Review of CD: Cuba Music and Revolution – Culture clash in Havana Cuba: Experiments in Latin Music 1975-85 Vol 1
Compilation by Gilles Peterson & Stuart Baker, Soul Jazz Records 2021, 2 CD set
This excellent Soul Jazz compilation album spells out how music was central to the creative explosion that took place in Cuba following the 1959 revolution. Put together by Gilles Peterson and Stuart Baker, it features some of the great Cuban artists who flourished in the 1970s and 1980s – Irakere, Pablo Milanés, Los Van Van and Conjunto Rumbavana, alongside others who remain relatively unknown outside Cuba. The 2 CD set is an accompaniment to their stunning 250-page book of original Cuban album cover art from 1959 to 1990.
They have hit a rich seam with this project. The CD features 23 brilliant, danceable tracks from the early ‘70s onwards, and the accompanying booklet has an essay by Baker which places the music and design firmly in a political context showing how, through this fresh approach, Cuba was searching for a new post-colonial and radically modern cultural identity.
Despite the sometimes-contradictory political argument, the music shines through, and there is not a single wasted moment. Along with the sumptuous images of 1970s and ‘80s cover art, the CD features the seamless mix of African roots, jazz and funk that the peerless Chucho Valdés and his dazzling musicians combined to form Irakere, Juan Formell and Los Van Van’s irrepressible dance rhythms and lyrics which reflected and celebrated Cuban street life, and the sonic innovations of the Grupo de Experimentación Sonora based at ICAIC which gave rise not only to the beautiful film music and compositions of the guitarist Leo Brouwer but was also a springboard for the success of singer poets Pablo Milanés, Silvio Rodríguez and Sara González.
Those searching for lesser-known artists of the era will not be disappointed. The album is charged with electrifying tracks by artists such as Grupo Monumental, Los Reyes 73, Las D’Aida and Emiliano Salvador, all of which bring the cutting-edge of ‘70s Cuban dance music.
Los Van Van and Pablo Milanés provide standout tracks, in company with the masterly ‘Juana 1600’ by Irakere – a rare studio version of the opening number of their late ‘70s live set which would always leave audiences stunned by their world class musicality.
Despite the omission of groundbreaking music from the period 1960 -1970, this album succeeds on so many levels. Very rarely does a CD unite such a strong political thread with great dance music, and this exemplary project clearly shows how during the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s revolutionary Cuba led the way, providing some of the most popular, profound, and exhilarating music and design anywhere in the world.
Review appeared in CubaSi magazine Summer 2021