious CD. All songs are very similar and most start slow and romantic, and switch to a mild timba feel after a few minutes. This is not the romantic intro which was common in early timba bands, like La Charanga, this is a old fashioned ‘romantic’ intro, which at times sounds definitely like “granpa’s music”, like “Dormir Contigo”, “El Rey Latin“ and “Tango Uno “. But if you are patient and you close your “ears” to an occasional out-of-tune passage, then the coming timba pays back.

All songs are fresh, with a happy feel and make my legs move. On top of that, all songs are good, with no exception. This is a CD which will never climb the ladder of your “hit parade”, but may brighten your parties and your practises (if used not too often) since all tracks are very danceable and all at a nice pace.

My favorites are by far “Asi Mismito“, “Persecucion” and “Rio Manzanares“. In the CD you will also find “Ella Tiene Un Algo Que No Se”, originally in the CD “Te pone la cabeza mala” from Los Van Van and a Tropical Merengue “Raices”.

Nothing revolutionary or innovative, pretty simple actually, but somehow I like it.20-12-07


Paulito FG- Con La Conciencia Tranquila

Paulito FG is one of the big names in timba. He has been a hero in Cuban music for many years and he regularly releases well accepted hits. His music is good, his singing is good, the arrangements are good; the style original, fresh and modern. All is good, but somehow I have never been able to tune into it. I have been trying to review some of his music for months and I have been trying very hard today, but, no matter how I try, nothing comes out of my brain. I suppose this mirrors pretty well my feeling towards this CD, there is not thing wrong, nothing to dislike, but I rarely feel like loading it on my player.

There is quite a touch of pop in this timba, which I visualise as white as Paulito himself.. maybe that is the problem? Maybe not. “De La Habana”, which closes the album, is my favourite track, the one I always feel like dancing to, but “Con La Conciencia Tranquila” and “Y San Toma Que” and also nice and catchy. Apart for “Desacuerdo”, which is a pop ballad, all other tracks are romantic timbas. Bottom line, if you are in doubt whether to invest in Paulito’s music, you may want to check the reviews from others, who may tune into this music better than I… after all there must be a reason if so many cubanos adore him, as I myself verified.3-1-08


Son 14 - Fuego En La Maya

How does Son sound with the addition of a large brass section? Like this CD. Indeed it contains very traditional Son melodies and feel, seasoned by a richly arrangement brass section. The result sounds a lot like Adalberto Alvarez music, which is not surprising given that Adalberto and Son 14 have collaborated for many years.

As a result, if you like Son, or Cuban music in general, you will most likely like this CD.. no surprises, exactly what you may expect. “Fuego En La Maya” and “Homenaje A Tata” are energetic and lively, fun to dance, in my opinion the best tracks of the CD. “Rompamos El Contrato” and “Desengafiado“ are slower and sadder, suitable for practises. “La Fiesta En La Casa De Juan” is a nice son montuno, slow enough to dance as Cha Cha Cha is so you wish. “Plena Para Tres Mujeres” like the word says, is a Plena, unusual for a Cuban band, quite pleasant, without driving crazy. “La Mulata Santiaguera” is another slow pace, very nice Son, here Adalberto Alvarez feel comes out fully. “No Es Tan Fácil”, in another country and with another band, would have probably ended up being a Salsa Romantica, definitely not my favourite. The CD finishes with a nice Bolero (“Volverás”) and a Cumbia ”Para Las Mujeres”. Surely a pleasant CD. 10--1-08


Willie Rosario - Viva Rosario

Along an imaginary line connecting old style traditional Puerto Rican salsa to Salsa Romantica (thankfully now also ‘old style’) I would place quite comfortably this CD. Surely, Willie Rosario can and has offered better, but it is also true that pure Salsa Romantica can offer much worse. For what regards me, I would probably not look anxiously for this CD in my own collection, but if it was played in a club I would probably complain less than I usually do. All together it contains some really nice tracks and other less inspiring. My favourite, which says a lot about my own tastes, is 'Wave', a nice slow mambo, to dance by gliding 10 cms over the floor. Also naturally danceable are 'Ya No Lo Hago Mas' and the gorgeous 'Duda'.. Most other tracks are on the romantic side of things with 'No Se Por Que' particularly catchy. Less fortunate is the tropical merengue 'Universo de Pasion', with a sort of lambada feel, a sin on its time I suppose.


Tiempo Libre - Lo Que Esperabas

Text book Timba from Cuban emigrants in Miami; if you are after a powerful and vibrant CD, with a contemporary sound and the bursting energy typical of Timba, you won’t get disappointed. As a bonus, you will find a sound production of top quality, something which usually, in Timba, you find only with the very top bands: great musicians, and (not to be taken for granted in Cuban music) great brass section. So far so good.

