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Cuba based rap duo, Zona Franka, blends traditional rhythms with the grit and swagger of hip-hop and rap vocal phrasings. Their clever shout choruses create instant tropical dance classics using their unique self-titled "changui con flow" style.
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Sunday, 23 October 2011, 09:58 AM


GRAMMY Grazings: It's Time For Timba

by Bill Tilford

This year's 12th Annual Latin GRAMMY awards, to be telecast November 10th, 2011, included a number of worthy nominees from other parts of the Cuban music spectrum but once again ignored an entire genre, Timba, in the final list of nominees in spite of the production of some recordings worthy of consideration during the eligibility period.  Since the primary purpose of creating a distinct Latin GRAMMY Awards program was to allow for more in-depth recognition of the many subgenres of Latin music, we consider this omission unfortunate, and there is a case to be made for considering a new category in the future to remedy this perennial oversight.  Conventional Salsa admittedly has a much larger listening - and voting - constituency than Timba, and there are sufficient differences between the two styles to make it quite possible that Timba will never stand a chance of receiving the recognition that its best examples deserve as long as it is forced to compete with Salsa for the same award.  Again, the very reason for being of the Latin GRAMMY awards as a separate entity was to help rectify these kinds of issues in Latin music generally, and this writer wishes to publicly suggest that the Academy should examine the question of a new category.  Admittedly, domestic US output alone would not sustain an ongoing separate category, but international output probably would, and even if that proved not to be the case, putting Timba under a different umbrella with something such as "Progressive" and separating it from traditional Salsa would be the next right thing.  Timba is now a truly international genre with first-tier bands not just in Cuba but also the United States, Peru and Sweden just to name a few examples.  A band in Sweden, Calle Real, is even getting some exposure now in American television.  Furthermore, enough time - over two decades now - has passed that there is no longer any question that the genre has firmly established itself as more than just a passing fad.  
It may be too late for the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (LARAS) to recognize a Timba recording this year, but it's probably not too late for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) to do so in its Best Tropical Latin Album category for the regular GRAMMY awards. There are a few worthy possibilities for consideration that are true examples of Timba and were released within the United States during the eligibility year.  We are going to mention just two of those possibilities because of our own personal familiarity with them:

My Secret Radio by Tiempo Libre.  Tiempo Libre has been a bridesmaid a few times now but never the bride.  This new recording is at least as worthy of consideration as its predecessors, and we loved it enough that we even reviewed it earlier this year.  (Read a full CD review here.)

Vestido de Blanco by Havana Heavy Hitters.  This was released in the US for digital distribution before this writer began doing reviews of new recordings for Timba.com but within the eligibility window for the award. This unique all-star project includes many of the best musicians from the best of the bands from Cuba including (among many others) Michel Maza and Alexander Abreu, two of the most respected Timba artists on the island today.  (Read more about this recording and hear samples here.)  The combination of digital distribution only and release by an independent label admittedly makes for a dark horse candidate, but it deserves serious consideration for its musical merit alone. 
We could name a few other worthy candidates for consideration if we chose, the point is that there are recordings worthy of recognition in this eligibility cycle, and it would help promote the genre as a genre (one of the Academy's many missions, is it not?) if at least one Timba recording (or even two) found its way to at least an actual final five nomination this year.  It is our hope that the voting members of NARAS will examine the best of this year's output in the Timba genre as closely as it does the rest of the styles under the Tropical Latin umbrella.  If it truly does so, this writer is confident that at least one of the many fine recordings produced over the past year will prove to warrant consideration. 
We aren't going to put the case to NARAS for a separate Timba category for the simple reason that we acknowledge that domestic US output would probably not sustain a separate category over time. Longer-term, this is clearly a subject more properly tackled by LARAS, which has the ability to consider entries from across the globe.  Since many people belong to both academies, we hope that this essay provides some food for thought.  

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Sunday, 16 October 2011, 06:52 AM

Rumbankete Releases Debut CD

Also: Two New Movies of Interest

Rumbankete, a LA-based Salsa/Timba band, has released their debut CD, Que No Pare La Fiesta.   Rumbankete has been around since the middle of the last decade and is beginning to get some recognition away from the West Coast as well.  This first outing has a lot of strong, tight ensemble work and is mostly original songs. Read the full review here...

Two movies of interest just came through the 47th Chicago International Film Festival: 

The first, Juan de Los Muertos (Juan of the Dead), is a Cuban production filmed in la Habana.  It's a horror comedy (specifically, a zombie movie) which is well-done even just as a movie but worth our mention here because of the killer soundtrack, which opens with Irakere's Bacalao con Pan and has some sweet  Cuban Funk later in the film that we are still trying to track down.  We'll probably say more about the music in another place at a later date.  For more, see the movie's website, 
Juanofthedeadmovie.com.  Come for the music, stay for the zombies. 

The other film is Chico & Rita, an animated Spanish production that is a musical tribute to the Afrocuban jazz musicians in La Habana and NY in the 40s and 50s. The great Bebo Valdes is at the helm for the excellent musical soundtrack.  The centerpiece of the film, which is set in Havana, New York and Las Vegas,  is a love story between a pianist and a vocalist (there is one nude scene, so it's not the "g-rated" kind of animation), but there are sequences involving several different key musicians including Chano Pozo.  Except for an opening audio clip with Telmary (young people on a Havana street), the music is all period music from the 40s and 50s and beautifully done.  There are a few websites for this movie, one of which is 
Both films are in Spanish with English subtitles. 

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Friday, 30 September 2011, 11:46 AM

Horns to Havana and Other Good Things

Recordings by Omar Sosa and Maraca Recognized

Item I:  Horns to Havana

Jazztimes.com, the free online extension of Jazztimes magazine, is now carrying an interesting section dedicated to Cuba.  The most recent article by Lee Mergner about the Horns to Havana program, in which jazz artists from up here are going down to the island to donate instruments and do workshops, is an especially interesting read.  The link is http://jazztimes.com/sections/cuba/articles  But we mention this for another reason as well.  Those of you working with jazz groups should consider joining the online community if you haven't already done so.  It's another place with a focused jazz audience that you can talk about the group, any recordings etc.   As anyone involved with jazz these days knows, there's no such thing as too much promotion...

Item II:  Omar Sosa's Recordings Recognized

Earlier this year in the Report From Chicago section, we did a piece on Omar Sosa and a capsule review of three of his recent recordings, Afreecanos, Ceremony and Calma.  Since that time, Ceremony won an Echo, a prestigious European jazz award, and Calma has been nominated for a Latin Grammy in the Instrumental department. Congratulations Omar.  He's doing a short tour of the US in late October-early November, and we'll have those details soon.  Here's a short video about Ceremony...

....click here to read the full article with Maraca's interview >>

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Monday, 26 September 2011, 03:33 PM

Creole Choir Of Cuba Begins US Tour in Chicago

30 Performances in 21 Cities

The Creole Choir of Cuba
(The Creole Choir of Cuba - view the rest of the photos here)

     This mighty chorus of ten singers, dancers and percussionists from Camagüey is one of the most distinctive groups from Cuba that we've heard in years.  We saw their opening concert in Chicago, and you can read our full review here.   You don't speak Creole, you say?  They really are good enough that you  won't care.  The always-industrious Timbera Mayor has posted their tour schedule here.  Cuba's Creoles originally came from Haiti a couple of centuries back, both the language and the music are distinct, and this group represents and preserves an aspect of Cuba's cultural mosaic that most North Americans haven't been exposed to before.  Catch them if you can.  

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