Havana Mambo

La Mecaniquita

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If a Latin music lover heard the name Havana Mambo without knowing what the band sounded like, the logical assumption would be that it specialized in '50s-style mambo -- something along the lines of Xavier Cugat or Pérez Prado (two Afro-Cuban greats who were considered mambo experts in the '50s). Well, Havana Mambo was really formed in Havana, Cuba (although the outfit is now based in Italy), and it does play mambo some of the time. But truth be told, mambo is only a small part of what Havana Mambo does on La Mecaniquita, which the Tauri label released in Italy in 2002. While "Mambomoda" favors a classic mambo sound, it would be a major mistake to think of La Mecaniquita as strictly a mambo disc. Havana Mambo thrives on diversity and La Mecaniquita contains everything from son ("Vamos Pa' Casa," "Cuba Tu Isla") to Fania Records-style New York City salsa ("Personalidad") to a romantic ballad ("Si El Corazon Hablara"). This CD underscores the fact that Havana Mambo is primarily a salsa band -- if you think of salsa as an umbrella term that describes a variety of Afro-Cuban dance music (son, mambo, cha-cha, guaguancó, etc.), then Havana Mambo should be described as a diverse, far-reaching salsa band. But La Mecaniquita occasionally ventures outside the Afro-Cuban/salsa realm. "La Corneta" favors a classic Dominican merengue sound in the Wilfrido Vargas/Johnny Ventura vein, while "Bomba de Esquina" is essentially vallenato (a style of music that comes from Columbia, the land of cumbia). And the impressive thing is that Havana Mambo manages to explore all these different Latin styles without ever sounding unfocused or confused -- the band has no problem moving from salsa to merengue to vallenato in a very logical, coherent fashion. The end result is an album that is as excellent as it is unpredictable.

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