Whatever possessed Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria to release this recording of traditional chants and drumming modes from the various traditions of the Afro-Cuban experience reinvented him not only for his own people, but for the legions of Americanskis who only knew him as the cat who did the Latinized soul-jazz version of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man," which became a pop hit. Here, Santamaria enlisted the help of Carlos "Potato" Valdes, Antar Daly, Silvestre Mendez, and Julio Collazo in a burning collection of rhythms and call-and-response chants from the various traditions that make up the island's roots music -- Yoruba, Lucumi, Dahomeyanos, Carabalies, and the Congos -- all of whom originated in the river region of Niger before they crossed the Atlantic. In each case, the listener is treated to a fantastically complex recorded example of rhythms and then chanted information that accompanies them: harvest songs, traveling songs, songs of sorrow, songs of mating, and more. Occasionally, as on "Margarito," a wooden flute accompanies the song, and in the case of "Congo Mania," a trumpet does the same thing. There are numerous drums employed to both solo and "choir" effect like the batas, bembe, congos, quinto, and more. This is deep Afro-Cuban music from the heart of the Niger region, crossing the ocean with blood, sweat, and tears and finally taking root in the land of sugar cane. There are stories and legends in these tracks -- they are as authentic and raw as it gets. World music fans owe it to themselves to pick this up.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek