REVIEWED: The Creole Choir of Cuba

Tony Hiller reviews Tande-La: The Creole Choir of Cuba for theaustralian.com.

THE deep well of Cuban music that has slaked the thirst of music lovers across the world these past dozen years or so, via the Buena Vista Social Club and its various offspring, is not in danger of drying up just yet. Mind you, the latest sound to hit our shores from the economically challenged but culturally rich communist republic owes something to a Caribbean island neighbour. At home, the Creole Choir of Cuba, whose members hail from the old colonial town of Camaguey, is known as Grupo Vocal Desandann, a moniker that offers a clue to the band’s roots. The choir’s five men and five women are descendants of migrant labourers from Haiti who were indentured to Cuban sugar and coffee plantations. The songs they sing on Tande-La, which express the misery of abject poverty, homesickness, colonial servitude and life under egregious dictatorships, are delivered in Cuba’s Creole, a fascinating fusion of different African tongues and indigenous Caribbean languages with French, Spanish and English. Belying the weighty subject matter, the music is mostly upbeat and uplifting. The songs inherited from the choir’s forebears have acquired modern Haitian and pan-Caribbean rhythms, most notably bubbling Afro-Cuban percussion and a distinctive male vocal root bass. A first impression, albeit superficial and simplistic, may suggest a marriage between the soaring female American-global gospel of Sweet Honey in the Rock and the male Zulu call-and-response dynamics and baritone grunts of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The choir’s music is free-flowing and passionate yet carefully orchestrated, with beautifully textured harmonies and interlocking melodies. Contrasts abound. A plaintive solo intro to L’Atibonite Oh, for example, transmutes to a pulsating, percussion-driven carnivalesque vibe. The tempo is lowered for the stately Lumane Casimir, then increased on the following voodoo folk song Fey. Dulce Embelezo, a bolero sung in Spanish by the male section in sumptuous four-part harmony, would have done justice to those Cuban harmony masters of yore, Los Zafiros. Audiences at this year’s Womadelaide and those who attend the choir’s concerts at venues across Australia in March and April are in for a real treat.

For the original review go to http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/arts/music-reviews/story-e6frg8po-1225982391986

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