Fri, 26 April 19
Released 05 June 1989
Son is the popular dance music of Cuba —the root of modern salsa. Dating back to at least the turn of the century, it draws on both Hispanic and African traditions which have given Cuba its unique musical identity.
From the predominantly Yoruba (of Nigeria) and Congolese slave population who worked the sugar cane plantations came the powerful Afro-Cuban percussion; from the Spaniards, the tres (the small guitar of three sets of double strings).
This blending of two cultures in son is comparable to Santeria, which combines elements from Christianity with traditional African religion, and is fundamental to the Cuban way of life.
Son originated in the eastern most end of the island among a predominantly black population, and although stigmatised as ‘lascivious and primitivist’, gradually made its way westwards to find acceptance in Havana. From there, it was to become one of the most influential forms of popular music this century. The strong melodies and powerful rhythms of hundreds of Cuban ‘sones’ found their way into the American market during the 1920’s, eventually back to Africa, and finally all around the world.
So what is son? Son’s distinctive features include a syncopated rhythm tapped out on heavy wooden sticks or ‘claves’, and an improvised vocal and a repeated chorus or ‘montuno’ towards the middle or the end of a song. Its major contribution to popular music around the world has been obscured by other generic terms such as salsa and rumba, but as Carlos Embale, one of Cuba’s most revered soneros, says:
‘Salsa is son, and son was born here in Cuba. Here we have infinite varieties of son— slow, fast, hard and lyrical, funny and sad’.
Some musicians will explain that you can tell it from other kinds of music by how tasty it sounds. ‘Sabroso’ —tasty— is a word liberally applied by Cubans when describing their music, and in fact ‘salsa’ means literally ‘sauce’.
Changüi is a faster version of son, from Guantanamo in the east of Cuba, danced with tighter, more mincing steps. It is the musical style that 59 year old Elio Revé and his band have made so famous.
"I play son-changüi: they call me the father of changüi— although changüi has been around far longer than I have. Changüi is a very old and traditional form… The son left the eastern provinces and via Havana, went around the world; but Changüi has just stayed at home until I took it to the city and dressed it up." Elio Revé
Since the mid-fifties Revé has been the founder member of two of Cuba’s greatest bands, who were later known as Ritmo Oriental and Los Van Van. Over the last five years, the most recently-formed Orquesta Revé has created a unique style— more traditional and percussion orientated than other salsa bands. No drum kit is used but instead the bata drums of Santeria ceremonies, along with the usual Cuban percussion of claves, bongos, maracas, bell and congas. Revé is the brilliant timbales drum player, while keyboards, trombones, violin and tres provides the harmonic base.
One of the most distinctive features of Revé’s band is their high-pitched, nasal style known as the ‘voz de vieja’ —the ‘old woman’s voice’. Revé spent three years looking for just the right singers to re-create this style of the old ‘soneros’. Their skill is to improvise on lyrics to suit the occasion, whipping up the audience as they sing to the crowd.
This selection of Orquesta Revé’s music is the best of their three albums. The songs are strong, simple and certainly ‘sabroso’. Relationships between men and women, are, not surprisingly, the theme of most songs. They range from the sensuous ‘Ruñidera’ (which opens this album) with its refrain of ‘acurrùcame, abràzame con cariño’ (‘hug me’) to ‘Yo No Quiero Que Seas Celosa’ (’I don’t Want You To Be Jealous’). Various songs comment upon social life in Cuba, such as ‘El Ron ‘Pa’ Despue (‘Leave the Rum for After’). Later compositions are more philosophical in content such as ‘Mas Viejo Que Ayer, Mas Joven Que Mañana (‘Older Than Yesterday, Younger Than Tomorrow’) and ‘Que Cuento Es Ese!’ which laments the brevity of life —its over in three short steps— you are born, you grow-up and then you die.
Over the last two years the rise in Revé’s popularity has been, quite literally, explosive— his records hitting the top of the Cuban charts and earning him two gold discs. Massive audiences travel for miles to see him play and dance to his music. The sound of Revé can be heard pouring out onto the streets of Cuba, blasting from the clubs, bars and taxis. His well-earned title is La Explosion del Momento.
Biffing brass and percussion, delicate embroidery by a line of violins, and vocals with that wonderful instinct for surfing on waves of polyrhythm. Orchesta Reve... deliver with kilojoules of verve and spirit. Q Magazine (UK)
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