Monday, November 8, 2010

Album Review: Afrocubism

Afrocubism is the project of which lovers of international music have only dreamt. One such dreamer, British producer Nick Gold, originally conceived of the project in 1996--pairing the best musicians from Mali with the best musicians from Cuba, two countries that have been speaking each other's musical languages for generations. The project failed to materialize the first time around; the Malian contingent couldn't make it to Havana, so Gold improvised and came up with Buena Vista Social Club. Not a bad substitute, but Gold persisted. He reconvened the all-star cast of musicians, this time in Spain, and "the music just poured out" according to Gold, recording 17 songs in 5 days. Musicians featured on the record include Eliades Ochoa, Djelimady Tounkara, Toumani Diabate, Bassekou Kouyate, Kasse Mady Diabaté, Lassana Diabaté, and Eliades' Grupo Patria.

Afrocubism - DJelimady Rumba by afrobeatblog

The album came out November 2, 2010 on World Circuit Records, and has universally lived up to the astronomical expectations which preceded it. It's infinitely interesting to listen to this album and ponder whether the African or Cuban elements are more prominent. It's a nearly impossible task to decipher since Cuban music is deeply influenced by its African roots. In part for that reason, West African music is deeply influenced by Cuban music. Francophone West African post-colonial governments also sent their budding musicians to train in Havana which helped usher in a generation of African musicians who were trained to emulate the Cuban aesthetic. Records and 45s from several Latin-American countries were widely distributed and consumed throughout West Africa beginning around the 1950's. Djelimady Tounkara even honed his guitar skills by accompanying Cuban radio hits.

This album has an entrancing sound that flows from song to song. Djelimady's mesmerizing guitar meshes with the relentlessly propulsive churning bass, gliding over the backdrop of congas, shekere, guiro, tala, and other varied percussion. Ochoa's vocals blend perfectly with the instrumental backdrop. Certain songs feature one instrumentalist more than others, such as Dakan featuring Bassekou Kouyate, Djelimady Rumba featuring Djelimady Tounkara, and Eliades Tumbao 27 featuring Eliades Ochoa. The instrument that provides the most character to the album throughout, in my opinion, is the balafon. It cuts through the already rich texture and adds a concise timbre to the composition.

This album is a testament to the cross-cultural exchange that has occurred for centuries and made its creation possible. Hopefully it will serve as inspiration for future collaborations. The ensemble is performing at Town Hall in midtown Manhattan tomorrow night and then touring Europe. If you are in any way able, I highly recommend seeing this group of musicians live. This collection of music provides a new definition to the term, Afro-Cuban.

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