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Ska Cubano: Mambo Ska

Chris May By

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A blast—a raucous, riotous, irresistible blast. Ska Cubano is a London-based, Caribbean retro band led by the singer/songwriter Natty Bo (aka Nathan Lerner) and featuring his ex-wife, Miss Megoo (aka Megumi Mesaku), a fiery ska saxophonist in the grand tradition of Roland Alphonso and Tommy McCook. Japanese-born Miss Megoo, who also plays some of the honkingest, bar walking, R&B baritone this side of the pearly gates (check the YouTube clip below), is one of the band's five hot horns; other notables include the veteran Jamaican trumpeter Eddie "Tan Tan" Thornton.



Bo and the horns front a mainly Cuban rhythm section anchored by bassist Rey Crespo, also heard on marimbula, a king sized, Caribbean version of the African thumb piano traditionally made with an old packing case. The band plays a rum and reefer fuelled mixture of mambo, rumba, son, cumbia and, of course, Jamaican ska—the insistent, rock steady syncopation of the last ingredient adding a metronomic pulse to the music's more complex Latin rhythms. It's high-octane party and festival music of the first order, made so by the total abandon with which the musicians throw themselves into the groove, and also by their across-the-board technical skills.



Mambo Ska is the band's fourth album, following Ska Cubano (Victor, 2003), Ay Caramba (Casinosounds, 2005) and Ajiaco! The Remix Album (Casinosounds, 2008). Some of the tunes are re-arranged Latin standards—Guillermo Gonzalez's "Lupita," Daniel Flores' "Tequila," Ramos Duarte's "Pepe"—some are Natty Bo originals. Others, like the Andean "Cumbia Del Monte," featuring guest clarinetist Enrique Bordon, are re-arrangements of Caribbean or South American folk tunes. Thornton contributes one song, "Hold Tight Jamaica," an old-school ska celebrating his birthplace. The spirit of authenticity flows through originals and standards alike. Six of the tracks were recorded in Santiago de Cuba, the other nine in London.



Ska Cubano was originally conceived by Peter A. Scott, who had lived in the Caribbean for extended periods, and who wanted to reignite the free-flowing Jamaican/Cuban musical connections which flourished before the Cuban revolution in 1959 (several first-generation ska musicians, including the aforementioned Alphonso and trombonist Rico Rodriguez, were Cuban-born, for instance). Scott started putting the project together in 2001 with Natty Bo. Scott is still the band's director, Bo its producer. The duo has succeeded in combining a truly scholarly grasp of its source material with first class tickets on the dopamine express. Either quality would be admirable on its own; together they are unbeatable.

Track Listing: Lupita; La Trova; Cumbia Del Monte; Mambo Ska; Pachito E Che; Alto Songo; Hit The Track; Piel Canela; Hold Tight Jamaica; Tequila; La Gaita Sabrosa; Ska Che; Identity; Megumi's Amor; Pepe.

Personnel: Natty Bo: vocals, percussion; Beny Billy: vocals, percussion; Eddie "Tan Tan" Thornton: trumpet; Jay Phelps: trumpet; Trevor Edwards: trombone; Miss Megoo: alto saxophone, baritone saxophone; Kiko Cowan: tenor saxophone, flute; Jesus Cutino: tres guitar; Ernesto Estruch: piano, organ, violin; Rey Crespo: bass, marimbula; Oreste Noda: congas, pailas; Reuben White: drum kit; Enrique Bordon: clarinet (1, 3, 5, 8, 11, 15).

Title: Mambo Ska | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Casinosounds

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