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In the third track of the album, which so far followed an explicit chronological linearity faithful to the history of Cuban music (beginning with the old African roots to continue with the European influence of the 19th century), Cachao very interestingly went on to make use of the music of the 50’s, the golden decade of Latin music. Combining cha cha cha and the conjunto sound of Sonora Matancera, the two main streams of Cuban music of that era, he composes the stylistic amalgam “Centro San Agustin”, which is a cha cha cha with two trumpets in the Sonora Matancera style, but also a flute (again by Gonzalo Fernandez) which establishes a link with charanga, the true origin of cha cha cha. Cachao, however, turns to yet another music component of the 50’s: The important conjunto of Felix Chapottin, here implied through the use of the tres, an instrument which was never used in either Sonora Matancera or in classic cha cha cha. Besides, an explicit statement of Cachao’s intentions is the choice of musicians for this song, among which are the legendary Lino Frias (pianist in Sonora Matancera), Mario Munoz “Papaito” (timbalero of the said band) and the great Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros, virtuoso trumpet player and veteran of conjuntos of the golden decade. The Tres is played by the young Puerto Rican Nelson Gonzalez, the only available and efficient tresero in the U.S. after Arsenio Rodriguez’ death.
Featuring the delightful solos by Fernandez, Frias, Gonzalez and Armenteros, the song “Centro San Agustin” plays the role of a simple, euphoric and joyous interval (as is the cha cha cha by definition) which serves as a balancing device between the ‘heavy’ afro and danzon introduction and the true tropical “storm” which follows.
“Trombon Melancolico”, the fourth track, certainly holds a central position in the album, insofar as it is strongly engraved on the audience’s mind upon first hearing. In this journey through time proposed by the album, “Trombon Melancolico” depicts ideally the passing to the present and essentially to the environment which Cachao experienced in 1976: this song is the ultimate music narrator of what we would call New York experience, which is delineated pictorially. A blend of images entertains Cachao’s mind: the city, its stress, violence, social marginalisation, the world of cement and the filthy undergrounds of El Barrio and the Bronx, all intertwine; he already left the sun-drenched Caribbean with the small communities and the golden decades for a world in which any music wealth is hidden in the wretched Spanish- speaking ghettos, under heaps of garbage, drugs and poverty, crime, broken English and of that perpetual chimera we would call «American dream». Cachao’s semiotics is indeed unprecedented: he chooses the rhythm of mozambique for “Trombon Melancolico”, which is (like Cachao himself) of Cuban origin, and was in fact the last rhythmic trend imported from Cuba in U.S.A. before Fidel Castro closed the borders of Cuba (Cachao was among the last Cubans to leave the country). However, if in Cuba Mozambique met with ephemeral success and made its creator, Pello El Afrokan, famous, not only was it more used and heard in New York, but by necessity (since New York bands could afford a small number of musicians, as opposed to the government-paid Cuban orchestras which numbered up to 20 members) mozambique was readjusted and became a related yet distinct rhythmic pattern today known as “New York mozambique”. Cachao’s choice was extremely essential: although himself a Cuban by birth, he composed “Trombon Melancolico” based on the rhythmic patterns of New York Mozambique. To perform it, he exclusively called upon New York Puerto Rican musicians, based on the model of La Perfecta, the mythical band with which Eddie Palmieri stirred up New York in the 60’s by playing mozambique as no one else had done. Since New York Mozambique is based on timbales, the recruitment of Manny Oquendo, authentic timbalero of La Perfecta and a master in this field, seems perfectly rational. We can also safely assume that the choice for Charlie Palmieri in the piano, regardless of his great music skills, constitutes a tribute to the Palmieri name. But “Trombon Melancolico”, as stated in its title, revolves around the ultimate New Yorker latin instrument (which is, of course, the trombone), having as a stylistic vehicle Cachao’s major contribution to the Hispanic music of the Big Apple. The Descarga, namely the improvisational jam session stylistacally defined by Cachao in Havana of 1957, and its expressional freedom and soloist aggression inspired New York to the extent that it influenced deeply the music dialect of salsa. Thus, “Trombon Melancolico” is a true descarga wherein, based on a basic melody and the percussion of mozambique, the two original trombonists of La Perfecta engage in a memorable soloist duel: The Brazilian Jose Rodrigues and the greatest stylist of latin trombone, Barry Rogers, literally glorify “Trombon Melancolico”, which is the track that, owing to its structure, attitude and team of musicians, seems closer to modern salsa; However, the grandeur and tension produced is such that we can almost see Cachao winking at all salseros and challenging them by saying: «I am the essence of what you play».
The number of elements Cachao mentions relating to his life, Cuba, time and music in a practically instrumental album is beyond the shadow of a doubt a true expressive -and communicative- achievement. Thus, the internal itinerary of “Dos” ends with a song the composition of which, (by Rafael Hurtado Blanco and not Neri Cabrera, as the album erroneously only that day- the Cuban authorities gave permission to the mutual aid societies (“cabildos”) of black slaves to parade in the town streets while playing the drums, singing in their own language and wearing their traditional African costumes. The internal cohesion of this album is exemplary throughout: the preceding “Trombon Melancolico” is a mozambique, a rhythm ‘created’ in the 60’s as a modern variation of conga rhythm. “Chambelona”, therefore, brings the album to a successful completion with a thunderous affirmation and self-definition of Cachao’s Cuban identity, not just of musical but also of states) although dating back to 1908, ideally functions in Cachao’s mind as a final affirmation of his identity in 1976, as well as a complete map with a clearly defined starting point and a final destination: “Chambelona”, the album’s final track, belongs to the age-old conga genre, which is performed in the carnival of Cuba by large ensembles (of mostly percussion instruments) and dancers, and whose origins date from the legendary Dia de los Reyes: During the long colonial period- historical and cultural roots; he is not only portrayed as an artist but also as an individual. Indeed, “Chambelona” is, like all congas, a rather simple song, with a heavy percussion structure (plus a basic brass arrangement) and a few ‘mardi gras’ coros; it can therefore be said that, it does not constitute any major artistic challenge for a master of Cachao’s caliber. On the other hand, however, the choice of “Chambelona” amongst all other congas is indicative of what Cachao desperately wants to convey: it is the first political conga in history, a song which was widely used and finally identified with the Liberal Party in Cuba in the first two decades of the 20th century. Furthermore, it is the song that musically accompanied the unsuccessful rebellion of 1917, specifically the Liberals’ rising against the Conservative Party’s corruption and the general electoral fraud; they were vehemently suppressed by U.S.A. marines, promptly sent to defend their stronghold in that undeclared ‘colony’. In his version, Cachao sends a cryptic, codified message, omitting the quatrains that years back praised or attacked political opponents. “Ae, ae, ae , la Chambelona”, is all it takes for the Cubans to get the idea- and not surprisingly, it is the only track in the album played exclusively by Cuban musicians. Having left Cuba due to his opposition to Castro’s revolution, Cachao brings to completion his greatest music work by celebrating another, forgotten revolution: the time when Cuba was trying to become a state and if possible, a democratic state. From the 1976 New York, Cachao composes in rhythm and melody the statement that this wish is still pending.
This is indeed an exceptionally special album.