Los Van Van

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Songo Review

by Evan C. Gutierrez

Taking their name from their famous hybrid rhythm, meaning a cross between Cuba's native son music and the go-go of the 1970s, Songo is the record that started it all. Los Van Van quickly gained an international reputation, having already long been their native Cuba's favorite dance band. The music, which brilliantly synthesizes the syncopated African-influenced rhythms of Cuba with funk and disco sounds coming out of the States, would influence musicians on either side of the cultural divide. Companas and congas create intricate textures over the solid bedrock of disco drums and keyboards. The percussive innovations of Jose Luis Quintana, better known as Changuito, would chart the course for the next generation of drummers and timbaleros. Bandleader and bass player Juan Formell exhibits an intuitive, natural songwriting sensibility that would characterize his career. Arranger and pianist Cesar Pedroso demonstrates his abilities both as a leader and as a soloist. If the modern listener can get over the seriously dated sound sources (plastic-sounding electronic drum triggers and keyboard patches) the music of Songo is not just an important history lesson; it proves to be as enjoyable a listen today as when it first electrified the dancefloors of Havana.

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