Introducing Orquesta Akokán – From New York To Havana

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Orquesta AkokánStraight out of Havana, Cuba comes Orquesta Akokán – a blazing presentation of deeply soulful mambo reminiscent of Benny Moré and banda gigante of the 1940’s and 50’s. The album boasts all original songs and was recorded at the historic state run Areito Studio with Cuba’s finest players, young and old, led by the venerable and dynamic singer José “Pepito” Gómez, produced by Chulo Records’ Jacob Plasse, with arrangements by Michael Eckroth. The ferocious and pedigreed wind and rhythm sections consist of musicians from storied groups including Irakere and Los Van Van. Robust, time-tested musical architectures of son cubano and mambo are honored and futurized through a synthesis of grammatical and compositional styles of Havana, New York, and beyond. Spring 2018 will find this brand new project released on Daptone Records; their first Spanish language album, one recorded outside of Daptone’s studios, yet bursting with the label’s innate sense of soul, fine-tuned attention to sonic detail, and songcraft that’s timeless and immaculate.

“Listening to the new LP by Orquesta Akokán, you can’t help but feel the spirits of Cuba’s musical giants radiating from the speakers. But honoring and caring for these spirits is not easy work, nor is it a task to be left solely to one generation. It is a collaboration of young and old; The elders know the traditions, the gestures, the incantations, but it is the younger generation that have the duty to learn, the strength to carry on, and the fire and soul to make new songs for new spirits.

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In November of 2016, Michael Eckroth traveled to the hallowed Areito studios in Centro Habana with a stack of charts tucked under his arm. Arriving in the cavernous wood-paneled live room, he took stock of the players assembled by producer Jacob Plasse: a dozen or so of Cuba’s most ferocious and pedigreed wind and rhythm players from storied groups including Irakere and Los Van Van, the sensational veteran vocalist José “Pepito” Gómez, and a handful of seasoned young New York Latin music freaks. These musicians would transform his charts into the living, breathing document you’re holding in your hands.

An arpeggio tumbles sweetly down the keys of the piano, and the set bursts forth en masse with exclamatory trumpet blasts, introducing saxophones that immediately establish themselves as the center of a rhythm section. The arrangements carry the exquisite beauty, pathos, and playfulness of the renowned dance orchestras of the 1940s and 1950s who had recorded in this very room, evoking the ghosts of Arsenio Rodríguez, Pérez Prado, and Benny Moré. And the robust, time-tested musical architectures of son cubano and mambo are present and skillfully honored through all nine of these original compositions. The melodious tres cubano, the swinging tumbao of the congas, the tight blend of vocal harmonies — they’re all there. Yet there’s something unequivocally fresh — saxophone sections playing montunos where you’d imagine a piano, an angelic, swinging flute you’d expect in a charanga recording, sones — vocal improvisations that have the seasoned flow and cadence of mid 1970s “salsa dura” singers, and of course, the appearance of the inimitable César “Pupy” Pedroso on piano. Somehow this synthesis of musical grammar and compositional styles, of Havana and New York, of old and new, makes perfect sense.

Akokán is a Yoruba word used by Cubans to mean “from the heart” or “soul”, so it comes as no surprise that a recording like this would find its way back to Brooklyn’s Daptone Records. For nearly a generation, the venerable label has brought us soulful music in a myriad of styles, made in the present, but with all the craft and flavor of the classic recordings of the past. In doing so Daptone has enshrined both the genres it honors as well as artists creating new works in the universal canon of dance music. It’s a perfect kitchen from which to serve this captivating baile between old and new — una sopa levantamuertos (soup to raise the dead), prepared with rhythm, with care, and above all, con akokán.”

— Martín Perna, Antibalas (liner notes from the album “Orquesta Akokán”)

“Yo Soy para Tí” from the self-titled debut album Orquesta Akokán, released on March 30, 2018 on Daptone Records. Filmed in Havana, Cuba – February 2018

Produced by Jacob Plasse
Arranged by Mike Eckroth
Written by José “Pepito” Gómez.

Appearing in the video from left to right:
Jacob Plasse (Tres)
Jamil Schery Calderon (Tenor Saxophone)
Evaristo Denis (Baritone Saxophone)
Harold Madrigal Frias (Trumpet)
Reinaldo Melián (Trumpet)
Yoandy Argudin Ferrer (Trombone)
Heikel Fabián Trimiño (Trombone)
César López (Alto Saxophone / Flute)
José Luis Hernandez “El Chewy” (Tenor Sax)
Roberto Jr Vizcaino Torre (Percussion)
José “Pepito” Gómez (Lead Vocals)

Not in View Mike Eckroth – Piano

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