Changüí, changüí, changüí, there are ten different changüí played here, all combining into a stylish, swinging presentation. Changüí en la Casa de Nora is a sizzling concept album brought into being by the people who most rightfully should be acknowledged. Created by Elio Revé, Jr., the son and heir to Elio Revé, Sr., the man who did most to bring the changüí from the province first into Havana, then into all of Cuba, and finally to the world. This is as authentic as it gets.
To think of changüí and where it came from, you must first think of the Eastern corner of island of Cuba. The Oriente’s most well-known province is Guantanamo, an area rich in musical culture, but unique because moving populations in the early 1800s brought many Bantu influences from the Congo and the Ivory Coast of Africa by way of nearby Haiti. At the turn of nineteenth century into the twentieth, the mountainous Oriente was a remote, rural area whose inhabitants had developed many traditions in music and dance. There and about then, the changüí settled into its recognizable form.
The changüí is a regional creation, a lively country music, with some Bantu rhythm influences. This is a pulsating earthy music, which sounds a little rough, but always seems spontaneous. The basic broad range of sound results from combining percussion from maracas, bongos, marinbola (a large wooden box with metal hoops which acts as a mixture of percussion and bass), and guiro (usually a metal can hit with a stick) all being driven by a tres (three stringed guitar) played aggressively. The lead singing I can only describe as acrobatic
The first song here “Changüí en la Casa de Nora” is how the changüí was traditionally played before Elio Revé, Sr. migrated to Havana in 1955. Nora was born in the same place as Revé, Sr. and maintains her home there where the jam sessions still take place. After hours of musicians playing and the country dance probably going all night until close to dawn, she is known to serve up her famous soup and seafood. The chorus, always sung rapidly in childish voices, says “Let’s go to Nora’s house to eat ajiaco”.
As a young man, Elio Revé, Sr. made his way to Havana and carried the changüí with him. He began experimenting, and began using trombones and piano to enhance the form, as heard here on the next track “Bueno, Bueno y Que”. He fused the changüí with son, which had made its way down from the Orientes a few decades earlier. In 1956, he formed the Orquesta Revé, which as well as becoming one of the most important Cuban bands has qualified as Cuba’s most important musical school, where many of the country’s top musicians began their careers. Revé, Sr. continued experimenting, adding the five-key timbale as well as the bata drum to the percussive mix, all of which earned his band the title of “Father of all Orchestras” and he became known as the “Father of Changüí”.
A few years back, the legendary and innovative musical director died in a road accident. His legacy lives on through his son, Elio Revé, Jr., who has since his first steps as a professional pianist has been a key element in his father’s band, Orquesta Revé, more commonly known as El Charagon.
Elio Revé, Jr. is musical director now and dedicates the record to his father, both as a tribute to his memory and a fulfillment of his wishes. Revé, Jr. has ladled up a wonderful serving of changüí. El Charagon is gifted with three different vocal soloists who genuinely soar and the chorus is a delight. “Soy Revé” is a solid dance tune, deserving of much play on Latin music stations. In “La Visita,” the singer bursts out with “toon, toon, toon” imitating the percussive sound of the clave to remind us the rhythm sticks are not found in the changüí. Whether you miss that particular rhythm spice or not, all the selections are pretty tasty.
For the best time, put this record on while you and your guests are preparing a friendly casual dinner at home. At over fifty minutes of play, it’s a pretty good serving, but there’s never enough changüí for a rhythm-hog.
// Notes from the Road
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