Cubanismo in New Orleans:
Mardi Gras Mambo

(Rykodisc, 2000)

"Most of the world's popular dance music can trace its lineage back to either New Orleans or Havana," says the liner notes to Mardi Gras Mambo, and this album fuses many of the styles that have evolved from these roots. Cubanismo is joined here by a number of New Orleans musicians in a rich collaboration of twelve songs that explores the directions in which the fusion of African and Mediterranean elements have gone.

But that makes it sound so very educational, and that's such a secondary element! Most of all, this album is full of great music that will get your toes tapping and your hips swaying. All the songs are excellent, and the album as a whole is like a party in a CD case.

It starts off with a bang with "Marie Laveaux," a song about the legendary Voodoo Queen of New Orleans that blends bright brass with dark undertones to make a light song with an undercurrent of menace. Another seductive blending of elements is "Nothing Up My Sleeve," which combines a sensually romantic sound with chilling lyrics about a pair of murderous lovers-to-be. The blend is quite a shock at first hearing, yet the bleak and elliptical lyrics blend beautifully with the sinuous music in one of the most fascinating songs I've heard.

The fusion of musical elements is addressed more directly in "Rampart Street Rumba," which adds some hip-hop to the mix, "Cuborleans" with its instrumental blend, and "Gumbo Son" and its bilingual lyrics.

The liner notes are extensive, telling much about the history of the project and listing the soloists and their instruments for each song. I wish they'd included a bit more about the songs themselves, but it's an excellent set of notes and visually appealing, too.

I strongly recommend this album to anyone who likes Latin or Afro-Cuban music, as well as a good addition to the libraries of those who like Santana and aren't sure where to go from there. It's an excellent album of lively songs performed with mastery and flair.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]
Rambles: 10 August 2001

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