The Creole Choir of Cuba: Santiman

Nenad Georgievski By

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The music of Cuba is its most characteristic contribution that the world is familiar with. If there is one word that can be used for describing its musical legacy, that would definitely be diversity. The island has gone through numerous epochs and European and African influences have blended into distinguishable mixes that have determined its cultural richness and broad heritage. And with the thawing of the Cold War and the popularity of the Buena Vista Social Club, Cuban music has been enjoying resurgence around the world. What is less known is that the island is also home to large communities of Haitian immigrants and descendants, whose traditional music (and language) is different than most known Cuban styles. Their history on the island dates back to the 18th century when the French colonists fled to Cuba with their slaves after a revolution in Haiti. Or more recently, as there were waves of immigrants from the beginning of the 20th century to work on the coffee and sugar cane plantations.

The Creole Choir of Cuba, come from Camagüey, Cuba's third city, and its name can be a bit misleading as the band's roots are not Cuban, but Haitian. In Cuba, The Creole Choir of Cuba is known as "Grupo Vocal Desandann," where "Desandann" indicates its Haitian roots.

The repertoire of this 10-piece group consists of songs of their ancestors that they have gathered from generations of Haitian immigrants and are mostly sung in their Creole mixture of French, African and other languages. Santiman, just like the choir's debut for Real World Records, Tande-la (Real World Records, 2011), is a stunning recording that delivers the full range of the choir's talent. The choir is led by director/vocalist Emilia Diaz Chavez and the singers are all conservatory-trained which is evident in the way the songs are arranged and performed. Most of them are traditional and arranged either by Chavez or vocalist Teresita Romero, and they also author several of the other songs. The Creole Choir of Cuba gives performances that radiate a heartfelt glow and the selections are either sung a cappella or accompanied by occasional pulsating Caribbean percussion, piano, trumpet or flute.

The voices combine in a poignant mixture of smoothness and purity, and the sheer aural beauty of these voices, both in powerful solo segments and lush choral harmonies, really make a memorable impact. The voices blend in an amazing way, thus displaying the powerful uniformity of the choir's well-rehearsed sound. The beautifully designed booklet gives explanation of the themes and subjects that drive the songs. They deal with subjects such as the disaster struck Haiti, "Pou Ki Ayiti Kriye?," slaves longing for home "Soufle Van—Mangaje," love "Juramento," healing "Fey Oh Di Nou," deities "Simbi" and protest songs "Pale, Pale."

The fluid harmonies softly carry these chants in a beautiful way. Santiman is sung with the utmost expressiveness and skill, and because of that it is a pure listening delight.

Track Listing: Preludio; Llegada; Camina Como Chencha; Fey Og Di Nou; Simbi; Soufle Van – Mangaje; Pale, Pale, Panama Mwen Tonbe; Balada de Annaise; Jubileo; Pou Ki Ayiti Kriye; Juramento; Tripot; Boullando; Marasa Elu

Personnel: Vocals: Emilia Diaz Chavez, Yara Castellanos Diaz, Yordanka Sanchez Fajardo, Marina Collazo Fernandez, Dalio Arce Luis, Marcelo Andrs Luis, Fidel Romero Miranda, Teresita Romero Miranda, Irian Rondon Montejo, Dalio Arce Vital; Tom Cawley: piano; Paul Bilson:trumpet; Dramane Dembele: Flute.

Title: Santiman | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Real World Records


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