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The Music of Calle Sol
by Barbara Kwiecien
audio 1 - audio 2 - audio 3 - audio 4 - audio 5
There are people in "cosmopolitan" capitals such as Paris, Washington DC, Mexico D.F. and Sydney, Australia who drool over today's Cuban music, and the crazy thing is that few of these hopeful souls are really able to satisfy any sizable amount of their musical pleasures and needs. Outside Cuba, there is very little out there in terms of today's Cuban music. Ironically, of course, «salsa», Cuban music that, for the most part, isn't played in Cuba, is probably one of the most exportable, familiar and performed Latin American dance products there are. You can hear it everywhere. You can go see it live every weekend. You can dance to it even at restaurants. And that's all fine. ¿But what about timba? You're not going to get much of it, unless you wait for the Cuban bands' touring months, which are few... and far between. However, if you were living in Poland, strangely enough, things would be a little different. You'd be able not only to hear all that salsa, son, rumba, etc., but actually some timba, too. Y de la buena. Inconceivable as it may seem, of all places, the timba heat wave has reached Warsaw, and it's there to stay...
Now, who would have thought that people in Poland were being blessed with timba...? It's definitely a reason to be jealous. And not only have they been blessed with timba for some time, but among their residents, the polacos house no other than a crucial element of this fabulous recording: (audio 1). I'm speaking, of course, of Reinaldo Ceballo, ex-pianist of Azúcar Negra. In Spring 2000, he found himself in Warsaw, establishing a group called Calle Sol, intended namely for latin jazz, though it was no secret that his intentions to play modern Cuban dance music were there right from the start. Since his move to Havana in 1986 – Ceballo's from Santiago – where he studied under Rubén González, he began following the timba scene closely, and in 1999, made it to the Azúcar Negra line-up that recorded the wonderful «Vengo de Estreno» demo CD, with no other than Haila Momprie on vocals, two songs that to this day have never been officially released, and versions of other classic tunes that arguably outdo the commercial CD tracks. Ceballo had also collaborated with many Cuban bands, including Sierra Maestra and has proven to be equally proficient in both musical arrangements/composition and driving tumbaos that can baffle human wit. His love for timba is evident, even if he's not from Havana himself, and actually jokes about the fact that where he comes from, timba is considered more of «a strange concoction» than, as he puts it, the very culprit of what Cuban music is all about in this day and age.
Calle Sol is more than 70% Polish, if we were to only consider the members' names, but the cubanidad of these musicians is truly remarkable. Let's give an example: (audio 2). The band has recorded two albums, has appeared numerous times on television and has won prizes in festivals, but it is only within the last year that Ceballo has taken the clear direction towards Timba. As soon as he first step foot in Poland, Ceballo immediately made it down to the major music conservatories in search of the people that could best assimilate the Cuban sound he was after, and patiently taught each and every one of them the secrets of Timba as he not only learned, but helped create, in Cuba during the late '90s. Though much of the repertoire still includes many cover tunes, Latin American classics played in a modern Cuban style, many of these being quite outstanding in terms of arrangement and general musicianship, it is evidently the original pieces that most reflect the timba state of mind, and in stating this, most interest us at timba.com. The capabilities of his horns, an all-Polish cast (Ziarkiewicz, Mach, Ganko), is to be noted (audios 3 & 4) and what surprises me the most is that the paila and tumbadora players are Polish as well. Of course, one would think, the rhythm section should have to include a cubano for us to really consider this a Cuban band... and that prerequisite might seem to have been fulfilled when incorporating a name like José Manuel Albán... But guess again! José Manuel is actually Polish, too! Of Peruvian background, he was born and raised in Warsaw; now, check out the percussion at work here, as well as just the general sound of the band... a very nice moment indeed: audio 5).
The front line is the only 100% Cuban portion of this band, apart from Ceballo himself. There is no other way, for without it, the faulty accents and languid rhythms of a foreigner could truly hurt the feeling of authenticity the band actually does have. Following in Azúcar Negra's footsteps, Ceballo has chosen a wonderful female lead, Omniris Toledo, and mixes her sharp, rampant voice with that of two quality male singers: Renell Valdés and Antonio Matamoros.
It's a band to look out for, especially if you're in Europe, since Ceballo is searching to expand his borders, ready to invade the timba-hungry countries of the west.