Los Van Van
Juan Formell founded Los Van Van in 1969, establishing an international reputation as purveyors of a tightly orchestrated, seductively danceable blend of jazz- and rock-tinged contemporary son and charanga. Bassist, singer and composer Formell directs Los Van Van, featuring the inimitable vocals of Pedro "Pedrito" Calvo, Roberto Hernandez, Mario "Mayito" Rivera, the drop-dead piano tumbao of Cesar "Pupi" Pedroso, the group's signature interweaving of violin and trombone trios, flute, keyboards, organ, synthesizer and a relentless, take-no-prisoners, six-man percussion strike force. Los Van Van's distinctive songo sound has endured for three decades, producing the culturally astute, rhythmically sophisticated music and acute social commentary of which Cuban and overseas fans have never tired, and rightfully so. Indeed, Los Van Van's innovative sensibilities remain state-of-the-art (for example, their vocal and instrumental influences are patent in the work of such standout artists as Dominican merengue singer Juan Luís Guerra, and distinguished salseros Willie Colon and Ruben Blades).
No filler here, so it is difficult to single out particular compositions for special notice. But "Appapas de Calabar," a driving chant written in the sacred Abakuá language, renders tribute to Cuba's naciones de cabildo, and celebrates the long struggle of Afro-Cubans to secure equality, while "La Bomba Soy Yo" puts all the second-guessers, backseat drivers and know-it-alls in their proper place. As such, Llego...Van Van offers a tour de force of Cuba's most popular, long-lived and musically auspicious dance conjunto. - Michael Stone
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