If you want to be critical, you may notice that there is not much originality in this CD. Despite all track, except for one, are original, the music ideas, the arrangements and even the lyrics (not to mention the idea of the short instrumental Opening) are very much already part of the common Cuban repertoire.. the bottom line is that I believe this is an enjoyable CD, but not something you will remember in a few years time.. the band is surely able to deliver more and hopefully the next products will be a little less commercial.. the potential is surely there.

“Lo Que Esperabas”, “La Llave”, “Esto Esta Listo” and “Ella Tiene” are the most danceable tracks in the CD and by far my favourite. Also danceable are “A Bayamo En Coche” a cover from classic from Adalberto Alvarez and “Arrebatao”, a sort of poppish cha cha cha. “Manos Pa'rriba” and “Ven A Bailar” are a bit too pop/funk for my tastes but can be enjoyed if you are not too fussy about salsa rhythms while “Tengo Que Olvidarte” is a slow ballad, possibly the least fortunate of the tracks.25/1/08


Celia Cruz - Mi vida es cantar

If you have been in salsa for more than a couple of weeks you surely already know who Celia Cruz is and if you don’t you can easily find out in thousands of web sites, so I won’t waste too many words on this; it will suffice to say that Celia Cruz is for salsa what Tina Turner is for pop, just much, much more. Since she has been around for over half a century her music production is immense; and since during those 50+ years she has enjoyed and undisputed role of queen of salsa, she could choose the best musicians, arrangers and composers to produce her music, who would simply bow at the honour. Among tens of great CDs, today I chose one of her latest and undoubtedly the best of her final years.

It should be clear from the start that this is a commercial CD, so it enjoyed success more among relative novice salseros than among the ‘elite’. Surely, it contains some sins, ‘La vida es un carnaval’ on top of the list, a cumbia dressed like a salsa, with a catchy melody which became the favourite of many DJs willing to lure non-salsa dancers to the floor while immensely annoying the purists. Nevertheless, you can find very nice tracks too, starting from “Mi vida es cantar” and “Cal y arena”, my favourites, to “Canto a Lola Flores”, “Patica de chivo” and “Salsipuedes”. All these tracks are easy to dance, with clear beat, reasonably relaxed pace and catchy enough to catch the fancy of the non-expert without annoying the initiated. As a bonus, you will find a gorgeous merenge “Me astan hablando del cielo”, sung with Kinito Mendez, and a pleasant bolero “Siento la nostalgia de palmeras”. Among commercial productions we have found much worse than this one! 8/2/08


Lalo Rodriguez - Oro Salsero, 20 Exitos

This is romantic salsa, the one which filled salsa clubs for most of the 90s, the one which tells of unhappy love affairs and painful memories, the one which you are supposed to dance with one hand on your heart . If you have read any of my previous reviews you already know that this music is not my cup of tea, but, trying to be objective, I have to say it is well produced, well played and well sung.

Salsa romantica has the deceptive quality of appearing fairly slow, mostly because of the gentle melodies and smooth arrangements, while it actually fact the tempo is often faster than you would think. Nevertheless, it may be a good introduction for dancers still discovering the world of salsa, since the percussions are usually crisp and rarely overwhelming and since the focus of the music is often on the melody, which is something ‘westerners’ are used to.

This is a double CD, so there is plenty of songs to choose from. My favourite is “Tu no sabes querer”, not surprisig the least ‘romantica’ of the tracks, followed by “Francisco Andante” and “Tu Iluminas”. Most slower tracks are in the first CD, like “Dame Tu Corazon”, “No Te Voy A Defraudar”, “Lo Que Me Lastima”, “Ven Devorame Otra Vez” and “Despues De Hacer El Amor”, while the second CD offers faster tempos is “Pero Llegaste Tu”, “Amame”, “No Tuve Nadie”, “Voy A Escarvar Tu Cuerpo”, “Francisco Andante”, “Una Sucursal” and “Solo Soy De Ti”, while “No te importa” is a classic bolero.16/2/08


La Tipica '73 - Best of La Tipica

If you are one of the nostalgic who likes the old style mambo “Made in NY”, then you will find this CD will most likely suit your tastes.. as that ‘73’ in the band name says, this is music from exactly that era, and it has exactly that sound which until a few years ago attracted NY dancers only and nowadays seems to be very well accepted everywhere around the world.

