¡Ay caramba! (Phantom, 2005)
This is the one where Ska Cubano really seal their reputation and emerge as a
band who may like to have fun but with a serious and very professional edge to
their music and performance. Ska Cubano take every musical nuance from the last
50 years or so of Cuban popular music, from the raucous big-band timba of the
moment to more classic mambos and even a hint of the oriente. But then this band
offer so much more than the broad confines of Cuban music. Frontmen percussionist Beny Billy and his ska-steeped vocalist counterpart
Natty Bo put the band through rhumba, cumbia, calypso and, of course, ska moves
as the tumbling, apparent chaos of their sound gels into something mighty and
really very good.
Clearly a superb prospect in concert, Ska Cubano give a sharp, sassy and very
potent performance on disc too, with the whole sound very clearly defined in a
solid mix ideal for the dancefloor. Natty Bo introduces the lyrical style of his
ska/mento/calypso predecessors to the mix so there’s plenty of hilarious
double-entendres with versions of classics like ‘Big Bamboo’ displaying little
in the way of subtle innuendo.
There’s a knockabout, boozy quality to ‘Soy Campesino’ too, which slopes and
lopes along with a skewed, swinging rhythm and the feel overall is of a rattling
good old-style made-for-vinyl recording – for instance ‘Oye Compay Juan’, which
track opens more like a Congolese classic from the likes of the mighty Luambo
Makiadi Franco. 17 tracks in all, most of which swing at a breezy dance pace,
using the urgency of the ska rhythm to push the lazy Cuban beats along. A
marriage made in heaven, consummated on ‘¡Ay caramba!’.