CD/vinyl, World Circuit, October 2022
As a key member of the Buena Vista Social Club, the singer and guitarist Eliades Ochoa spent nearly 30 years travelling the world as an ambassador of traditional ‘son’ music – the sound of a guitar, bongo and voice which was born in the mountains and countryside of eastern Cuba. He has continued to tour with his superb band Patria and collaborated with artists from all genres, never losing sight of his musical roots in Santiago de Cuba. The title song on this, his latest release, proclaims that “anywhere in the world/ I start to play a son/ everyone comes out to dance.”
This opening track is a real highlight and sets the tone for the rest of the album. It showcases his dazzling musicians (trumpeter Raony Sanchez Rosa stands out) and fabulous chorus (including the women of the Morenos Son group of Santiago). Also, the album is brilliantly recorded – the people at the local Siboney Studios bringing years of experience to the project.
Before Buena Vista, Eliades was often to be seen on the streets of Santiago, wearing his familiar cowboy hat, guitar in hand, on his way to another show at the Casa de la Trova. Many of the songs on this excellent album were in his set back then and form part of his own musical history, steeped in the culture and music of his hometown.
From slow boleros he heard as a child at family parties (‘Como la nube impone el sol’, featuring the late lamented Pablo Milanés), to witty guarachas by his favourite Santiago songsmith Ňico Saquito (‘Maria Cristina’ and ‘Compay Andres’), with songs celebrating local characters (‘Pedro el Cojo’) and even songs taken from street sellers (‘Pregón Santiaguero’), this collection gives a true flavour of Eliades’ home. His passion for his music, and his sense of mission, along with his world class guitar playing and singing, means that this album is so much more than a period piece: Eliades brings an infectious life and spirit to everything he plays, always emphasising that this music is made for dancing.
This is most evident when he tackles ‘nengón’- considered the oldest form of son, originally captured on old recordings of the Valera Miranda family from the Sierra Maestra mountains. Eliades brings the nengón alive with his vocal improvisations, the band playing with authentic technique (the bass player mimics the ‘marimbula’ bass thumb piano superbly) and we are transported to another time.
The final song ‘Si Es Un Final’, a romantic bolero by Juan Arondo, is a simple love song, but could easily be taken as Eliades’ proclamation of love for his music and city. It is a fitting closure for this album which highlights his deep knowledge while celebrating his lifetime commitment to his beloved son.
Dave Willetts, for CubaSi Winter 22-23 magazine
Watch the video of the title track here