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Los Muñequitos de Matanzas: La Bandera de mi Tierra

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Los Muñequitos de Matanzas

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: yambú – 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.

Los Muñequitos de Matanzas: La Bandera de mi Tierra
Los Muñequitos de Matanzas: La Bandera de mi Tierra

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

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Featured Albums

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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Roberto Jr. Vizcaino, Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaino Guillot - Photo Nayeli Mejia
Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot - Photo: Nayeli Mejia.

Listening to the music of Siempre Más Allá, it certainly seems that the young French pianist, Adrien Brandeis has strengthened the belief that he is a proverbial citizen of the Afro-Caribbean universe. To be clear Mr Brandeis still loves all music and swings as hard as any pianist who loves Black American Music – that is, music that you can sing and dance to. But also continues to be beguiled by the rolling thunder of Afro-Caribbean music. The wild call of the rhythms and the joie de vivre of the questing melodies and harmonies not only appeal to his ear, but also speak to him in the hidden parts of his heart.

By his own admission Siempre Más Allá took root during three tours to Mexico undertaken under the aegis of the Fédération des Alliances Françaises du Mexique. The virtually all-Afro-Cuban repertoire of the album radiates charm at every turn. These disarmingly natural and eloquent performances bring out the music’s inherent drama and penchant for tumbao with a deft touch while indulging Brandeis’ lyrical instincts to the full. Meticulously balanced, the four quartet pieces, the trio and duo pieces feel as if they are chamber works. Brandeis’ astonishingly insightful playing is musically captivating and technically blemishless. Each phrase rings so completely true that one can’t imagine the music played any other way.

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

The album features Mr Brandeis and a group of very accomplished musicians. These include the celebrated Cuban percussionist Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot [on two tracks] and his son Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Mexican drummer José Loria Triay make up the wall of percussion. The Brasilian bassist Giliard Lopes brings his distinctive veritas to the whole rhythm section. The big surprise here is, perhaps, the presence of the great Cuban Horacio “El Negro” Hernández sitting in the drum chair on La buena vibra.

Siempre Más Allá is an affirmation of Brandeis’ enduring love and natural affinity for Latin music. Not surprisingly the music seems to echo the famous Latin American phrase: “¡Que rico bailo yo!” [which, in English, exclaims: “How well I dance!”]. This is no hyperbole as the music – in its pulses and rhythms show as Brandeis traverses the rhythmic topography of the Caribbean and Latin America. Along the way Brandeis plunged into the world of changüí, the chacarera, Brasilian gaucho music and the ancient melodic thunder of bàtá drums.

From the get-go listeners will find themselves immersed in quite another world of rippling percussive grooves. The track Ek Bakam, for instance, conjures the intricate architecture; the line and flow of an epic Mayan civilisation located in the Yucatan. Narratives from the Latin world abound – often paying homage to famous traditional musicians. Pancho’s Power is one such chart inspired by the vivid world of the legendary trio Los Panchos. Brandeis gives his percussion section a lot of space when he puts the spotlight on them on Tierra de Oportunidades – a wistful memory of the pianist’s three tours to Mexico, which is also incidentally the popular provincial slogan of the Mexican state of Guanajuato. On Huachi-Huachi Brandeis digs deep into the epicurean delights of the only Latin country in North America with this song in praise of a kind of gourmet Mexican fish: the huachinango.

Brandeis then celebrates his association with percussion colourist Roberto Vizcaíno Jr. with the extraordinary music of Vizcaíno Blues, a piece unique with its exploratory chromaticisms and elegant sonorities that beautifully capture the eloquence of the percussionist in whose praise the music is written. Mindful of the fact that Vizcaíno is Cuban but makes his home in Mexico, Brandeis shapes the rhythmic and harmonic palette of the piece accordingly. On La Buena Vibra Brandeis delivers astonishing pianistic fireworks in the piece’s melodic and harmonic lines, played at a frenetic pace, to mirror the style of its dedicatee, Michel Camilo. The pianist demonstrates an authentic home-grown grasp of Cuban music as he reimages Voy a Apagar la Luz, by the legendary and late-singer Armando Manzanero, here adapted as a wistful solo piano work. Meanwhile on the dizzying ride of Humpty Dumpty the pianist pays homage to another idol: Chick Corea, by revisiting the sparkling composition of the recently-deceased piano maestro.

It is hard not to be mesmerised by this spirited and finely nuanced music artfully crafted in an album by Adrien Brandeis, a pianist who is about to take the world by storm with a recording that is going to be one of the finest by any musician located outside the Latin American sub-continent.

Deo gratis…

Tracks – 1: Huachi Huachi; 2: Alegría; 3: Pancho’s Power; 4: Ek balam; 5: Un peu d’espoir; 6: Vizcaíno’s Blues; 7: Tierra de oportunidades; 8: Humpty Dumpty; 9: La buena vibra; 10: Voy a apagar la luz

Musicians – Adrien Brandeis: piano; Giliard Lopes: contrabass; José Loria Triay: drums; Roberto Vizcaíno Jr: congas and bàtá drums. Featuring Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot: percussion [1, 6]; Horacio “El Negro” Hernández: drums [9]

Released – 2022
Label – Mantodea Music Productions
Runtime – 58:25

YouTube Video – Adrien Brandeis – Siempre más allá (EPK)

YouTube Audio – Adrien Brandeis – Vizcaíno’s Blues

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