Madera Limpia: La Corona

What looks like it would be a rap album with some Cuban touches turns out to be much more Cuban than expected.

Madera Limpia

La Corona

Label: out|here
US Release Date: 2009-01-20
UK Release Date: 2008-09-29

My respect for out|here and its musicians and compilers grows and grows. Until now the label has been specialising in urban music from Africa -- the Trikont label that put out Africa Raps was an earlier incarnation -- and I'd had them pegged as a solely Afro-focused organisation. With La Corona they've moved outside the continent that is their comfort zone, showing the same instinct for talent that they brought to last year's Ghanaian Black Stars compilation and 2007's Bassakou Kouyate album, Segu Blue. These are people of taste and they have chosen something very good.

The members of Madera Limpia are Cuban. They come from Guántanamo. The news media has discussed the detention camp at Guántanamo Bay so often that I can't read the word without seeing chainlink fences and men in vivid jumpsuits kneeling on concrete slab. These Cuban musicians don't live at the camp, of course. They live in the capital city of the province, miles away to the north. In 2003 a Romanian filmmaker made a documentary about them which she called Paraiso. The group provided the soundtrack. It was their first European release. The film led to a tour, and then to this international non-soundtrack debut album, which lists the same Romanian filmmaker as a producer.

The packaging, with the graffiti-tag font on the title, tells you that this is going to be urban music, rap and hip-hop, and it is. What's unexpected is the amount of indigenous Cuban sound. What looks as if it is going to be a rap album with some Cuban touches turns out to be much more Cuban than it seemed. There are a lot of things on La Corona that most English-speaking listeners probably wouldn't think to associate with rap, things like curling, golden salsa horns, a chippy Latin violin, and the sharp-sounding Cuban guitar that is known as a tres for its three groups of strings. There are little scraps of balladeering that sound folklike. Then there are more expected things, like reggae and reggaeton.

The way Madera Limpia fits all of this together with the US Afro-urban sound is terrific. I'm in awe of it. The old instruments don't sound old, and the new style doesn't sound out of place in its newness. Their salsa is rap-salsa, and neither salsa nor rap seems diminished by it. When a tuba drops by to lend a hand to the backing percussion in "La Lenta" it manages not to sound like a tuba, by which I mean that they don't ask it to make that dutiful fuddy-duddy parp that so many people seem to enjoy. Instead it sounds dark and significant, like a bit of percussion in itself.

Most of the album is upbeat, though. The songs move fast. The chorus on "Terro Con La Cara" leaps along with the violin snapping at its heels. "Perro Que Ladra" switches direction three times in the first 50 seconds. First it seems very old and sad, then there's a segue and the tres cuts in, bringing us into an introductory passage of singing from a male chorus, which guides us to the point where, in a typical Cuban song, the lead singer would step up and position himself in front of everyone else so that we could admire him. Right there, just at that point, we jump sideways into the stabbing pop-pop of rap. The lead has made his appearance as he was supposed to, but it's not the singing we were led to expect. The joke is on us.

They keep you guessing and entertained, it's one of La Corona's strengths. You get used to the constant changeroo, then they hit you with "El Ruego", which thwarts your expectations by not changing. "El Ruego" is one of those songs that strikes me deeply: I feel it has inscribed itself on my bones. Other young Cuban musicians have been touted as "the new Cuba," "the hip post-Buena Vista Cuba sound," but Madera Limpia is the real thing, very immediate, very strong, capable of crossbreeding the traditional music of its area without betraying it. La Corona is extremely good.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.