This band is high in the rank of most musicologists, because they pushed the borders back in the old days, and because it provided a gym for many talented musicians who then took their own path. The fact that one of their song was taken from Juan Formell’s repertoire, back when contacts with Cuban music were well severed, says a lot of the band open mindedness and desire to be in touch with the best Latin music could offer.

The music in this CD may not be too easy to chew for complete salsa beginners: the best tracks have fairly fast pace and the music is fairly sophisticated. Nevertheless some track are easier than others to dance to than others, like “Majestad Antillana” “Somos Dos“ and “Llevatela“, which displaying a very fresh and young Canario,

My favorites are “Aprende”, “Canuto”, “Guaguanco de los Violentos” “Somos Dos” “Sonaremos el Tambo”.. they have all a salsa soing should have to make me dance..

Youwill also find other styles in the CD, for example “Salsa Suite”, has a deep rumba feel, “Busco Una Chiquita” is a charanga and “Gladys y Manolo” has a danzon feel. A nice CD. 22/3/08

 


Orquesta Tabaco y Ron – Que se sepa

Orquesta Tabaco y Ron has recently enjoyed considerable popularity.. if you attended any of the major salsa congress in the last 3-4 years it is likely that you either danced to them live or saw their CDs for sale in the local booths. It makes sense: they play very well, their music is catchy and has immediate impact and it is fairly easy to adapt to for beginner and intermediate dancers, crucial ingredients of a rapid rise in the salsa world.

If this was an old fashioned LP, rather than a CD, I would say that the 2 sides have a different flavour. The first tracks are very energetic with a regular (maybe a bit too regular) beat… these tracks are ideal for whoever identifies salsa with energy and fast tempo. Among them, my favorites are “Dos Que” and “El ritmo de los Triumfadores” Then, after the reprise son montuno “Guaira, El Son Te Llama”, the mood changes slightly, the tempo slows down a little and the flavour becomes more mambo and less pulsating.. this is where I think the band is at its best: “Sin bailar guaguanco”, “Tipico”, “Me coquetea”, “Dime que me quieres” but it may be just personal taste.

This is a group of top musicians: the brass section is spotless, the arrangements both catchy and clever and the piano player, when given the freedom, unleashes some extraordinary creative tumbaos.. I have the feeling the band could offer much more if less concerned about commercial success and fast impact, and I hope they will deliver on this. 29/3/08


Pete "El Conde" Rodroguez– El Rey

Pete Rodriguez grew up in Puerto Rico, playing the bongo since he was a child, and listening mostly to traditional son music from Cuba. He then moved to NY where he joined leading bands, becoming a singer and climbing the ladder to become an icon of the Fania label. Puerto Rico, Cuba, NY, Fania All stars: hardly you can find a better pedigree. Given the background, anything less than very good would be a disappointment from an album of his, and disappointed we are not.

If you are one of those dancers whose religion is based on the equation salsa=energy, then this DVD may not be for you, it may sound old and often mellow to the point of reminding you of granny’s music. However, if you heart has a soft spot, if you like that nostalgic ‘son’ feel and you like to dance to slow pace then this is recommended music. Apart for the classic ‘Yo soy el Rey’ I particularly like “Hipócrita”, “Reliquias” , “Gandules”, “Tu Barriga” and the irresistible “Rumba Es Mia” the only with a faster tempo. “Que Te Pedi” and “You Quiero Ser” are more on the romantic
Salsa side of things than Son while “Ries” and “Son del Callejon” are nice Son Motunos which you can safely enjoy as Cha Cha Cha and “Dile” is halfway between a Son and a Cumbia.

Musically, everything is designed to make you enjoy Pete’s voice, so no instrument, nor any arrangement passage, ever take first spot, but this is good, because his voice is indeed remarkable and your dance will flow naturally with no distraction. 18/4/08


Orquestra Mulenze – Greatest Hits

The story of this band seems to come out of a Hollywood musical: in the 60s a young boy from Puerto Rico quits his rock band and decides to form a salsa band instead; Celia Cruz happens to visit Puerto Rico, listens to them playing and nicknames them Mulenze, in the name of a famous Cuban percussion; then comes success and the rest is history. As many of the bands who spanned the 70s and 80s, Orquesta Mulenza also went though a number of musical phases, first quite powerful, then romatic as the salsa Romatica era dictated. Some of the original power can still be perceived even in the more mellow songs, but the romantic feel is till clearly there.

This is not my kind of music but the tamed spirit of this salsa and the requirement of the arrangement never to overpower the melody and the voice means that the final outcome is fairly easy to listen to and probably suitable for beginner dancers.

