Yelsy Heredia: Lo Nuestro

There are few musicians more eminently qualified to revisit changüí – that unique Afro-Cuban dance-narrative form – than the inimitable contrabassist Yelsy Heredia. A native of the province of Guantánamo, Mr Heredia is [largely] based in Spain these days, where he is a stellar ambassador for the traditional form of that music. But he is also a daring musical innovator and alchemist, using the changüí form – a music uniquely born and bred in Baracoa, to forge a breathtaking alliance with flamenco and other Spanish song-forms that are so inextricably linked to the formation of changüí itself. Of course, refusing to be “imprisoned” by the tradition itself, Mr Heredia uses the elegant rumble of his contrabass to take on the role of the très – as well as the bass lines of the marímbula – and with his impressive technique he masterfully plays the cut-time rhythms of the guajeos with resonant and ebullient ostinatos of his own.

Aficionados following Mr Heredia’s Spanish sojourn will well-remember his performance of “Lebrija Son” featuring the remarkable pianist Dorantes and the seductive voice of Alba Molina Montoya, daughter of the legendary Romani flamenco performers Lole Montoya Rodríguez and the late Manuel Molina Jiménez, as well as grand-daughter of the late Antonia Rodríguez Moreno, a Romani flamenco singer and dancer known as “La Negra”. Meanwhile, quite the chameleonic musician, Mr Heredia returned to Cuba for a series of performances, one of the most memorable of which has been captured on DVD and CD by one of the most important Cuban music labels – BisMusic. Both DVD and CD contain the same repertoire – in the same order. Mr Heredia is joined by some of the best known musicians in Cuba. His charanga changüí features musicians best-positioned to express the music of this distinctive idiom.

Apart from him [on contrabass] we are treated to memorable performances by pianist Ernesto Oliva, a nighty melodist and rhythmist who compels his instrument to morph from a set of tuned-percussion-keys to a whole harmonic-chordal orchestra as he moves easily from gliding arpeggios and dazzling runs to yammering percussive chords turning, as if, on a dime. The great Yaroldy Abreu is seen – most unusually playing – a series of metal güira, his time being impeccable as he sets up – and acts as the glue for – a towering rhythmic edifice featuring Rodney Barreto on a drum set that redolent of the tones of a timbal, and Natalí Chongo who plays an assortment of percussion instruments. Together these three percussion colourists create many rippling rhythmic grooves that keep the music hot and danceable.

The whimsical, funny and epic narratives are provided largely by the incomparable vocalist Celso Fernández “El Guajiro de Yateras” – with magical performances from Kelvis Ochoa on “La Albahaca”, and by the young diva, Daymé Arocena on “Hermosa Santa”. The warm and silken voiced Yurien Heredia sings with deep emotion but can play to the whimsy of the other vocalists too. The eloquent rapping duo of La Reina y La Réal bring the music home with Celso Fernández on “La Habana está muy cara” and return for the riotous comparsa, the fitting finale to  this marvellous live performance brilliantly caught by an engineer with truly musical ears.

Two trombonists – Ivanovi Garzón [Pipi] and Osley Patridge Terry add glistening brass tones to the music whenever they are called upon to do so and the latter musician also doubles up on maracas, on several songs. Meanwhile, the feathery tone-textures of Arianne Navarro‘s flute is evocative, bringing the myriad emotions of the lyrics to life. Whether soloing or playing in ensemble Miss Navarro adds much warmth and elegance to this music. The seduction is complete with the appearances of dancers Dayana Stable and Dayner Luis González – who don’t appear often enough through this concert.

The production values suffer somewhat with the soundtrack for the DVD, but the cinematography [especially the SteadyCam work] is superb – especially so as Mr Heredia is like a flibbertigibbet, dancing, pirouetting and sashaying along with the music, often twirling his big and beautiful  instrument as a dancing partner. This is indeed, a memorable performance.

Track list – 1: Lo Nuestro; 2: La Voz de Yateras; 3: La Albahaca; 4: La Semilla; 5: Hermosa Santa; 6: El Guayo; 7: Cubano del Guaso; 8: Si me Buscas me Encuentras; 9: La Habana está muy cara; 10: Identidad

Personnel – Yelsy Heredia: contrabass; Ernesto Oliva: piano; Rodney Barreto: drums and percussion; Natalí Chongo: percussion, Yaroldy Abreu: percussion; Arianne Navarro: flute; Ivanovi Garzón [Pipi]: trombone; Osley Patridge Terry: trombone and maracas; Yurien Heredia: vocals. Guests – Celso Fernández “El Guajiro de Yateras”: vocals; Kelvis Ochoa: vocals; Daymé Arocena: vocals; La Reina y La Réal: vocals and rap; Dayana Stable and Danyer Luis González: baile.

Released – 2019
Label – BisMusic [CD/DVD 1168]
Runtime – CD 51:28 DVD 52:45

Raul Da Gama
Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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