Sunday, April 23, 2006:

The Roots Canal: ¡Cubanismo! in New Orleans

Cubanismo -- Shallow Water Suite
It opens with a deep, mysterious rumbling of piano and drums and flute and odd chants. It coalesces into the haunting spiritual, Shallow Water. Suddenly, the tempo picks up and starts to swing. The New Orleans rhythm kicks in, backed by a tight horns section. Then, a brief tease...of what? could it be? a rumba? But not for long, because the song suddenly shifts and you're listening to the New Orleans anthem Iko Iko. Then it starts again, with a verse in Spanish. Before you notice, it's a full-throated rumba. You're no longer in New Orleans, but Cuba. Back and forth. An easy transition.

Shallow Water Suite came out of a trip to New Orleans in 1999 by the great Cuban jazz band, ¡Cubanismo! Or Cubanismo. (I think I'll leave out the exclamation points. They don't even use them in their own liner notes.) There, they collaborated with singer John Boutté, jazzman Donald Harrison and the pickup band The Yockamo All Stars to produce this great New-Orleans-meets-Cuba CD, Mardi Gras Mambo. It's a smooth combination, in my opinion (although allmusic doesn't seem to agree). As the liner notes say, "Most of the world's most popular dance music can trace its lineage back to either New Orleans or Havana." This song takes you to both at once.

[Cubanismo in New Orleans -- Mardi Gras Mambo] (Also available, with all of Cubanismo's records, on emusic.)

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Bonus track: Mumbo Jumbo Voodoo Combo -- Congo Square
While we're on the subject of New Orleans music by non-New Orleans musicians, check out this wild New Orleans band from, of all places, Ottawa, Canada. They're the real thing. I caught Mumbo Jumbo Voodoo Combo live last year when they opened for the Neville Brothers at the Montreal Jazz Festival. I thought they must have been some great New Orleans band I'd never heard of, when the guy in the next row told me they were from Ottawa -- and, in fact, had to cut a lot of their best songs from the show because they didn't want to play any Neville Brothers songs when they were opening for the Brothers themselves. This is one of three mp3's available on their site.

[Walk Thru the Fire]
You know, Allmusic is just as idiosyncratic as any other critical source I can think of (well, except for me, a critical source setting the bar for idiosyncracy). I've noticed this long ago in terms of film critics--BFI and AFI both honor some movies that bored the hell out of me; Ebert will go often to bat for strikingly mediocre films if the director is in a minority; IMDb has some films in the top 250 that make Porky's look thoughtful and nuanced. I keep referring to them all anyway, sometimes to try to gauge whether I might like a film or movie, and at other times to try to understand what they see in something I might hate (or why they might hate something I adore). De gustibus non est disputandum and all that, but, pues, coño, a mí me gusta el Cubanismo.

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