Among their hits I like “Equivocata”, “No hay manera”, “A mi me huele”, “Mi engrita” and “No es porque” while I find “Anoche aprendi’, “Dile a ese” and “Antifaz” less catchy, but all tracks share a nice tempo: the speed is never frantic and you may find this music suitable for salsa practises. 12/5/08


Henry Fiol – El Don del Son

This music is Son, you will hear it from the band formation, from the sound, based mostly on guitar and tres, from the relaxed melodies and the paced tempo. Still, if you are used to Cuban Son, it will sound different, partly because of the songs which have a ballad feel but mostly because of Henry Fiol’s peculiar voice and unmistakable singing style: his voice is gentle, almost frail, more melodic than rhythmic, possibly more prone to tell stories than to kick you out of a chair and make you dance.

The first few times you listen to his CDs you will most likely find a sense of homogeneous continuity in the music. It is the result of using the same arrangements, similar tempo and very similar harmonies based on simple 2 or 4 chords passages, on which Henry Fiol’s melodies tell often interesting or funny stories. This is a fancy way to say that all songs sound very much alike if you miss the lyrics.

All this does not suggest much appeal for a dancer and I have to admit this music is not my cup of tea. Nevertheless, one or two of his CDs may come handy to beginners or intermediate dancers. First the rhythm is very clear, conga and clave are unmistakable and overall this music comes as close to salsa 101 as you can possibly hope. Secondly, the regular and un-intrusive pace makes it ideal for practise and I still use it occasionally myself if I need to practise some passages which require attention and I do not want to be carried away my the music. For the very same reasons this music may come handy to salsa instructors both for group and private classes.

I find “No dejes que se muera tu son”, “Elembao”, “La belleza natural“, “Quiero saber” and “Corazon, dame fe” the most peasant tracks. I think “Elembao”, “Por un momento de placer” and “Montaña rusa” the best choice for beginner dancers, despite all tracks are relaxed paced sons, expect for “Quiero saber” which you can dance as Cha Cha Cha and “Perdonar y olvidar” which may find to be somehow half way between a son and a ballad. 18/5/08


Henry Fiol – Guaperia

This music is Son, you will hear it from the band formation, from the sound, based mostly on guitar and tres, from the relaxed melodies and the paced tempo. Still, if you are used to Cuban Son, it will sound different, partly because of the songs which have a ballad feel but mostly because of Henry Fiol’s peculiar voice and unmistakable singing style: his voice is gentle, almost frail, more melodic than rhythmic, possibly more prone to tell stories than to kick you out of a chair and make you dance.

The first few times you listen to his CDs you will most likely find a sense of homogeneous continuity in the music. It is the result of using the same arrangements, similar tempo and very similar harmonies based on simple 2 or 4 chords passages, on which Henry Fiol’s melodies tell often interesting or funny stories. This is a fancy way to say that all songs sound very much alike if you miss the lyrics.

All this does not suggest much appeal for a dancer and I have to admit this music is not my cup of tea. Nevertheless, one or two of his CDs may come handy to beginners or intermediate dancers. First the rhythm is very clear, conga and clave are unmistakable and overall this music comes as close to salsa 101 as you can possibly hope. Secondly, the regular and un-intrusive pace makes it ideal for practise and I still use it occasionally myself if I need to practise some passages which require attention and I do not want to be carried away my the music. For the very same reasons this music may come handy to salsa instructors both for group and private classes.

This is the CD from Henry Fiol I end up using most often for my practises, probably because a bit more lively than others or simple because I like it best. “De guatebuena a guatemejor”, “No comprendo las mujeres”, “De la mano a la boca”, “Guapo fantoma”, “Moforibale al tambo” and “Guaperia” are the tracks I enjoy the most, with “No comprendo las mujeres”, “De la mano a la boca” and “Guaperia” the most suitable to beginner dancers struggling to find the time in salsa. As in all other CDs from Henry Fiol, you will find some Son Montunos which you can use to dance Cha Cha Cha, in this case “El huerfanito” and “No te bañes en el yumuri”. If you are willing to give a try to just one CD from Henry Fiol, I would recommend this one.18/5/08


Henry Fiol – Fe Esperanza Y Caridad

This music is Son, you will hear it from the band formation, from the sound, based mostly on guitar and tres, from the relaxed melodies and the paced tempo. Still, if you are used to Cuban Son, it will sound different, partly because of the songs which have a ballad feel but mostly because of Henry Fiol’s peculiar voice and unmistakable singing style: his voice is gentle, almost frail, more melodic than rhythmic, possibly more prone to tell stories than to kick you out of a chair and make you dance.

