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Out of Cuba Various Artists
Out Of Cuba: Latin American Music Takes Africa By Storm
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Los Afro-Salseros de Senegal
En La Habana
Popular African Music

Stern's Africa

Africa's influence on the music of the New World is hardly news, but beginning in the 1930s, in the throes of global economic crisis, the Gramophone and Victor companies began to repackage their Latin American catalogues with Ghana, Nigeria and the Congo region in their sights, marketed as the GV Series. Powerful radio transmitters broadcast the music to keen West African audiences, and local performers began to incorporate Cuban elements into their repertoire. The spread of the phonograph and the increased availability of affordable musical instruments, especially following World War II, only enhanced the popularity of Cuban dance music, and the rest is history.

The British Library Sound Archive is the source of the GV recordings heard on Out Of Cuba, 14 tracks recorded 1928 t 1940, and five more from 1952 to 1953. Presented in roughly chronological order, the collection offers an educated diversity of son, bolero, rumba, conga and guajira titles penned by some of Cuba's best known composers, including Miguel Matamoros ("Alegre conga"), Eliseo Grenet ("Lamento esclavo") and Moises Simon ("El manicero"). The music's visceral appeal in West Africa had much to do with how New World peoples of African descent perpetuated a range of aesthetic features that, despite language barriers, kept Cuban sounds accessible as they re-crossed the Atlantic. West African artists who came of age after the Second World War testify to the influence of the GV Series on their own musical formation. In the CD notes Congolese guitarist Papa Noel expresses this most succinctly, saying, "Anyone who knows both African music and Cuban music knows that there isn't any real difference in the rhythm… it's all African music anyway."

Repackaged yet again, these basic Cuban titles (many actually recorded in New York and Paris) include definitive numbers by Trio Matamoros, Sexteto Habanero, Don Azpiazu, Abelardo Valdes, Antonio Machin, popularizer Xavier Cugat (with the striking Lucumí-language vocals of Miguelito Valdes on a 1940 version of "Elube Changó"), and blind tresero Arsenio Rodríguez (his well-known "Dundumbanza"). Contrary to the CD title, also heard are the highly suggestive 1933 Nuyorican plena "Menéalo que se empelota," sung by the legendary Canario; "Madalena," a samba with string orchestra by Rico's Creole Band (the Cuban ensemble immensely popular in Paris from the 1930s into the 1950s); and northeastern Brazil's baiăo-forro accordion innovator Luiz Gonzaga, on his memorable "Juazeiro," a riveting if unexpected performance. In these days of the instant throwaway compilation, the occasional exception appears whose coherent reason merits the labors of compiler and listener alike, as with Out Of Cuba.

Even so, there's a certain tendency in the global distribution of world sounds for a handful of musicians to come to represent the whole of a given country's music. In Senegal, for instance, Youssou N'Dour, Baaba Maal, Africando and (in France at least) Touré Kunda have dominated since the 1990s - and then there's the recent "rediscovery" of Orchestre Baobab. cd cover Of course, there's far more to popular music history in Senegal. Important external influences stem from Cuba's cultural and political involvement with newly independent West African nations, and the global dissemination of a diverse blend of Afro-Cuban music and African American R&B, funk and jazz.

When the Cuban ambassador heard an all-star salsero revue on a Dakar visit, he issued an invitation to Cuba, bringing Los Afro-Salseros de Senegal to record at the EGREM studios. Producer Günter Gretz's album notes recount the engineers' foibles and reveal the interference of politics in the recording session. Small wonder; when the musicians arrived five days late, Gretz insisted on going into the studio on July 26, 2001, the anniversary of the Cuban revolution, a day when no one works.
But in the end, sixteen one-time members of Orchestre Baobab and Number One de Senegal laid down the eight tracks heard here. A strong vocal lineup (Pape Fall, Mar Seck, Labah Sosseh, and Star Band-Super Cayor de Dakar veteran Mapathé "James" Gadiaga) and ex-Baobab leader Issa Cissokho define the sound of Los Afro-Salseros de Senegal, as sure a tribute as any to the pervasive resonance of the music of revolutionary Cuba in West Africa.

cd cover Kinavana, the third release of the Kinshasa band Kékélé, is an enticing contemporary essay on Congolese rumba, as originally confected in the 1960s by the likes of Tabu Ley Rochereau, African Jazz Mokili Mobimba, Sam Mangwana, Les Bantous and many others. Guests include singers Mbilia Bel and Madily "System" Bialu, guitarist Papa Noel, saxophonist Manu Dibango, and a host of New York-based Latin session artists, including bassist Ruben Rodríguez and percussionist Luis Quintero.
Particular treats are "Ba Kristo" (Cuban music fans will recognize "El carretero"), wherein Kékélé trade vocal turns with Bel and New York's Isabel Martínez, and "Yo Odeconer" ("Al vaiven de mi carreta," the Ńico Saquito trademark), which pairs Bel with Kékélé's Nyboma. Indeed, all twelve tracks are fine Congolese adaptations of classic Cuban and Puerto Rican sones and guajiras, all either recorded or written by Guillermo Portabales, in tribute to the Cuban singer-guitarist whose recordings enjoyed considerable popularity in West Africa. Kekele demonstrate the enduring resonance of Cuban music in their corner of the Atlantic world defined by the Diaspora. - Michael Stone

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