Edesio Alejandro

Soul of Cuba

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It would be interesting to know what 74-year-old Cuban singer Adriano Rodriguez thought when his young, hip neighbor, Edesio Alejandro, approached him with the suggestion they work together in the recording studio in 2000. Whatever he thought going in, he must be at least a little mystified by what came out of this unusual collaboration, and intrigued with the imagination of his young partner. Young musicians have worked with the old masters in the past, usually resulting in fairly faithful renditions of the old guy's hits. Not this time. Alejandro started with a selection of 11 classic Cuban sons from the likes of Arsenio Rodriguez and Felix Chapottin. Next, he added the fundamental sounds of the traditional son: claves clicking out the characteristic 3-2 beat that is at the heart of Cuban music; bongo and conga drums and bells filling out the rhythm; the Cuban bass, staying off the first beat of each measure, then dancing across beats two, three, and four; the tres, a guitar with three pairs of ringing steel strings; and a solo trumpet, sometimes muted, playing melodic runs on top. But then some completely new elements are added: electronic drums playing a sort of lazy hip-hop beat, the familiar electro-snare patterns that accompany rap music, but slower, more languid; a synthesizer droning along to produce a sitar-like effect, and Alejandro delivering some of the lyrics in a slow rap, speaking the words in a low monotone. The effect is hypnotic, mesmerizing. On top of all this is Adriano Rodriguez's mahogany voice singing the familiar lyrics, sometimes accompanied by a traditional coro. Traditional Cuban music has spawned many different musical styles -- mambo, cha-cha, salsa, Latin jazz, soukous, songo -- but none so strange and beguiling as the music on this CD.

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