The first few times you listen to his CDs you will most likely find a sense of homogeneous continuity in the music. It is the result of using the same arrangements, similar tempo and very similar harmonies based on simple 2 or 4 chords passages, on which Henry Fiol’s melodies tell often interesting or funny stories. This is a fancy way to say that all songs sound very much alike if you miss the lyrics.

All this does not suggest much appeal for a dancer and I have to admit this music is not my cup of tea. Nevertheless, one or two of his CDs may come handy to beginners or intermediate dancers. First the rhythm is very clear, conga and clave are unmistakable and overall this music comes as close to salsa 101 as you can possibly hope. Secondly, the regular and un-intrusive pace makes it ideal for practise and I still use it occasionally myself if I need to practise some passages which require attention and I do not want to be carried away my the music. For the very same reasons this music may come handy to salsa instructors both for group and private classes.

“Ven y baila mi Son”, “La juma de ayer”, “El Guateque de Ciprian” and “Caridad” are my favourite tracks in this CD. “Oriente” is a son Montuno which you could use to practise your Cha Ch Cha, and “El Guateque de Ciprian” is probably the son most suited for beginner dancers. 18/5/08


Alfredo de la Fe - Latitudes

This is a very diverse CD, so much so that you would be forgiven for mistaking it for a compilation CD with music from different artists. Rather, it is a full CD with music from Alfredo de la Fe, spanning music which appears to come not only from different styles but also from different periods. In such variety it is likely you will find something you like as well as, unless your tastes are really eclectic, something you won’t.

The opining salsa “Esta es la salsa” is a sort of celebration of New York, both for its role in the salsa development and as a multicultural spot. It is a nice salsa, at medium pace, which you will enjoy dancing on2 but also on1 if you don’t belong to the NY school. The rhythm is clear and I think instructors and students would find it suitable for salsa practises and classes. The violin solo from Alfredo de la Fe may remind of a rock guitar and you may or may not find it suitable to salsa music, but it is surely one of the features of this music.

“Asomate A La Ventana” has a clear cumbia influence, though you can surely dance it a salsa; it is slow has a nice melody and a very nice arrangement, vaguely reminding of bands like Latin Brothers. “Xiomara” is a very nice version of the famous Latin classics, and the musically inclined among you will enjoy the arrangement, interleaving violins, flutes and trombones (vaguely reminding of Los Van Van) and nicely complementing the gorgeous leading voice,

“Somos El Nuevo Milenio” is a Son Montuno of clear Cuban feel, but so slow that you may find it not suitable to test your Cha Cha Cha skills. “Sandra Mora” is also a reprise of an old classic, in a version probably closer to timba than to salsa, reminding of Issac Delgado in the intro and Micheal Maza afterwards, it’s not bad and it is suitable to bring out the salsa casino style in you. By this stage of the CD you are probably accustomed to sudden styling shocks, so maybe the next one will not take you by surprise: “Hilda” is a danzon which you can dance as a bolero or simply enjoy by following the nice violin virtuosism.

“Descarga Melao” as the name suggests is a Descarga, as such very fast, in my opinion not really suitable to dance as salsa unless you are training for the Olympics, but you may feel differently about it.

“Que Manera” is a poppish salsa characterised by a long violin solo and a quite fast tempo, like “Ge Ge” in my opinion too jazzy for a dancer.

What follows is another reprise of a super-classic “Muneca”; very much like “Xiomara”, this is a very nice version and very danceable.

“Batuasalsa” completes the CD. The name suggests a mix between salsa and brazilian batucada, though I find a lot of plena in the mix and the speed may lead you to dance it as a merengue, not a fortunate combination.


Alfredo de la Fe - Salsa Passion

This CD is less diverse than Latitudes, but you will still find several styles among the tracks.. here Alfredo de la Fe seems to be as comfortable with catchy and simple melodies as with exploring more daring jazz harmonies. In general this music does not drive me crazy and I often get this ‘I heard this already’ feel from much of the ideas presented. However, in the CD there is an exception and a real gem: “Hacha y Machete” is really a special track, which will satisfy the musician and the dancer equally (not a easy task) and I find dancing to it well along the way to Nirvana.

