Luis Conte,
Cuban Dreams
(Unitone/Rounder, 2000)

In the beginning there was music. And then there were drums. Music grew jealous and tried to claim drums. Well, OK, maybe that's not how it happened. Drums came first and from drums came music ... a pulsating rhythm that all music tries to capture one way or another. OK, maybe that's not it either, but after listening to Cuban Dreams by Luis Conte, you should be forgiven for thinking that. The CD is not only about drums and their music, it just keeps returning to them.

As for the musicians and performers on the CD, they do a wonderful job. There are more than 40 of them, so I will not be able to name them all. In any event, they all do deserve credit for the wonderful job they do on a variety of instruments including bass, piano, trumpet, chancletas, corneta china, batas, keyboards, cello, flute, violin, claves and, of course, the drums and percussion. The drums are an integral part of the music and, at times, seem to be its very heart. I would not want to picture this music without the drums and percussion. It would somehow seem wrong.

The CD starts off with "Intro," a smooth sliding blend of various different songs and types of music. This is followed by "Drume Negrita," a soft lullaby. The repetition of the percussion adds the feel of being rocked gently to sleep during the song.

"Isla Linda" is a love song to the singer's country, with the beat and the music giving a feeling of motion to the song. You can almost see the singer walking back and forth, his body swaying as he sings. "Walk to the Carnival" gives samples of different types of carnival music from Cuba, intermingled with occasional bits of conversation about the carnival. The voices in the background add to the sense of being there.

You are then brought alongside a procession in "Suave Congo Carabali" and, once again, the music captures the feel of the moment, the sense of striding along with the procession. And if that was not enough, you are then taken from procession to a parade in "Congo Santiaguera."

"Cielo y Tierra" is a deeply spiritual piece. There is a sense of reverence to it which the bata drums help create. Then comes "El Real De Hielo," which is a beautiful song. It is a Cuban Danzon, a style of music influenced by, but not derivative of, traditional ballroom dancing. It ends up with a grace and an elegance which is uniquely its own.

"Lo Que Siento" is a warm piece that wraps itself around you and reminds you of home. It slides gently into "El Final," which has two very distinct parts. The first continues the theme of home and the longings of an expatriate. The second is a salute to the music and the musician.

Listen to Cuban Dreams if you get a chance. Find it and listen to it. For as much as drums play a role in the sound, it is also about a nation and its music.

[ by Paul de Bruijn ]

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