'One of the most upbeat albums to appear this year, Ska Cubano is held together by a...
Chris Moss 2004
There are very few musical spaces where punks will happily rub scuffed shoulders with long-haired Womad goers, who will in turn buy a round for their friendly skinhead pals. But ska is just such a place - a strangely global, fringe music that cuts through skin colour and style factions with blasting brass and frantic percussion.
Listening to Ska Cubano's debut you begin to understand just why. In this wonderful Cuban-Jamaican take on the genre, you will hear reggae, salsa, Brazilian ritualistic music, Klezmer-style sax, big band brass and little bits of cumbia and son rhythms too.What is noteworthy is that far from tapping into these individual styles to concoct some kind of hybrid fusion, this effervescent four-piece choose to invoke each genre and work it out in a riotous jam. Songs may hop around the tropics as they develop, but you get the crisp feel of legendary signatures by the likes of Beny Moré (on "Yiri Yiri Bon") or Celia Cruz (on "Bárbaro del Rítmo") as you go along.
One of the most upbeat albums to appear this year, Ska Cubano is held together by a nifty, infectious beat (think Madness at midnight in Havana), vast resources of humour, well-chosen songs from an ethnic entrepot that mixes Cuban strands as diverse as Yoruba, mambo and more recent Afro sounds.The great production is thanks to the indefatigable Natty Bo, producer and leader of London ska band Top Cats,who went out to Santiago to Cuba on a mission to rescue this great crossover legacy from the dusty archives.
Sometime this summer you'll probably have heard the lively title track of this album based on a Moré track from the late 50s, it has a rolling chorus designed to kick the bands name into your memory with a Doc Martens-style boot. After all the veteran soneros and sub-standard Buena Vista offshoots, this isn't quite a virtuoso venture, but it is a rudely likeable one.
Historically speaking, it's a leap back to pre-revolutionary days when musicians and their preferred styles hopped freely round the Caribbean but it sounds young and feels fresh, and is yet another new wave rolling in from an island where change and evolution are daily bread.