“Excelente Amante” is a romantic salsa in taste and lyrics and has a slow pace. “Barranquilla Es” is in typical Colombian style, and despite it has a faster tempo than “Excelente Amante” I think beginners will enjoy dancing to its clear beat. Apart for “Hacha y Machete” I find “La Mucura”, “Negro Por Excelencia” and “Suena Tu Timbal” the most catchy and danceable tracks while I am less impressed by “Ya No Te Estoy Creyendo” and “Historia De Dos Salseros”. “La Salsa Nacio Hace Tiempo” seems to have al ingredients to make it a success in most salsa clubs; for some reason I don’t like it but that is my problem. For variety you will find a Cha Cha Cha in “N. N.”, a ballad in “Tu Eres” and a cumbia feel in “La Cantaleta”. 19/5/08


Adolescent's Orchestra - Misma Pluma

Sometimes latin music slips out of its own enclave and reaches pop-ularity outside latin aficionados. It happened with Gloria Estefan, with Ricky Martin and many others. Latin music aficiondos normally are not impressed, but among the fans of the latest latin pop star some may discover that latin music has better to offer and get hooked. Similarly, within the latin pop world some trendy bands may find inspiration in salsa and help pop-ularising it to groups of new potential listeners. Adolescent's Orchestra is one such band. I suppose not even the hard core salsero would deny that this band actually plays salsa, despite such salsa wears an heavy make up, made of fashionable electronic sound, cheeky lyrics, catchy melodies and pop-ish arrangements. It’s a commercial enterprise, from the choice of the band’s name and its components, to the overall sound, to the production and marketing and it is probably unreasonable to expect artistic peaks to be reached this way. Still if success this band was designed to achieve, success it achieved and it is likely you have heard and possibly danced to some on their tunes in the less hard-core salsa clubs.

It is not my style and I would not choose this music for my next salsa party, but it has attracted a few novices to dance salsa. It is catchy; it reminds of romantic salsa in the melodies and lyrics, but the music is quite powerful and very fast, fast enough to forgive inaccuracies if your timing is not exact, which is also a reason why it is normally appreciated by beginner dancers, new to salsa.

This is one of their most popular album, from which many of their hits come from. "Si Te Marchas (Voy Allorar)" and "Mirame" are the only medium pace songs, with all the rest being very fast. They are all commercial salsa, with the excetion of the last track which is a ballad remake of "Jugando A Ganar" which also appears in salsa version.


Adolescent's Orchestra - Ahora mas que nunca

Sometimes latin music slips out of its own enclave and reaches pop-ularity outside latin aficionados. It happened with Gloria Estefan, with Ricky Martin and many others. Latin music aficiondos normally are not impressed, but among the fans of the latest latin pop star some may discover that latin music has better to offer and get hooked. Similarly, within the latin pop world some trendy bands may find inspiration in salsa and help pop-ularising it to groups of new potential listeners. Adolescent's Orchestra is one such band. I suppose not even the hard core salsero would deny that this band actually plays salsa, despite such salsa wears an heavy make up, made of fashionable electronic sound, cheeky lyrics, catchy melodies and pop-ish arrangements. It’s a commercial enterprise, from the choice of the band’s name and its components, to the overall sound, to the production and marketing and it is probably unreasonable to expect artistic peaks to be reached this way. Still if success this band was designed to achieve, success it achieved and it is likely you have heard and possibly danced to some on their tunes in the less hard-core salsa clubs.

It is not my style and I would not choose this music for my next salsa party, but it has attracted a few novices to dance salsa. It is catchy; it reminds of romantic salsa in the melodies and lyrics, but the music is quite powerful and very fast, fast enough to forgive inaccuracies if your timing is not exact, which is also a reason why it is normally appreciated by beginner dancers, new to salsa.

The pace in this CD is slower than what this band has accustomed us to: "Virgen", "Dos inocentes" and "Con migo o col el" are medium tempo salsa. I like best "Envidioso" a pop cha cha cha with a bite. In the CD you will also find a commercial Bachata "Ancianos" and "Mi gusta" a merengue strongly influenced by Elvis Crespo.


Adolescent's Orchestra - Millenium hits

Sometimes latin music slips out of its own enclave and reaches pop-ularity outside latin aficionados. It happened with Gloria Estefan, with Ricky Martin and many others. Latin music aficiondos normally are not impressed, but among the fans of the latest latin pop star some may discover that latin music has better to offer and get hooked. Similarly, within the latin pop world some trendy bands may find inspiration in salsa and help pop-ularising it to groups of new potential listeners. Adolescent's Orchestra is one such band. I suppose not even the hard core salsero would deny that this band actually plays salsa, despite such salsa wears an heavy make up, made of fashionable electronic sound, cheeky lyrics, catchy melodies and pop-ish arrangements. It’s a commercial enterprise, from the choice of the band’s name and its components, to the overall sound, to the production and marketing and it is probably unreasonable to expect artistic peaks to be reached this way. Still if success this band was designed to achieve, success it achieved and it is likely you have heard and possibly danced to some on their tunes in the less hard-core salsa clubs.

