As the footprint and influence of Africa appears to expand into Caribbean and American music, even as the world seems to shrink, we find tradition remains as iridescent no matter whether in the music of David Virelles who ‘sings’ and ‘dances’ at a point seemingly furthest from the sun, or in El Septeto Santiaguero, who bask in all its scorching glory. “Ritmo negro” reigns supreme equally in Gnosis (by the former artist) and in Raíz by the large changeless ensemble El Septeto Santiaguero, aglow with viscerally refreshing son-montuno, son-changüí, danzón… and glorious boleros, served up as few bands playing today can, almost as if the charanga band is reinventing itself with their sweeping music resplendent with horns, reeds and flute, strings and chorus. In fact it often seems as if the golden age of Afro-Cuban music has been reborn yet again seemingly in a universe parallel to our own.
Editor’s Pick · Featured Album
Raíz is easily one of the most ambitiously produced albums to come out of the new Cuba. It is also excellently recorded at EGREM Studios in Havana and is as good as, if not better than anything produced in the United States. It’s hardly possible that this music was produced on a princely budget. However, even a cursory look at the list of musicians who were invited to participate on the recording will indicate that the ensemble did not stint on getting what was necessary to adorn the music with a King’s ransom in artists from both inside and outside Cuba. Searing energy and extreme virtuosity run throughout the more-than hour-long sweep of music, which is brimful of lush orchestral scoring especially in “Si Tú Te Vas”, (featuring masterfully-arranged strings) and “Mosaico #1” and “Ya Se Va Aquella Edad” in which the excellent New Orleans musician and trumpeter, Nicholas Payton, facilitates an effortlessly shifting between dreamy reflection and buoyant bonhomie as one phrase connects seamlessly with the next, interweaving the choral elements into the instrumental like raw silk.
Throughout the sixteen songs Cuba’s expressive music soars from this eloquent performance. Remarkably, while staying close to the traditions of Cuban musical forms there is no gratuitous wallowing in nostalgia. At the same time the harkening back to gentler times is highly evocative. Memorable themes mingle with gorgeous melodies as in “Cristinita” which features Charlie Aponte, “Cuando Canta el Cornetin” with Arturo O’Farrill on piano and “Lágrimas Negras” that resonates ever more powerfully with the voice of the great Rubén Blades. As ever, El Septeto Santiaguero has captured Cuban musical tradition at its most memorable, turning each song on this lush album into an eventful and emotionally eloquent journey for musician and listener alike, from the first bars of “No He Visto a Caridad” taking wing in the brilliant “La Canción de la Trova” and “Cuando Canta el Cornetin” reaching a peak of bittersweet triumph with a bell-like version of “Lágrimas Negras”; which then, refusing to die, carries on for three other songs until the record finally ends with “En Falso”.
Track List: 1: No He Visto a Caridad; 2: Cristinita; 3: La Fiesta No Es para Feos; 4: La Canción de la Trova; 5: Si Tú Te Vas; 6: Mosaico #1: El Son de Adalberto/Tal Vez Vuelvas a Llamarme/Pura Imagen; 7: La Meneadera; 8: Raíz (Interludio); 9: La Rumba Está Buena/Changüi Clave; 10: Cuando Canta el Cornetin; 11: Échale Tierra y Tápalo; 12: Retorno/Lo Que Es un Beso; 13: Lágrimas Negras; 14: Ya Se Va Aquella Edad; 15: La Fiesta No Es para Feos; 16: En Falso
Personnel: Fernando Dewar: musical director, tres, 1st voice (1, 12); Innocenio ‘Chencho’ Heredia: lead vocals (1, 7, 12, 14) and minor percussion (maracas, clave and güiro), 2nd vocals (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 12, 15); Giraldo ‘El Flaco’ Bravo: lead vocals (5, 9), first voice (12) and güiro; Rubén Matos: lead vocals (3, 11, 15) and guitars; Dairon Robert: baby bass and contrabass; Gabriel ‘La Historia’ Montero : congas, paila, cajón; Alberto Castellanos: bongó, and campaña; Alain Dragoní: trumpet and flugelhorn, second voice (14); Alden González: percussion and chorus. Guests: Charlie Aponte: lead vocals (2); Rubén Blades: lead vocals (13); Reinaldo Creagh: lead vocals (16); Medoro Madera: lead vocals (13); El Médico: lead vocals (16); Alejandro Almenares: requinto (4); Ulises Benavides: trombone (9); Alfredo de la Fe: violin solo (5); Rubén Leliebre: flute (5, 10), first flute (8); Carlos Miyares: tenor saxophone solo (6); Arturo O’Farrill: piano (13); Pedro Speck: bongó (9); Nicholas Payton: trumpet (14); Orfeon Santiago (8, 12) with Daria Abreu: musical director, contralto; Sonia Garcia: contralto; Maria Elena Sanz: soprano; Lilliam Pérez Matos: soprano; Abel Valdés: tenor; Idalberto Peña: tenor; Moises Miguel Hechavarria: bass; Yunier La Rosa: bass; Franklin Reytor: tres (8); Fidel Masso: tres (2, 13); Gabino Jardines: guitar (8); Iván Sánchez: alto saxophone (6); Rene ‘La Flor’ Dominguez: alto saxophone (6); Luis Angel Fuentes: tenor saxophone (6); Eraclio Palacios: tenor saxophone (6); Yarmanys Soto: baritone saxophone (6); Carlos Alarcónx: 1st violin (5); Virgen Marrero: 2nd violin (5); Wilmer de León: 3rd violin (5); Yimmy Delgado: cello (5); Daniel Guzmán: violin (8) 1st violin (16); Mayra Yeline Quintana: 2nd violin (16); Yelina Amelo: viola (8, 16); Orlando Hernández: cello (8, 16); Idelisa Ortíz: 1st clarinet (8, 14); Miguel Cinttra: 2nd clarinet (8, 14); Ramón Bordon: 3rd clarinet (8, 14); Jorge ‘Funky’ Ruiz: 1st oboe (8); Rey Alexis Guerra: 2nd oboe (8); Lianet Vera: 2nd flute (8); Angel Quiola: quijada; Herminio Veranes: guayo (9); Eglys Ochoa: maracas (2, 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13); Alejandro Garrido: maracas (1, 7, 9, 14); Ismael Borges: maracas (8); Manuel ‘Fosforito’ Colloza: bongó (13, 16); Jorge ‘Koli’ Maturell: bongó (4, 6); Alberto Venares: paila (12); Omar Planos: beat box (15); Angel Musteller: percussion; Juan ‘Pipo’ Despaigne: okónkolo (9); Artis Cabrera: iyá (9); Inaudis Garbey: itótele (9).