Central Park Rumba is one of those rare recordings that succeeds in performing traditional genres in a fresh way. These New York rumberos have a profound knowledge of the roots of Afro-Cuban folkloric music, and they have the confidence to use this knowledge in unique ways. "Columbia de los guerreros" combines lyrics in Spanish, Lucumí and the esoteric Arará language. It is a unique combination, but true to the spirit of columbia, which allows for free combinations of secular and religious lyrics. They also perform an elegant Abakwá religious song, a style rarely heard on commercial recordings. This song inexplicably has no chorus, the only lapse in the otherwise impeccable good taste shown in the arrangements.
Another strength is how these artists have mastered the contemporary expression of folkloric rumba, often known as guarapanchangueo, where the characteristic tumbadora rhythm patterns are subtly implied rather than repeated endlessly as in the rumbas of the last generation. The contributions of Orlando "Puntilla" Rios are particularly important here. Puntilla and Bobè have also written charming topical songs to keep these rumba pieces interesting textually as well as musically, and their vocal improvisations and harmonies meet the highest standards of the art.
Finally, the rumberos transcend folklore by adding horns and other band instruments in various sparse, tasty combinations. "Respira profundo" excites in particular with its bluesy flute and piano solos. Some selections can hardly be categorized as rumba, salsa, or jazz. They are sui generis creations on boxes, drums and bells that swing hard and prove that the limits to Latin music have yet to be set.
As an old park rumbero myself, I am delighted to hear Eddie Bobè celebrate the spirit of the street musicians who keep rumba a living and popular tradition. I'm sure we'll be singing his songs soon. - Philip Pasmanick
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