It is not my style and I would not choose this music for my next salsa party, but it has attracted a few novices to dance salsa. It is catchy; it reminds of romantic salsa in the melodies and lyrics, but the music is quite powerful and very fast, fast enough to forgive inaccuracies if your timing is not exact, which is also a reason why it is normally appreciated by beginner dancers, new to salsa.

The pace in this CD is slower than what this band has accustomed us to: "Virgen", "Dos inocentes" and "Con migo o col el" are medium tempo salsa. I like best "Envidioso" a pop cha cha cha with a bite. In the CD you will also find a commercial Bachata "Ancianos" and "Mi gusta" a merengue strongly influenced by Elvis Crespo.


AfroCuba - Rey Arco Iris

If you are into latin dancing, it is reasonable that you would expect a band called AfroCuba to play some hard core Cuban music: rumba or even something more afro than that. This CD is nothing of the sort, rather it is a sort of jazz fusion work, in the style which was popularised in the 80s by bands like Yellow Jacket and Step Ahead, with just a little more percussions. You may enjoy listening to it, but if latin dancing if what you are after you will have to make do with “El Papa”, “Mezquindad” and “Despertares” which are a quite free interpretation of a merengue, a salsa and a timba, respectively.


La Rumba Soy Yo. Con Sentimiento Mañana Vol.II - Various Artists

Following the success of Volume 1, here is La Rumba Soy Yo Volume 2, for the ones who want to discover the world of rumba and may benefit from compilations to become familiar with old and current masters. For salsa dancers rumba is a synonym of tradition, the root of afro-cuban music, the ancestor from which salsa one finally arose. This is true, but sticking too closely to this view may induce us to forget the very reason why salsa one day arose from rumba: that is the unconstrained ability of Cuban musicians to absorb musical influence from abroad and mould them into their own tradition. Indeed, in this CD rumba is a point of reference as much as a platform from which to take over and discover further. You will recognise this from the marked influences of rock guitars (Hablamé De La Rumba), pure jazz (Homenaje A Mongo Santamaría), American spiritual music (Hush), classical music (Rumba Pa' Ofrendarle), a Cappella (La Rumba Del Scat), down to contemporary techno lounge (No Más).

Open mind musicians will enjoy every drop of this work, in which the only constant is the top quality of the arrangements, musicians and some astounding singers. Dancers may feel different, especially if they are after traditional rumba to perform or practise to, for which only “Yo Vine Pa' Ve'”, “Grammy Pa' La Rumba” and “Mi Coro Armonioso” are clearly suitable. Still, a CD to listen over and over in order to discover all its facets.


Los Años De Andy Montañez Con El Gran Combo

This CD was released in the mid 90s, although it contains a number of old songs from Andy Montanez when he was still with El Gran Combo. The combination of the 2 names suggests optimism and indeed this is a very nice CD. Although the recording itself shows its age and both Andy Montanez and El Gran Combo would develop and deliver more sophisticated music in the years to come, some of the tracks are really captivating and definitely able to brighten your practises or your parties. I particularly like “Oye Mi Canto”, a nice middle tempo mambo, “En La Palma De Mi Mano”, a faster one, the irresistible Cha Cha Chas “Las Tres Marias” and the classic son motuno “Cienfuegos Tiene To Guaguanco”. I guess you will also enjoy the guaguagnco rhythm in “Serrana”, “Pero Yo Me Quedo” another mambo, and the cha cha cha “De Que Presumes”. A pleasant Bomba closes this enjoyable CD.


Fuentes Salsa Stars - Homenaje a Hector Lavoe

For the lovers of Colombian music, and in particular that blend of salsa and cumbia which so suitable to beginner salsa students because of its easy to follow and clear beat, here is a peculiar compilation: some of the most famous songs from Hector Lavoe played by some of the stars of Colombian salsa. The cumbia influence in this compilation varies from 'almost pure' in "Cheche Cole" and "El Dia De Suerte", to an almost 50-50 cumbia and salsa in "De Que Tamano" to and underlying feel in "Dejala Que Siga" and "El Todo Poderoso" which also shows clear bugaloo influences. You will also find a bolero "De Ti Depende" and a commercial salsa with a reggaeton intro in "Mosaico". Suitable for new comers to salsa and their instructors.


