Various Artists: Cuban Funk Experience (2009)
UK mixologist John Armstrong has compiled a collection of "Cuban funk" recordings from the coffers of two record labels: Havana's Egrem and Miami's Sound Triangle, between 1973 and 1988. Like Típica '73's Johnny "Dandy" Rodríguez did back in the 1970s, Armstrong is arguing that Cuban music in the US and in Cuba are two branches of a single family tree. He makes a good case. An interesting experiment is to try to identify which of these cuts comes from which country: it's not easy.
So, the first provocation of Cuban Funk Experience is the assertion that "Cuban" embraces Miami-based musicians as well as those on the island. The second provocation is that there is something, sampled here, called "Cuban funk."
Now anyone who has plumbed the depths of Irakere's impossibly funky "Aguanile"there's a live version on The Best of Irakere (CBS, 1994)will be intrigued to explore such a genre. But the notion of Cuban funk poses certain musical problems, not least of which is how to merge funk rhythms with Afro-Cuban clavé. Irakere, in fact, avoided the issue altogether, playing funk first, in the smoking introduction to "Aguanile," followed by an electrified Afro-Cuban segment. And that's what Armstrong does here, alternating funk tunes with numbers based on salsa, son and other Afro-Cuban styles with joyous abandon.
Thus, for example, the presence of Latin percussion on the funk number "Con Mucha Manteca," by Grupo Raíces Nuevas, doesn't make it a Latin number any more than the similar-sounding presence of Latin percussion makes the Dramatics' R&B hit, "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get" (Volt, 1972), a Latin number; such accents were par for the course in 1970s R&B. The Cuban Grupo Raíces Nuevas could pass for Con Funk Shun or the Average White Band. Miami-based Manteca's dense percussion workout, "Abacua," meanwhile, is nothing but Afro-Cuban.
Irakere, for its part, is represented here by two numbers, both marked by the virtuosity for which they're known, including mind-bending electronic keyboard solos, presumably by Chucho Valdes; the great Los Van Van, too, is present on two cuts. Most of the rest of the musicians are far less well-known (though Hilario Duran, better known today, pops up for a nice soul-jazz number). And it's among the lesser-known artists that the collection offers up some of its most idiosyncratic and enjoyable gems, both from the Cuban (Orquesta Riverside) and American (Luis Santi) side.
There is precious little Cuban funk fusion here, but ample servings of funk, and lots of Cuban music from both sides of the Straits of Florida. None of this is carping, nor should it detract from the enjoyment of this generous and inspired collection.
Track Listing: Abacua; En Casa Del Trompo No Bailes (Si Para Usted); Un Lamento Hecho Canción; Yo Sí Que Estoy a la Moda; De Eso Nada Monado; Las Jardineras; Takatakata; Pero a Mi Manera; Nana; Los Feligreses; Quindiamo; Rompe Cocorioco; Borriquito; Llegué Llegué; Hasta Mañana; Cosas Que Se Me Occuren; La Inflación de Ofelia; Algo Sabroso; La Contrapartida; Con Mucha Manteca.
Personnel: Manteca (1); Orquesta Riverside (2); Los Reyes '73 (3); Orquesta Monumental (4, 15); Ray & His Court (5); Pello El Afrokan (6); Irakere (7, 11); Los Van Van (8, 14); Coke (9); Luis Santi (10); Grupo Algo Nuevo (12); Peter Fernández (13); Los 5 U 4 (16); Oscar Peña (17); Nelson Padrón (18); Hilario Durán (19); Grupo Raíces Nuevas (20).
Record Label: Nascente