Bending the Ear of Cuban Music

Miguel ‘Angá’ Díaz
Echu Mingua

Miguel ‘Angá’ Díaz

Echu Mingua (World Circuit/Nonesuch 79658-2, 2006)

After the wild success of the Buena Vista Social Club, there was an almost insane rush by record companies to put out as many CDs as possible featuring Cuban musicians. The upside of this trend put Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González and Cachaíto López on the American song map. The downside was a lack of real innovation. There wasn’t an interest in breaking the mold; recording companies seemed almost reluctant to stray from the formula that brought in the big bucks. As luck would have it World Circuit Production has given Miguel ‘Angá’ Díaz his chance as a bandleader on his debut album, Echu Mingua, and he’s created something new out of the traditional that really bends the ear of Cuban music.

Echu Mingua, dubbed a musical religious service, flies in the face of tradition without loosing the traditional aspect of the precepts of Cuban music. It’s smart and innovative, stretching the boundaries, while incorporating the mastery of both Cachaíto and Rubén González with edgy work French DJ Dee Nasty and Mali’s Baba Sissoko.

Famed conguero, Díaz started out by studying with the rumba players in Pinar del Rio, Cuba and went on to co-found the group Irakere. He later joined the Afro-Cuban All Stars. Possessing an interest beyond the Cuban genre and working with such talents as singer Ibrahim Ferrer, pianist Rubén González and Manuel Galbán, Díaz has collaborated with Ry Cooder and jazzmen Steve Coleman and Roy Hargrove. Echu Mingua reflects Díaz’s interest in mixed forms, shading traditional Cuban with the experimental and jazz elements.

Echu Mingua opens with “San Juan y Martínez,” a sound and musical collage named for the town where Díaz was born. This musical nod to his town is as Díaz puts it in the liner notes, “…as a beginning to it all.” “San Juan y Martínez” fades into “Rezos.” This track begins with Yoruba chanting and some rough instrumentals before changing midstream into a smooth funk sound featuring Díaz’s on congas, Roberto Fonseca’s piano and Orlando ‘Cachaíto’ López on bass.

“Pueblo Nuevo” is perhaps the most traditional piece on the CD. It’s Rubén González’s piano solo that charges the piece with a vibrancy only González was capable of.

“Tumé Tumé” is a piece offered by Baba Sissoko and it’s a stand out, combining a Cuban and Malian connection set off with Malik Mezzadri on flute, Dee Nasty on turntables, Gregorio Rios Maximino Duquesne Martínez and Lázaro Dayán Soria on shekere and bata, Díaz on congas, Cachaíto on bass and Baba Sissoko on vocals, tamani and n’goni.

Díaz’s jazz interpretations of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and Theolonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” are the two stellar pieces on the CD. “A Love Supreme” is tight and neat with Díaz’s intricate conga work and Vauré Muñiz on trumpet and Alfred Thompson on tenor saxophone; add to that Sissoko on vocals, three cora players, six violinists and four cellists, timbales, bata and Dee Nasty on turntables and the piece just shines. In contrast “Round Midnight” is lovely and spare, featuring Cachaíto on bass, violinists Pierre Blanchard and Claire Merlet, violist Alfonso Pacin and cellist Jean Francois Ott. Díaz’s decision to take over the melody with a series of seven congas brings this jazz standard to a new level.

“Oda Martima” with its Argentinean flair is yet another fine piece with Roverto Fonesca on piano, and Pablo Nemirovsky on bandoneon. Díaz joins his band mates from Irakere on “Conga Carnaval,” written by Chucho Valdés, but it is Dee Nasty’s turntables that set fire to this track.

Echu Mingua is the saint’s name in the Yoruba religion explains Díaz. “The ‘Echu’ is Eleggua, the God of crossroads,” says Díaz, as he explains that CD is the culmination of his years of musical experience. Echu Mingua makes it apparent that Díaz is at the center of many intersections and is adept at breaking the mold in creating something new at the crossroads.

Buy the CD:

Author: TJ Nelson

TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena’s Shadow.

Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.

Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.