The timing of this record could not have been better, coming at a time when US President Barak Obama lifted the decades-long embargo of Cuba bringing that country into the international league of nations. The fantasy of Cuba has finally become real, wholly and completely, for Americans. Moreover, the title of this album is intriguing too. In translation, Obama Manda a su Nganga suggests that ‘Obama is the leader of the high priests of the palo – in the Congo and greater Africa’ makes this act by the sitting US President quite a radical one; almost a guerrilla act in the face of American hegemony all over the world – a fallout from the Dubya Doctrine (axis of evil, etc.) It is almost as if Obama has become the leader of this radical musical society of spiritualists if anything, where music and art if freed of tyranny. What a fantasy…
In reality, of course, the leader is a young New Yorker, Taylor Watson, a guitarist who has been quietly passionate about Cuba (and Brasil). This album has been crafted with songs almost completely written by Mr. Watson recorded in one long descarga by musicians from the Egrem studios in Havana. While this recording may not be as celebrated as Buena Vista Club, or the recordings of Jane Bunnett, or older imprints by Bebo and Cachao, and Irakere, the descarga is visceral and exciting and if listened to carefully, seriously good. Taylor Watson’s own prowess as a composer reveals itself in his stronger melody/accompaniment textural differentiation throughout. His swagger manages to take full advantage of the instrumental resources without compromising the music’s design and cumulative sweep.
Who would suspect that this recital’s protagonist – a young musician from the US – was capable of firing such a salvo of technically immaculate and musically mindful interpretative metaphors of musical history – both Jazz and Afro-Cuban? But here he is composing that wonderful suite “Manda a su Nganga” taking us through music from Buddy Bolden to Peruchin, and finally, tongue firmly in cheek, to Obama’s historic act. This is celebratory music at its finest. Lovely themes emerge from seeming disorder and the narrative is a tantalising blend of tranquility and turmoil. And then there is that ingenious rhapsodic fantasy “Gershwin en Cuba” that shows you Cuban musicianship at its finest! They also vouchsafe unbridled ingenuity – both intellectual and musical. One can say about Taylor Watson’s interpretations, which are characterised by tightly knit tempo relationships and intelligently scaled dynamics.
This is an immensely satisfying and thoughtfully put-together programme that should please all fans of Afro-Cuban descargas.
Track List: De Cuba Para Brooklyn; Camila; Washington Heights; Pucho Marquez; Tú; Bolden Manda a su Nganga; Lorenzo Manda a su Nganga; Peruchin Manda a su Nganga; Obama Manda a su Nganga; Gershwin en Cuba; Colberto Reporto; Y Nos Vamos Ya.
Personnel: Taylor Watson: guitar and tres, and various instruments; Various musicians featuring: Rodolfo Argudín Jústiz “Peruchin”: piano and voice; Elpidio Chappotin: trumpet; Lazaro Rivero Alarcón: bass; Adalberto “Candelita” Ávila: bass; Jorge Lorenzo Parejo Torres: voice; René Suárez: conga, timbale and voice; Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé: tumbadora and batá.
About Son de Brooklyn
Taylor Watson has been playing and teaching diverse styles of music for many years. After studying jazz guitar and political science at Oberlin College (with a semester studying Spanish music in Granada, Spain), he relocated to San Francisco, California and formed the Latin jazz group Cafe Con Leche. Multiple trips to Cuba and Brazil led him to explore those countries’ musical traditions, including recording half his group Son de Brooklyn’s album Los Hipsters No Bailan at the famed Egrem Studios in Havana. Since 2005, he has been performing and teaching in New York City from his home in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Read more…