Tande-La

The Creole Choir of Cuba

Released 03 October 2010

  1. Edem Chanté
  2. Se Lavi
  3. Maroule
  4. La Mal De Travay
  5. Neg Anwo
  6. Peze Café
  7. L'Atibonite Oh
  8. Tande
  9. Lumane Casimir
  10. Fey
  11. Dulce Embelezo
  12. Chen Nan Ren

Liner notes

February 2010 and just over a month after the massive January earthquake that devastated Haiti, the Creole Choir of Cuba are in Port-au-Prince living with the 600 strong long term Cuban medical mission. Each morning early they leave to visit makeshift encampments, where in whatever shade is available they sing with everyone present, their aim “to help the Haitian people de-stress with music”. They spend evenings singing with local children who gravitate to the Cuban compound before bedding down on mattresses in tents in the grounds of the hospital behind the ruined Presidential Palace. It’s a moving experience for the choir who are all of Haitian descent. Back home in Cuba they are known as Grupo Vocal Desandann and Desandann literally means ‘descendents’. They have revived the Haitian songs of their families for modern times because for them, “Music is like food, it feeds the spirit and inspires everyday life”.

The Creole Choir’s ten remarkable singers come from Camagüey, Cuba’s third city, down towards the eastern end of the island. They grew up and studied music in this old colonial town, today a UNESCO World heritage Site due to its iconic architecture. The Choir was founded in 1994 during the ‘Special Period’ when the Cuban economy fell into a black hole following the end of the USSR and of Soviet support for the revolution. Food was short while homes and work places often went dark due to lack of electricity. It was during this challenging time that members of the Professional Choir of Camagüey who were descendents of Haitians decided to re-forge the resistance songs and laments of their forebears, to celebrate the history of their Haitian descendents enslaved to the Caribbean from West Africa. To the songs that had been passed down in their families since the early 19th century, they added more modern Haitian sounds learnt following their own first visit to a Haitian festival in 1996.

Songs are sung in Creole, Cuba’s second language, first created by slaves by fusing words from their different African languages with those from the Taíno language of Caribbean indigenous people, with French, Spanish and English. Creole was spoken by the choir’s parents, grandparents and great grandparents. These were people doubly displaced, first from Africa then from Haiti. The first wave of Haitians were brought to Cuba as slaves to work in the sugar plantations of the French aristocracy who fled Haiti after the slave revolts of the 1790s. Subsequent   waves of Haitians came to the island during 19th and early 20th century, and again in the 1950s during the brutal dictatorship of Papa Doc Duvalier.  All lived in the countryside in conditions akin to slavery, enduring harsh discrimination until the 1959 Revolution brought with it literacy, education and equality.

The Creole Choir describe each of their songs as being ‘like a small film’ filled with vitality, humour, compassion and often protest. They tell stories of survival despite abject poverty, of heroes who defied colonial masters, of ghosts at the crossroads, of enduring love, of homesickness for family, of abandonment but never loss of hope, of the desire for freedom, laments and prayers. This is impassioned singing by a unique group whose irresistible melodies are driven by richly textured harmonies, and whose shifting Caribbean rhythms have a very original root bass sound made by one voice. In the words of the glorious Edem Chanté – Listen To Us! – be prepared to hear something completely different and ‘new’ from Cuba.

Listen

Reviews

  • Be ready to enter a whole new universe of sound. The Morning Star (UK)
  • This dynamic 10-string vocal group is unlike any Cuban music you've heard before. And with good reason - the music actually originates in the neighboring island of Haiti. There are full throated solos and passionate choral responses in Creole, creating a rich, ringing sonority which is sometimes defiant, sometimes soothing, but always thrilling. London Evening Standard (UK)
  • If their residency at next months festival doesn't sell out, then something is drastically amiss in this universe. The compact ensemble from Camaguey taps into on of Cuba's best-kept secrets. Little wonder that the singers - who perform in Creole - were sent to Haiti on a morale-raising tour after the recent earthquake. Some of the exuberant, rough-hewn harmonising could be taken for an a cappella group from southern Africa, but there is no mistaking the Sierra Maestra romance of Dulce Embeleso, a song associated with troubadours of the stature of Carlos Puebla. Sparse percussion adds atmosphere to one of the outstanding releases of the year. The Sunday Times (UK)
  • The music is a thrilling vocal mixture of gospel and voodoo, Spanish and Creole call-and-response over deep bass voices and massive drums. The Financial Times (UK)
  • An instantly striking release! Q Magazine (UK)
  • Free-flowing...uplifting...utterly distinctive. They sing with vibrant intensity of love and homesickness, heroes defying colonial monsters, and survival against the odds. Their rich, textured harmonies and brash percussion make them thrilling in live performance. MOJO (UK)
  • These descendants of Haitian migrant labourers long resident in Cuba make a powerful, invocatory sound that has a huge impact live. There's still plenty of brio on this disc, a blend of haunting, near-operatic Christian fervour and visceral African drive, bellowed out by big, charismatic voices and an equally spirited chorus. The Daily Telegraph
  • Tande-la makes number 6 in The Sunday Times Top Albums of the Year The Sunday Times (UK)

Further Listening

  • Santiman

    The Creole Choir of Cuba

    Released 11 February 2013

    Freedom songs that have been passed down through generations of Haitian emigrants in Cuba are brought to life with vibrant harmonies, lilting melodies and rich, deep Caribbean rhythms. A hefty dose of Cuban flair creates a rich, soulful sound that evokes their proud history of resistance and resilience.
  • Darandi

    Aurelio

    Released 20 January 2017

    Darandi is a collection of Aurelio's favourite songs from his career recorded to capture the sound of his incendiary live performances. Accompanied by some of the Garifuna world's brightest musical talents, pairing upbeat, dynamic rhythms with melancholy, heartfelt melodies, this music is both deep and danceable.

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