David Alvarez y Juego de Manos: Mundo Loco
I'm happy to report that Mundo Loco (Mad World) spent some time at the top of the charts in Cuba. For being a serious musical contender, David Alvarez can be lot of fun. We're introduced to the crazy world of David Alvarez with the very first notes. "Tambor" is an adroit, complex arrangement bustling with surprises on a foundation of the traditional son. The son is regarded as the most sacrosanct of all classic Cuban rhythms, the Cubans priding themselves with the invention of their son much in the way other countries boast about being the birthplace of Bach. From the classical harpsichord-like introduction through the many humorous changes of tempo, the story unfolds like a surrealistic folk tale. A man walking through the woods hears the sound of weeping and finds a "tambor," a drum, crying alone. He offers the drum a few swigs of rum and asks it to sing a song. Feeling a little better, the tambor responds with a kinky, mischievous son and one situation builds to the next. Electric keyboards reminiscent of steel pans suddenly drop in, staggering slightly in rhythm painting a picture of a slightly drunken drum that starts feeling even better as it plays along. One instrument after another makes a surprising appearance; that billowy inebriate trombone importantly pronounces the impending chorus, which tries to speak soberly and becomes a hilarious staccato phrasing.
I respect a song that can make me laugh out loud, but there's no underestimating the sophistication of the arrangement and the playing. Alvarez harvested his ensemble of players from young music graduates, calling themselves Juego de Manos (the game of hands, or conjuring). Together they offer fresh new sounds, dripping with an exciting experimental energy. In "The City of the Pregones," Alvarez celebrates that the cry of the street vendors is heard again after a silence of many years. Banned after the Revolution, the street vendors have been allowed at last back into the square. Although the singer bemoans that like everywhere else prices have risen dramatically in between, "before they cost cents and now they are greens." As a canto-autore (singer-songwriter), Alvarez doesn't back away from social commentary. "Leovigilia" has the self-delusional tone of a husband depicting his ideal marriage, one actually suffering badly from contented machismo. The song fiercely condemns wife beating and reminds everyone that some forms of justice aren't so forgiving of that offense. What a crazy world we live in sometimes. So crazy is it, a Mad World actually starts up a conversation with Justice in "Mundo Loco." Justice listens to the world's complaints about itself and weighs out a prescription for health, recommending freedom, laughter, and love. Justice ends up inviting the mad world to dance. The crazy world of David Alvarez is an intelligent, witty, and promising place.
Mundo Loco is an engaging experience, one that gave me a lot of hope about the future of Cuban music. This music so fresh and lively it makes some recent popularizations of Cuban music seem stodgy by comparison. David Alvarez' optimism and hope for the future is contagious. Before I forget, he also writes beautiful Spanish love songs, romantic, sensual expressions of longing. The words so vivid you can see the glass bowl holding the star anise, just right for freshening up for a kiss. And he looks pretty good in a black beret, too.