Various Artists

Cuba's Ladies of Swing: Las Damas del Son

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It's hard to imagine Latin pop or Brazilian samba without an abundance of female vocalists. But Afro-Cuban singing has -- for whatever reason -- been very male-dominated. Over the years, the vast majority of salsa vocalists have been men. The most famous exception to that rule has been Celia Cruz, and seven other exceptions can be heard on Cuba's Ladies of Swing. This excellent compilation points to the fact that while women have been a minority in salsa, they have made some fine contributions to it over the years. Cuba's Ladies of Swing turns the spotlight on singers who emerged in the 1940s and 1950s (including Merceditas Valdes and Celeste Mendoza) as well as young salseras who were active in the 1980s and 1990s, such as Jacquelin Castellanos and Malena Burke. The thing that's frustrating about this collection's liner notes is the lack of recording dates or release dates -- listeners have no way of knowing when these son, guaguanco, mambo and rumba gems were recorded or when they first came out. But as frustrating as that is, you have to applaud Tropicana for acknowledging women's contributions to salsa.