Ska Cubano – ¡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!’.
Buy ¡Ay caramba!