Gorbea Wayne & Salsa Picante - Saboreando Salsa Dura En El Bronx

For a while Gorbea Wayne has been one of the leading figures of contemporary salsa music in NY, producing and spreading around the world what is called 'Salsa Dura'. As the word may suggest, this salsa sounds raw, unpolished and the recording itself gives the feeling that you are listening to a small band playing live in your room or in your club; quite a lot of people like this sound, quite naturally the dancers who like to dance to live music. For what regards myself, I am not particularly moved by it so I rarely use it for my practises, but if you have been dancing for a while it is likely you have heard some of these tracks already, so my judgement should not be taken as mainstream. My favourite one is "Nelida" with a slight son feeling, followed by "El Yo-Yo" and the Son Montuno "Son Picante" which you can dance as Cha Cha Cha. All other tracks are salsas, which the exception of "Guajira Inspiracion", another Son Montuno, and "No Me Lieves", a bomba.


El Pikete – Timba de Primera Toma

More than other CDs, the impression I had when I first listened to this CD was to be in the middle of a club in Havana listening to one of the ‘minor’ local bands: for a number of reasons. First, the sound is quite rough, being the CD recorded live, with little polishing placed in the final cut. Second, this is text-book timba, as pure timba as it can possibly be, and well endowed to make you dance. The musically most aware of you may not be too pleased with the sound, and even less with the vocal parts and the brass section performance: cuban music, and timba itself, has accustomed us to better standards, still the feet do not seem to bother and dancers will find all they may demand from a timba CD.. most tracks are medium to slow pace and among them I find “Ay No Te Toca”, “Que Me Llege La Suerte” and “Este Es Mi Tumbao” the most convincing.

Title Style Speed/Pace Our rank
Ay No Te Toca Timba Medium
4*
No Pasa Nada Timba Medium
3*
Ya No Se Timba Medium
2*
Lo Bueno Pasa Timba Medium
3*
Seco Y Guardao Timba Slow
3*
Con Los Pies En La Cabeza Timba Slow
4*
Que Me Llege La Suerte Timba Medium
4*
Este Es Mi Tumbao Timba Medium
4*
Jugar El Amor Con Dos Timba Medium
4*

Grupo Danson - Mi Musica

This is a rich CD, which distinguishes itself from many other contemporary \cuban productions. The first thing which hit my ears has been the highly modulated voice of the male lead singer, very velvety, very colourful. I find his voice quite nicely summarises the sound and the feel often band. The CD contains timbas, cha cha chas, a ballad and a rumba but the overall unifying theme is a romantic touch in the melodies and the nicely performed arrangements. Dancers will not find the power we normally associate with timba, this is closer to Isaac Delgado than Pupi, which makes the CD good for listening as well as dancing smoothly.

Title Style Speed/Pace Our rank
Solo Para Ti Timba Medium
4*
Cancion De Verano Timba Medium
4*
Nena Timba Slow
4*
Historia Verdadera Tropical Timba Medium
4*
Seco Y GuardaoCamina Y Prende El Fogón Cha Cha Cha Slow
3*
Mi Música Timba Medium
4*
Cienfuegos Cha Cha Cha Slow
4*
Cuentame Todo Cha Cha Cha/Ballad Medium
3*
Rumba A Matanzas Rumba/Jazz Fast
3*

 


Michael Maza – Como Gato De Angora

Michael Maza is one of several offspring of la Charanga Habanera, and you can easily recognise the style. This is timba, well played and well produced, in which most song start with a romantic prelude leading to the most danceable part of the song after 1.5 or 2 minutes. Just like for la Charanga, Michael Maza’s songs are easy to listen, something to drink quickly in a few full gulps or, as it is often said, commercial and fashionable music, which probably will not overlive a couple of seasons; but in the meantime you wil lmost likely find the songs enjoyable and catchy. This is party music, very suitable for a club which welcomes timba. All songs are timbas, at a perfect medium pace, the one which would allow you to put the CD on, and let it play for the all party. The only exception is “Pa' Que Usted Lo Cante”, a Cha Cha Cha, also very catchy. The commercial feel of the CD is also displayed by the little care placed in the lyrics all very predictable, and surely not worth the bother of translating, but thankfully our feel do not have sophisticated ears and we keep on dancing to this CD.

Title Style Speed/Pace Our rank
Llegue Yo Timba Medium
4*
Te Fuiste Timba Medium
4*
Buscando Tu Amor Timba Medium
4*
Muero Sin Tu Amor Timba Medium
4*
Otro En Mi Lugar Timba Medium
4*
Que Le Besen Los Pies Timba Medium
3*
Nada En Tu Vida Timba Medium
3*
Amistad Especial Timba Medium
4*
Pa' Que Usted Lo Cante Cha Cha Cha Medium
4*
Especulando Timba Medium
4*

 

 

 

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