The new, the old, and the timeless meet, seamlessly joined in their intent to keep Cuban styles alive across the diaspora.
Whenever the Rough Guide series drops an album with "Rare Groove" in the title, it takes the term seriously, promising nothing less than the best. The Rough Guide to Cuban Rare Groove is yet another treasure trove, sparkling with brilliant salsa, funk, rock, and everything in between from Cuban and Cuban-American artists, among others. Here, the new, the old, and the timeless meet, seamlessly joined in their intent to keep Cuban styles alive across the diaspora, and it makes for an explosive time.
Every song on The Rough Guide to Cuban Rare Groove sounds neon-lit, just bright enough to be seen through the clouds of cigarette smoke that hover above a nightclub dance floor. Tracks from the late '60s and '70s dominate the album, the products of expats and the exiled scattered throughout the Americas and Europe and blending hypnotic salsa with psychedelic rock. Miami-based artist Willy Chirino shows up on the other album more than anyone else, both leading his own band and playing (very well, of course) with others. Single-handedly, he shows off a vast range of Cuban-inspired music, playing electric jazz, deep Afro-Cuban funk, synth-heavy psych, and salsa-pop with equal ease across genres.
There's a lot more here, though, that is not so easy to categorize. Tumbadora master Tata Güines and his group live on the cutting edge, as their tracks here demonstrate. "Chacatá, Ya Llego" is a particular standout; it begins with eerie, off-key piano and ghostly whispers, a particularly atmospheric introduction that turns into a few notes of stately keys before bells, chimes, woodblocks, and drums build from out of nowhere to buoy up the scat and voices that drive up the energy to a dizzying high. Raw adrenaline takes over; percussion, shouting, and more percussion fill the final minutes with hardly a break. It's both modern and ancient; the tropical, the avant-garde, and the classic all show their brightest colors.
Current artists haven't been neglected for the sake of getting to glorify the good ol' days, though. Nearly a third of the tracks on The Rough Guide to Cuban Rare Groove are from the last decade, bringing with them a greater range of moods heightened by deeper soul, faster brass, and cleaner croons. Cuts like PALO!'s "Camina Con Los Codos" hold on tight to the tried and true salsa sounds of their forebears, while Setenta's "Chango Ta Veni" stirs some fresh indie rock into the mix.
Grounding the entire collection are a couple of covers, comforting reference points in a sea of new sound that might otherwise overwhelm an excited listener. Chico Oréfiche's rendition of Eddie Palmieri's "Azúcar" moves up and down with light, sweet steps, an old friend both simple and inviting, the easiest kind of music to dance to. Even more recognizable is Pantaleon Pérez Prado's cover of "Tequila", though the Champs's hit takes on a more voluptuous feel, with syncopated mambo rhythms and horns surrounding heated saxophone solos.
The Rough Guide to Cuban Rare Groove truly feels like a painstakingly organized playlist, every song hand-picked by someone who knows their stuff and wants everyone to dance. From Francisco Fellove's rasp to Nico Gomez's electrified Latin blues-rock to the organ-powered funk of Julio Gutiérrez and Los Guajiros, every artist and piece in this collection is filled with the essence of Cuba, whether from Brooklyn, Belgium or anywhere else in a worldwide diaspora. A compilation with a real understanding of the scope of Cuban music and what it means to groove.