CD Review: Si Para Usted Vol. 2 – The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba
Obviously a labor of love for Waxing Deep label head Dan Zacks, this is another album (see our review of the Komeda Project from a couple of days ago) that’s as good as it is important, in the best sense possible. None of these songs, mostly dating from Cuba in the 70s through the 90s, have ever been available in digital form, or for that matter, outside of Cuba. What Zacks and Waxing Deep have done for obscure Cuban funk classics from the 70s here is the equivalent of what The Harder They Come soundtrack was for reggae, or what Olivier Conan and Barbes Records have done for Peruvian chicha music: introducing a western audience to an extraordinary blend of indigenous and rock-influenced sounds never available before outside where they originated. Not only are the Si Para Usted volumes (this one especially) great dance music, they’re also great stoner music. Historical documents have seldom been more fun.
As with Barbes’ The Roots of Chicha, the songs here have been remastered from the original analog tapes, and to the engineers’ infinite credit, the tinniness of the originals (Cubans weren’t exactly working with the latest state-of-the-art gear) has been significantly reduced. If anything, the rudimentary sonics adds to the music’s often quaint, sometimes utterly bizarre charm. What’s saddest is that because of chronic shortages of just about everything, Communist Cuban pressing plants had to compete with just about everyone else who used vinyl, making albums something of a rarity and second pressings virtually nonexistent – as this cd’s extensive and fascinating liner notes make clear, some of the greatest Cuban groups of the era simply didn’t record. Fortunately we have this genre-busting, sometimes woozy document to immortalize some of those who were fortunate to leave something behind.
Because every type of latin music has a groove, the songs here, mostly instrumentals, swing and sway – the herky-jerky beat of American funk doesn’t translate, the result being a strange, sometimes slightly uptight hybrid rhythm similar to Peruvian chicha (a blend of American surf music, Colombian cumbias and indigenous styles). There’s Safari Salvaje by Los Rapidos, a wickedly grooving variant on Barrabas’ Wild Safari featuring some wild prog-rock organ work. There’s the best-ever cover of the Ides of March’s Vehicle, complete with another organ solo that builds from a quote from Bach’s Toccata in D. Cuando Llego a Mi Casa by Los Brito (a native sensation) works a slinky, lushly orchestrated Isaac Hayes vamp for all it’s worth with tasty, jazzy flute.
Another cover, the classic son song Siboney is recast by Los Llamas as Os Mutantes-style psychedelia. Interestingly, the group’s musical director was born in 1929, the same year the original was released, meaning that if he was involved with this particular arrangement (history isn’t clear on this), it would be something equivalent to Benny Goodman making a successful transition to psychedelic rock in the 70s. Other standouts among the fifteen tracks here include the wild, trippy, Electric Prunes-esque El Sueno de Andria by Mirtha y Raul (a popular tv news show couple!), the Sergeant Pepper-style Beatlesque pop of Los Barba’s El Cristal, Grupo los Caribe’s cinematic surf instrumental Andalucia and the album’s concluding track, the utterly hypnotic guanguaco number Para Que Niegas by the still extant Los Papines. Kudos to Waxing Deep for the obviously herculean effort it took to track down these songs. The world is a better place – and a lot more fun – for their efforts.
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