Cuban Classics: A Personal Selection Pt. 2

We feature another playlist of Cuban classics this week, but first please forgive me for not including some of your favorites. There’s no way I can do everybody justice!

Let’s start with the great bass player Israel “Cachao” Lopez, a guy who practically invented the mambo and who joined the Havana Philharmonic at just 16. Cachao plays a great little three minute classic called “Descarga Cubana.”

The Mongo Santamaria classic song “Afro Blue” appeared in different versions. We’ll hear the long one from the Village Gate concert, with a young Hubert Laws—who was studying classical flute with Julius Baker at Juilliard by day—doing an amazing piccolo solo with a 45 second stretch of circular breathing (producing a sustained series of notes without taking a single breath). Not easy on the piccolo. Not easy, period.

We move next to a four-part feature on members of the Buena Vista Social Club, starting with a Cuban lullaby, “Drume Negrita” featuring Omara Portuando and Cameroonian vocalist/bassist Richard BonaIbrahim Ferrer follows with a fun track from a very early album he did in 1958 as a new arrival to Havana from Oriente Province. Then a track from Compay Segundo (b. Francisco Repilado), who was the senior member of the Buena Vista Social Club. We hear the très (3 double-string guitar) virtuoso on a 1974 recording, long before Buena Vista formed in 1995. Finally we get the original version of a Buena Vista classic, “El Cuarto de Tula,” rendered by the great Septeto Nacional, formed back in 1927 by Ignacio Pineiro.

The great rumbero/congero Chano Pozo joins the legendary très composer Arsenio Rodriguez on a 1947 cut called “Rumba en Swing” with Machito’s big band. Chano eventually met his maker after a drug deal went bad; Arsenio post-Castro wound up in East L.A. playing to patrons in a Mexican restaurant. Sad.

We then turn to a powerful rumba from Grupo Afrocuba de Matanzas. Remember, real rumba is never spelled with an “h”….that’s the Arthur Murray ballroom imitation. Rumba—music for drums and voices only—is the most African of all Cuban music styles. There are three types of rumba: yambu is for older couples, columbia is the fastest of the three styles, and guaguanco is the flirtation dance favored by younger dancers, with the male dancer playing the rooster and the female playing the hen. I was fortunate to see this group at a now-defunct club on the Santa Monica Pier in the 1990’s.

We conclude this week with two ballads. “Despues” (After) is from a new album Abuc (Cuba spelled backwards) by Toronto-based pianist Roberto Fonseca. The fetching vocal is by Maria Cortes. L.A.-based percussionist Luis Conte closes the show with a beautiful and atmospheric song, “Cielo y Tierra” (Heaven & Earth).

Rhythm Planet Playlist for 12/9/16:

  1. Cachao / “Descarga Cubana” / Descarga Cubana / Novoson/Bela Records
  2. Mongo Santamaria / “Afro Blue (Live featuring Hubert Laws)” / Greatest Hits / Columbia Legacy
  3. Omara Portuondo  / “Drume Negrita” / Gracias / World Village
  4. Ibrahim Ferrer / “El Mecánico” / Tiempos Con Chepin Y Su Orquesta / Tumbao/Egrem
  5. Compay Segundo / “La Trova” / Son Del Monte / Egrem
  6. Septeto Nacional / “El Cuarto de Tula” / Cuba: El Son Es Lo Mas Sublime / Aspic – Egrem
  7. Chano Pozo & Arsenio Rodriguez / “Rumba en Swing” / Legendary Sessions / Tumbao
  8. Grupo Afrocuba de Matanzas & Compay Segundo / “Campana de Oro” / Cuba in Washington / Smithsonian Folkways
  9. Roberto Fonseca / “Después” (featuring Maria Cortes) / Abuc / Impulse!
  10. Luis Conte / “Cielo y Tierra” / Cuban Dreams / Unitone Recordings

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Tom Schnabel