We all know Cuba is a magical country, which can never be described in one, ten or even a hundred blog posts. And Cuban music has been very malrepresented on this site (mostly because the music scene is a little more difficult to access from the other end of the world, comparing to other latin countries). This post will try to rectify that lack of attention with a whole load of Cuban mp3s, straight from the streets of Havana.
After three weeks of travelling around the western part of the island, taking in the fiestas in honor of July 26th (Revolution Day), the first conclusion has to be: reggaeton is everywhere. Wandering through the picturesque streets of the enigmatic capital, the breeze is soothed with the famous beat emerging from windows, sidewalk stereos, bicicle taxis, etc. Girls merely six years old move their bellies like professional dancers, boys repeat their favorite raps word for word on trains returning from the beach. Don Omar and Daddy Yankee dominate radios and nightclubs, though Cuban artists get a lot of attention too. Example: Eddy-K ft. Haila with "Entrale". Even big salsa and timba artists like Paulo FG and Bamboleo catch up with the hype, resulting in a typically Cuban variety of tropically flavoured reggaeton. In my opinion one of the best latin songs I've heard recently: "Te Boté" by Paulo FG. You'll recognize Roldan (see also this post) of globally popular hiphop formation Orishas in the chorus. (By the way, if you don't own A Lo Cubano, the must-have Orishas debut, buy it now!).
"El Zorreo" by Bamboleo (a salsa formation which includes above mentioned singer Haila) was a certain floorfiller at the numerous open air salsa parties. I admit at first the song sounds a little unpolished, but I guarantee the addictive melody will be in your head whole summer.
¡Esto será tu castigo, por lo que hiciste conmigo!I'm not a big salsa fan, but I like the salsa cubana more than the New York or Puerto Rican varieties. Maybe it's because Cuban salsas are less romantic? Or more sensual? Or more rhytmic? Fact is that you just have to move to songs like "No Tengo La Culpa" (El Clan) or "Esta Es Mi Charanga" (Charanga Habanera).
PS: I know Los Van Van are massively popular inside and outside the country, but the few songs I've heard didn't really convince me.
Dozens of bands in restaurants and bars keep the son alive, but sadly they aim for tourist dollars (by playing the same Buena Vista Social Club songs over and over again) instead of being innovative.
(I might do a special on guajiro natural Polo Montañez one of these days though!)
Trova is a less popular, more poetic form of bringing traditional Cuban songs. Using voices and an acoustic guitar, trovadores are real songcrafters who specialize in emotionally moving people with the simplicity of their songs. A lively café scene in most provincial capitals (there's always a Casa de la Trova, Cafe Cantante or Casa de la Musica nearby) keeps the music alive, and if you're lucky you'll spend an unforgettable evening submerged in subtle guitar arpeggios and emotionally broken voices. Pablo Milanés is one of the founding fathers of the genre, and "Yo No Sé" is his latest song (I think).
Though I haven't been to Oriente, origin most of Afro-Cuban music, "Añoranza por la Conga" by Sur Caribe came to my attention for being so different compared to other latin music. A very African rhythm, but a latin way of singing combine to something quite unique I never heard before in Latin America. They call it Conga, but I don't know if this music has to do something with the ridiculous line dance. I imagine it has a more religious meaning, referring to Santería, a fusion between African Yoruba religion and Spanish catholicism.
Eddy-K ft. Haila - Entrale
Paulo FG ft. Roldan - Te Boté
Bamboleo - El Zorreo
El Clan - No Tengo La Culpa
Charanga Habanera - Esta Es Mi Charanga
Pablo Milanés - Yo No Sé
Sur Caribe - Añoranza por la Conga