4 Dec 2016

Castro laid to rest, let the music play

From RNZ Music, 12:00 am on 4 December 2016
Cuban congo player

Cuban congo player Photo: Creative Commons

It’s hard to imagine a silent Cuba – the country that has produced one of the most joyous and influential bodies of music in the world. But with the death of Fidel Castro, all espectaculos (concerts) were suspended for nine days, the official period of mourning. Here are nine classics of Cuban music – from the 1950s to the present day - to enjoy now the revolutionary leader has been laid to rest.

Los Zafiros – Y Sabes Bien

This extraordinary group, who blended doo-wop and R&B with the rhythmic heritage of Cuba, flourished in the early post-revolution period. At their peak they toured Europe. At the Paris Olympia they followed a season by The Beatles, who stayed on for an extra night to hear and meet the Cuban stars. This stylishly fruity film clip is Havana chic, circa ‘64.

Buena Vista Social Club – Chan Chan

The song came in a dream to the veteran Cuban trovador Compay Segundo, and became the theme tune of Buena Vista Social Club.

Irakere – Aguanile Bonco

1977 - Cuban jazz discovers the synthesiser. But get past the ludicrous overuse of mini-Moog and you’ll hear some spectacular trumpet from Arturo Sandoval.

Haydee Milanes – Palabras

Conservatory-trained, Haydee Milanes is a contemporary Cuban torch singer. Elegance personified.

Perez Prado – Que Rico El Mambo

Cuban-born Perez Prado took Cuban band music to the world. He specialised in mambo, a brassy upbeat adaptation of the danzon, and became a huge star in Latin America and the United States from the 1940s. This priceless if rather pixilated footage is from height of mambo mania.

And here’s Perez again – slightly clearer footage, though his fine band mostly obscured by the dancers.

Benny More – Como Fue

Honey-voiced tenor Benny More was a master of the mambo and led one of the most popular Cuban bands of the 1950s.

Chano Pozo with Dizzy Gillespie – Guarachi Guaro

No footage is known to exist of the great percussionist Chano Pozo, but you can hear his vital influence on jazz in any of the recordings he made with Dizzy Gillespie, before his untimely death in 1948, at just 33 years old.

Ibeyi - River  

Twin teenage daughters of the late Anga Diaz – percussionist for the Buena Vista Social Club – combine traditional Yoruba chants and themes with hip-hop and electronica.

Telmary - Que equivocao

Equal parts hip-hop and rumba, a recent track by Telmary Diaz - an innovative rapper who divides her time between Havana and Toronto. The future of Cuban music?

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