The amount of Cuban music releases has decreased considerably in the United States, especially after the hardliners in the White House tightened the embargo. However, labels in other parts of the world don’t have these restrictions and are still releasing CDs by Cuban acts.
Spanish label Discmedi/Zunzún Cuba released Siempre Compay by Grupo Compay Segundo. Even though Compay Segundo died in 2003, his legacy continues. Many of the members of his band and his son Salvador Repilado Labrada continue to tour and have recorded some of Compay’s most popular songs, full of old time Cuban charm. The musicians continue to use Compay’s trademark sound, which features traditional Cuban instruments combined
Vocal Baobab (not to be confused with Africa band Orchestra Baobab) is the name of a Cuban band that specializes in Afro-Cuban Yoruban chanting. Yoruba Dream (ARC Music, 2005) features the powerful vocal harmonies who sing in praise of the orishas (saints or deities), accompanied by trance-like percussion.
Salsa, Seriously Good Music is a compilation released by Australia’s Petrol Records. Don’t expect New York bands, Puerto Rican salsa, or even Colombian acts. All the artists featured are Cuban. The artists chosen are certainly some of the finest Cuban dance acts: Bamboleo, Maraca, and Arte Mixto>. All these groups are a clear example of why Cuba is such a musical powerhouse.
To understand the roots of current Cuban music, one needs to know several key bands. Milan Records has released two compilations featuring two legendary Cuban acts. The Best of Los Van Van centers on the early works of one of Cuba’s most famous dance bands. In some cases, Los Van Van combined upbeat dance music with political lyrics, which can be hard in this recording.
Great Moments by Irakere shows a small glimpse of one of the finest fusion jazz bands in the world. Irakere was led by
Chucho Valdés and became a school for some of Cuba’s best musicians, specially the ones with jazz leanings.
In addition to Chucho Valdés, other legendary performers such as Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval used to play in the Cuban band. Great Moments shows the evolution from 1970s electric jazz to 80s Afro Cuban beats. It also features collaborations with classical guitarist Leo Brouwer.