Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Cuban Rare Groove

The new, the old, and the timeless meet, seamlessly joined in their intent to keep Cuban styles alive across the diaspora.

Various Artists

The Rough Guide to Cuban Rare Groove

Label: World Music Network
US Release Date: 2016-08-26
UK Release Date: 2016-08-26

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.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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

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