The Rolling Stones of Latin Music!
Paul Sullivan 2009
What to say about a band that have been slaying dancefloors and radio stations for four decades and who have been nicknamed the 'Rolling Stones of Latin Music'? Not much that hasn't already been said, clearly, though this collection of Los Van Van's leanest and meanest does manage to remind us of why this irrepressible Cuban super-group have such a glowing – and lengthy - legacy.
The first set (CD 1) features a slew of the band’s hits from the 70s and 80s, starting with their 1974 Chirrin Charran. When they released this record, the band - headed up by bassist/songwriter Juan Formell - were one of only two Cuban groups experimenting with such a racy blend of pop, funk, soul, rock, disco and native styles. (The other was Irakere).
Los Van Van called their style songo due to its mix of traditional son montuno and the percussive funk of Washington's Go-Go scene, and this first Disc is crammed with examples of their genre-blending approach, from the mercurial and muscular Dale Dos, the disco bleeps and slinky bassline of Que Palso Es Ese to the fantastic percussion-and-strings Anda, ven y muévete, (later recorded by Rubén Blades as Muévete).
Unlike much music from the 80s, many of the songs here have dated well. Even synth-heavy tunes like La Habana Si, Acqui El Que Baila Gana and Que Sorpresa! maintain a certain charm, mainly due to their provocative percussion and frequent melody and mood changes.
CD2 plucks tunes from the band's 1990s and 2000s output. Los Van Van underwent many changes during these last two decades, incorporating new personnel and embracing more modern styles like hip-hop, funk & reggae. These years also saw the broader success of the timba style, a Cuban form of salsa pioneered alongside Irakere and NG La Banda.
These changes can be discerned throughout Disc 2, particularly on tunes like Que Tiene Van Van, the punchy Esto Te Pine La Cabeza Mala, the super-slick Soy Todo and...well, the list goes on. There's hardly a bad or boring song here; and since the band have surely put out their fair share of formulaic music over the years, the beauty of Havana Si must lie precisely in its showcasing of only the very best of their bulging oeuvre.