Benny Moré, Cuba, Cubaneando

Charles Farrell

By Charles Farrell

on 05.03.12 in Reviews
A vast cultural inventory

Once or twice in a generation, a figure turns up in music whose influence extends beyond the production of records or performance, expanding to become an actual cultural touchstone, coloring the way people think and feel. In American vocal music, Al Jolson, Frank Sinatra, Hank Williams and James Brown did that. But perhaps no one has shaped the range of a country’s collective musical perspective as thoroughly as Cuba’s Benny Moré. This can’t be attributed solely to Moré’s unequalled voice — though that’s a significant factor. It is more a question of the authenticity of his vast body of work — his unique ability to invest each tune with a kind of existential resonance reverberating straight to the heart of a nation. Cuba, Cubaneando isn’t simply an album. It is a cultural inventory, a close reading of the pulse (or, more correctly, the pulses) of times and places. It should be said that, because of its vastness, it resists simple review. Can there be any easy terms for assessing 92 pieces of music? The best way to listen to Cuba, Cubaneando is to get lost in it, to transplant yourself to pre-revolutionary Cuba, to go from the stage shows in glossy casinos to the cane fields of Santa Isabelle, to dig into “Manzanillo,” the most irresistible Cha Cha Cha ever written, to get chills from the politically charged “En el Tiempo de la Colonia,” or have your heart broken with “Oh, Vida.” There are no throwaways, no weaknesses, not even any slackening from tune to tune. Cuba, Cubaneando presents the most comprehensive collection yet assembled of Cuba’s greatest vocalist. You’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.