Bach Goes Cuban

Tiempo Libre -  Bach in Havana
Tiempo Libre – Bach in Havana
Tiempo Libre

Bach in Havana (Decca, 2009)

Regarded by many as the leading timba (contemporary Cuban dance music) group in the United States, Tiempo Libre is known for its daring musical explorations. The latest recording by the Miami-based Cuban musicians takes the band into the music world of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Like many other renowned Cuban musicians, the members of Tiempo Libre studied classical music at the prestigious La ENA (Escuela Nacional de Arte). During the day they learned about the great classical composers and at night they participated in timba and rumba jams.

In the fascinating and adventurous Bach in Havana, Tiempo Libre transforms some of J.S. Bach’s best known compositions (fugues, sonatas, minuets, gavottes, etc.) by adding Cuban and Latin jazz rhythms and arrangements using cowbells, congas, shekere, bass, piano, brass, etc.  Thus, the C minor fugue from the First book of the Well-Tempered Clavier becomes a  Conga (carnival party music).

The Sonata in D Minor, Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis. 964, II. Fuga-Allegro becomes a captivating Cha-cha-cha, while the Air on a G String is transformed into a romantic Bolero. Track 4 Clave in C Minor is a Guaguanco based on the C Minor Prelude from Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1.

Gavotte is a traditional Cuban Son based on the Gavotte from G Major French Suite."In traditional Cuban dance music, there is no form more important than the son. The son is to Cuban music what sonata form is to classical music, accommodating rich varieties of style, sonority and treatment," says Tiempo Libre’s leader Jorge Gomez. Track 6, Mi Orisha enters the world of Afro-Cuban Yoruba sacred music with a 6/8 Bata based on the Minuet from C Minor French Suite. The chequere or shekere, a traditional African instrument made from a gourd, netting and beads, plays an important role in this piece. It is an instrument used extensively in both sacred and secular music.

The Cuban rumba has three dances, including the Guaguanco. The 3/4 Minuet in G  becomes a 4/4 Guaguanco. This piece includes a saxophone solo by fellow Cuban musician Yosvany Terry, who is one of the renowned guests on the album. Olas de Yemayd is a Bata composition based on the C Major Prelude from Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1. "In the Afro-Cuban religion of santeria, the ceremonies are centered around the playing of sacred drums called batá, calling down the orishas, powerful deities," says Jorge Gomez. "For us, the mere sound of those drums evokes incredibly strong feelings. In this number, we have taken the C Major Prelude from the First book of the Well-Tempered Clavier – one of the simplest, most fragile and sublime of all the Preludes from the Well-Tempered Clavier and paired it with the elemental sounds of the batá."

The danzón Baqueteo con Bajo is based on the Prelude from 1st Cello Suite. "In the history of Cuban music, the danzon holds a special place – that moment in time when the European and the African were musically married on the dance floor and created the DNA from which the rest of the Cuban dance forms: son, cha-cha-cha, mambo and, ultimately, timba -sprung," adds Jorge Gomez. The piece includes a clarinet solo by another formidable Cuban musician, Paquito D’Rivera.

The the D Major Prelude from the WTC Bk 1 inspired the composition Timbach, a timba.  "For Cubans of our generation, Timba is our music, the way rock ‘n’ roll was the music of several generations of Americans," continues Jorge Gomez. "We lived it and breathed in Havana. It kept us going when there was little in the way of food or opportunity to sustain us. Timba takes traditional Cuban forms (son, guaguanco, cha-cha-chd)and pumps them up with high octane rhythms, jazz harmonies and then adds, according to one’s taste and predilections, additional flavors of hip-hop, rock, or ska. We’ve taken our hard-core timba and added in – JS Bach! "

Kyrie is another Bata inspired by the Kyrie from the B Minor Mass. "The opening of the Kyrie from the B Minor Mass is for me the most profoundly beautiful and deeply moving music ever created by man, a door opening into an unseen realm. We are humbled by it. Calling on the sacred powers of the batá, we make our offering to Bach and to the orishas."

The last cut is Bach-apella, a Vocal Descarga (descarga is a musical jam session in the timba, salsa and Latin jazz worlds).

Bach in Havana is a passionate fusion of fiery Cuban rhythms and the timeless music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

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Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites and Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.


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