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SpanishEnglishVacilón Santiaguero (Circle 9 Records) released March 29, 2024

CD Review: Vacilón Santiaguero by Kiki Valera
(Circle 9 Records March 29, 2024)
Review by Bill Tilford, all rights reserved

In the interests of full disclosure, I liked this enough to write the liner notes for it, and this assessment goes beyond what is in those notes. 
Vacilón Santiaguero is Kiki Valera's second release in the US.  The album is a long time coming as the project began in the midst of the COVID pandemic, which presented almost every recording artist with extra logistical issues.  It is not a ven tú  in the strictest sense of the term - Kiki still uses his core group - but most of the trumpeters used in the album are special guests, both some of Kiki's favorites and highly-awarded musicians in latin music. Even some of the more obscure names, like Leon Allen, have performed with giants like Manolito Simonet, and most of the other names will be instantly-recognizable to those who follow latin jazz and salsa in the US. The process of getting together the brass tracks from a distance added time to the project, but it proved to be well worth the wait. 
Vacilón is a word which can have multiple meanings in Cuba depending upon the context. Here it can mean a really, really good time, but as a verb, vacilando can mean really getting into something, almost lose yourself in something, and this is a genuinely fun album - very danceable music, and lyrics that are often sly and/or funny.  One reason that I don't feel guilty about reviewing it is that my "test kitchen" listeners went vacilando when they heard it. The trumpeters did not try to  convert this into a jazz album, but their solos do stretch out a little more than you would typically hear in a conjunto format of this type. 
Kiki, who customized his own instrument, also has his own home studio, and his work there plus mastering by Michael Lazarus resulted in a product that is vinyl-worthy, and there is indeed a vinyl edition out there for audiophiles. 
Having seen Kiki live and in live video, I think it may take a future live album to really do justice to his music; tike with so many Cuban groups, live always adds an extra dimension. In the meantime, Vacilón Santiaguero gets sufficiently close enough to that level to make a worthy addition to your collection, especially if you still own a good turntable. 


1. Este Vacilón (Felix Valera Mranda)
2. El Ají de Cocina (Felix Valera Miranda)
3. Sobre Una Tumba Una Rumba (Ignacio Piñeiro)
4. El Penquito E'Coleto (Francisco Repilado aka Compay Segundo)
5. Funfuñando (Arsenio Rodríguez)
6. La Guajira (Olga de Blanck)
7. Mari-Juana (Juana Maria Casas)
8. Muñequita Feliz (Bienvenito Julian Guitierrez)
9. El Empanadillero (Teodoro Benemelis)
10. Pájaro Lindo (Felipe Neri Cabrera)
11. Dos Gardenias (Isolina Carrillo)
12. El Curarto de Tula (Sergio González Siara) 


Role - InstrumentName
Director, Cuatro Cubano, Guitar, Bass, Clave, Maracas & Coros Kiki Valera
Congas, Bongos & Coros Pedro Vargas 
Coros Steve Guasch
Lead Vocal 1,4,5,7,9,10,12 Carlos Cascante
Lead Vocal 2,11 Francisco "Coco" Freeman
Lead Vocal 3,8 Joshuah De Jesus
Lead Vocal 6 Raquel Zozaya 
Special Guests
Trumpet 1,3,4,6,9,11 Alexis Baró
Trumpet 1,3,6,9,11 Steve Mostovoy
Trumpet 8 Michael Rodgríguez & Jonathan Powell
Trumpet 2,5,7,12 Pete Nater & Dennis Hernández
Trumpet 10 Brian Lynch & Thomas Marriott 
Trumpet 4 Leon Allen
Arrangements Kiki Valera 
Recording & Mixing Engineer Kiki Valera, FVM Studios, Seattle, WA
Mastering Engineer Michael Lazarus, Latin Music Mastering
Producers  Naomi Bierman & Kiki Valera 
Cover Photo of the band David Becker
Art Direction and Design Michelle Holme
Liner Notes  Bill Tilford
Bill Tilford - Monday, 10 June 2024, 08:42 PM