Various Artists – Smithsonian Folkways, Havana & Matanzas, Cuba, ca. 1957: Bata, Bembe, and Palo Songs

Chris Nickson

By Chris Nickson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
A fascinating glimpse into Cuba’s other culture.

Don't imagine this is the lush sound of the pre-Castro gambler's haven. Instead, these field recordings delve deep into the Afro-Cuban tradition, which was largely unexplored at the time. The fascinating thing is how little the centuries had diluted it. “Kiri Nya Kiri Nya Ago,” for instance, is pure Yoruba, a rhythmic religious incantation; without knowing, you'd assume it was straight out of Africa. The traditions are especially strong out in the countryside, around the sugarcane mills of Matanzas, where traditions from west Africa, the Congo and even Angola were preserved virtually intact, and kudos to musicologists Lydia Cabrera and Josefina Tarafa for capturing them so perfectly. This is the Cuba the tourists never saw, where history and ritual were important, accepted ingredients of everyday life and the population kept to ways that had changed little since slavery days. It's a fascinating glimpse into Cuba's other culture.