Show #202: New Cuban Music Fresh from La Isla

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Veteran broadcast journalist Betto Arcos just returned from his fourth trip to Cuba, sampling the latest sounds, sights, and cuisine from La Isla. This week, I welcomed Betto back to Rhythm Planet for the second time to share some of his Cuban finds. On his previous visit, Betto showcased new music from Colombia.

Cuban music first hit the U.S. big during prohibition, when millions of Americans flocked there for booze, sun, gambling, and fun. Later in the 1940’s, percussionist Chano Pozo and bandleader Machito turned young beboppers in New York City onto mambo music. With the long-term diplomatic freeze, Cuban music  became less known in the U.S., to our own loss. A recent L.A. Times article by Randy Lewis quoted Jackson Browne stating, “We’re isolated from Cuba, rather than Cuba being isolated from the world. We are the ones that have isolated ourselves from this incredibly rich musical culture. For all of the attempts at isolation, Cuban music has still had an incredible influence in the U.S. It’s influenced jazz, it’s influenced a lot of our music over the years. But we don’t know the most contemporary stuff” because of the embargo.

A street scene in Havana. Photo by Betto Arcos (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Reggaeton is now huge in Cuba, hip-hop is popular among the young, and you’ll find small son conjuntos in front of every outdoor café, as well as mambo and salsa in the bigger hotels. Betto returned from his trip armed with CD’s that are unlikely to be issued outside of Cuba, and brought music by a number of new groups that have never been to the U.S. I’ve enjoyed Cuban music for a long time now through concerts, dancing, and the whole tropical Latin scene. It’s really terrific to have a knowledgeable musical colleague introduce me to new delights.

Be sure to check out Betto’s world music podcasts – The Cosmic Barrio. Betto will be bringing a number of new bands to Los Angeles in the fall of 2017, for a Cuban festival presented by the Music Center as part of the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative. Stay tuned for more information!

Banner photo at top: Tres player Pancho Amat and his band playing at “Delirio Habanero” club, next to Plaza de la Revolución. Photo by Betto Arcos

Rhythm Planet Playlist by Guest Betto Arcos: 3/17/17

  1. Rumberos de Cuba / “Señores Que La Rumba” / Mano a Mano (BIS)
  2. Daymé Arocena / “Mambo Na’Mà” / Cubafonía (Brownswood)
  3. Yissy García & Bandancha / “Pequeña Sambita” / Ultima Noticia (Zona Jazz)
  4. Danay Suárez / “En Lo Profundo” / Giles Peterson Presents: Havana Cultura Anthology (Brownswood)
  5. DJ Jigüe / “Como la yema del huevo” / Metamorfosis (DJ Jigüe)
  6. Kelvis Ochoa / “La Clave Azul” / Solamente una vez: De Cuba a Lara
  7. Pancho Amat / “Entre Punto y Habanera” / Herencias (Bis)
  8. Formell y Los Van Van / “La Moda” / La Fantasía (Egrem)
Music and dancing in Havana. Photo by Betto Arcos (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)