Various Artists

Putumayo Presents: Rumba, Mambo, Cha-Cha-Chá

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Putumayo can usually be counted on to make some unlikely choices when they assemble a world music compilation. A Celtic compilation from Putumayo, for example, might have some artists from Africa and other places that are far from Scotland and Ireland; a reggae compilation from Putumayo probably isn't going to focus exclusively on major reggae stars from Jamaica. And Putumayo Presents: Rumba, Mambo, Cha-Cha-Chá is an Afro-Cuban compilation that has its share of artists who aren't from Cuba, Puerto Rico, New York City, or Miami (which are the places one typically associates with salsa and Afro-Cuban music). Most of the selections on this 2011 release are 21st century recordings that recall the Afro-Cuban music of the '40s and '50s; in other words, they are a throwback to a pre-Fania Records era of Afro-Cuban music. Some of the tracks, however, are experimental; "Esperanza" by Scotland's Salsa Celtica blends salsa and Celtic music, while "E.L.S." by Belgium's Internationals is an instrumental that combines salsa and ska. Many of the other artists, in contrast, faithfully emulate the Afro-Cuban music of the '40s and '50s, including Cuba's J. Joaquín Oliveros on "Me Lo Dijo Adela" (which favors an old-school charanga sound), Orquesta la Moderna Tradición's "Mi Chachachá," and Chicago-based bandleader Angel Meléndez's performance of Louiguy's "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White," aka "Cereza Rosa," "Cerisier Rose et Pommier Blanc," or "Gummy Mambo" (which salseros associate with the Pérez Prado hit mambo version from 1955). But if a recording on this 42-minute CD has a sound that is classically Afro-Cuban, that doesn't necessarily mean that the artist lives in a place that is anywhere near the Americas. Tres Muchachos & Compañeros, for example, are from Russia, although their recording of "Pa' Mantener Tradición" is straight-up Afro-Cuban. For the most part, Rumba, Mambo, Cha-Cha-Chá doesn't push the envelope to the degree that other Putumayo compilations have pushed the envelope; the main idea is artists from different parts of the globe celebrating the son, mambo, guajira, and cha-cha of yesterday, not trying to point Afro-Cuban music in any new directions. Nonetheless, there are some interesting surprises here and there. And even the tracks that aren't overly adventurous (which is the majority of them) are still enjoyable.

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