The faux-image of rumba as a glitzy ballroom-dance is mostly one made in North-America [read that as USA]. The genuine article, heard in Cuba itself, is pure Afro-Cuban music for voices and percussion and is rooted in the religious ritual; although modern repertoire broadens out from a religious blessing or incantation into more secular song and dance forms: yambá – a slow dance for couples, guaguancó – a faster, more modern dance for couples who dance provocatively without touching, and columbia – a solo male dance. Rumba is heard in Havana and, most notably, in the Matanzas province, on Cuba’s north-east coast, populated by Africans of Yoruba, Calabar and Congo descent, first brought to the island as slaves.
Very few [groups of] singers, percussionists and dancers live this tradition of rumba better than Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, the most celebrated rumba band for some fifty years. Founded in 1952 by Florencio Calle “Catalino”, Hortensio Alfonso “Virulilla”, Estaban Lantri “Saldiguera”, Juan Bosco Mesa, Gregorio Díaz “Goyito, Pablo Mesa “Papi”, Ángel “Pelladito” and Esteban Vega Bacallao “Chacha”, the group today is made up of members now embracing four generations of artists from Matanzas. Their virile music is fiery, yet eloquent. It explodes with visceral energy mixing the sublime tones of the human voice – which when used in harmony – emphasizes not simply narratives but the textural elegance of all vocal registers. When melded in with quinto tumbadoras and other percussion – especially the typical instrument of rumba – the catá, claves and a unique singing in 6/8 metre [in a proverbial doffing of the hat to European song influences] performed here by Agustín Díaz Cano of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas.
The introductory track of La Bandera de mi Tierra, “Los Muñequitos” is the salutary devotional to the group’s religious Santería roots, which is recited by Diosdado Enier Ramos who performs the mo’juba iba [santeros ancestral prayer]. The song broadens out from there to light the proverbial musical fire that burns throughout this repertoire on this disc. The best experience of this band is live – or through a DVD – but this music on the disc comes a close second as it is bright, vivid and holds the listener spellbound for over forty minutes. You will be led to dizzy heights [binary and tertiary heights] of Afro-Cuban clave. The music swirls like rumba coming to life in the air of your room, just like it does in the magical darkness of a Cuban sunset, under bright coloured lights, where Los Muñequitos de Matanzas can often be heard.
This is rumba at its purest and most powerful. Songs glide easily between the various dance forms. The complex cross-rhythms of guaguancó lie at the heart of the music here, expertly worked into the repertoire throughout this disc. Songs are narratives, performed with characteristic folk humour as only Los Muñequitos de Matanzas can because even the new repertoire is rooted in repertoire handed down by older members of the group in the finest tradition. “Severa y Latuá”, “Palangana Esmaltada”, “Canta Maravilloso” and “Babacué Yumaó” are typical of sizzling percussive grooves that are generated by Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. The crowning glory of the album – “La Bandera de mi Tierra” – not surprisingly, is ushered in as the rousing finale of this landmark album by one of the most historically significant rumba groups in the world.
Track list – 1; Los Muñequitos; 2: Los Beodos; 3: Amalia; 4: Chinito; 5: Severa y Latuá; 6: Palangana Esmaltada; 7: Canta Maravilloso; 8: Yamurí; 9: Babacué Yumaó; 10: La Bandera de mi Tierra.
Personnel – Diosdado Ramos Cruz: general director; Luis Cancino: musical director, lead and backing vocals, vocal montage and claves and miscellaneous percussion; Rafael Navarro “El Niño” Pujada: quinto; Freddy Jesús Alfonso Borges: quinto; Eddy Espinosa Alfonso: conga; Augustin Díaz Cano: 6/8; Facundo Pelladito: catá; Miscellaneous Percussion – Yuniscleyvis Ramos, Jamie Ona Ramos and Luis Deyvis Oduardo Ramos; Backing Vocals – José Andro Mella, Reyniel López and Israel Berriel; Diosdado Enier Ramos: mo’juba iba [santeros ancestral prayer on 1]; Special Guest – Yernalys Junco Suárez: clarina
Released – 2020
Label – BisMusic [CD 1246]
Runtime – 42:31