Photo by Rick Simon
For those of us who lived in Toronto in the 1990's, Sfiso Ntuli was a very prominent figure on the African music scene as leader of the group Siyakha, as a show promoter, and as an activist for the liberation of South Africa.
Siyakha was Sfiso's group, for which I played drums for several years. Other members included - at various times - Victor Shiffman, Merill Matthews, Guillomar Campbell, Bruce Burron, Colin Campbell, Kim Roberts, Lizzie Mahashe, another South African whom I only knew as Wendy, the late Jamisse Jamo, Kobena Aquaa Harrison and others who i cant recall. We were basically an mbaqanga band, with a few other SA rhythms thrown in. I don't think we were very good at it, at least we wern't as good as the bands from SA who originally made this music, but we had the spirit of the music, and Sfiso himself performed a lot of the dance. His leadership style came more from being an ANC activist than a bandleader, he would call the band together before a show for a rousing talk before the show, addressing us as 'comrades', and then we would open with the African national anthem.
We played a lot, it was the golden days of the African music scene in Toronto. We went to New York city to play at SOB's visited Montreal, but mostly we gigged in the Toronto area at Harbourfront, Ontario Place, Afrofest, Toronto City Hall, the Bamboo Club, as well as various anti-apartheid events that were numerous in those days. I recall Queens park concerts for Oliver Tambo and a welcome night for Winnie Mandela. But the evening that is most vivid took place on April 27, 1994, when Siyakha headlined a show at the Bamboo Club on the night that Nelson Mandela was elected South Africa's first Black president. (Something I thought a lot about last year on the night Barack Obama was elected president of the U.S.A.)
The above photo is of Sfiso in his club in Joberg that he runs/owns/manages - I'm not sure which. If you look at the poster for the Politburo Sessions right above Sfiso's head, you'll see the list 'musos, dancers and dj's'. Hard to believe, but in the 90's here in Toronto, no one had really put that connection together. It was Sfiso who first proposed those three elements as necessary for any good party, and then tried to assemble them best he could in shows that he called Dark City Jive. No one really understood what he was trying to do, he was way ahead of his time.
He looks like he is totally in his element now.
Again, a playlist taken from a CD giveaway for my Sunday night at Babaluu. Not necessarily a 'best-of' list, and certainly not in any preferred order, just an indication of the salsa/timba music released in Cuba in 09 (mas o menos) that i played on a regular basis - or in the case of Tumbao Habana - which I just received last week that i will play on a regular basis.
I agree with Gabriel that it wasn't a great year for Cuban salsa. However, Los Van Van did release the highly orchestrated 'Arrasando' which yielded three or four great songs for the dance-floor; God's new gift to Cuban music, Havana d'Primera released their debut album 'Haciendo Historia', and the above mentioned Tumbao Havana came out of second-line obscurity to drop an album that will get a lots of play in 2010.
Certainly Charanga Habanera had the song of the year (see earlier post), but I don't think the album 'La Caratula' holds up musically to some of David Calzado's previous work. I thought the two 'Swedish" bands (Calle Real and La Tremenda) put out solid records, i just didn't find the songs that i felt worked for the dancefloor. Same with Azucar Negra.
In 2010, I'm looking forward to a new CD from Manolito Simonet, from NG La Banda (the new songs sound great!), from Paulo FG (who may have finally found the salsa/reggaeton balance that he has been looking for) and from Interactivo, who could surprise a lot of dancers with their new CD Cubanos Por El Mundo.
One last thing. It's customary to put a local band on the best of list and La Crisis by Roberto Linares Brown could be listed because Roberto is a nice guy (he really is), or because he has raised the level of the Toronto Cuban music scene though his talent as an arranger (he most definitely has). But the reality of being a club DJ is that you measure a song by the response of the dance floor, and La Crisis - with another great friend Alberto Alberto singing - got the job done every time I played it.
Anyways, here's the list.....
Lucha Luchador 6:45 NG La Banda
Cuando El Rio Suena 5:10 Havana d Primera
La Familia Cubana 5:17 Tumbao Habana
Mi Songo 4:59 Los Van Van
La Crisis 4:44 Roberto Linares Brown
Despues De Un Beso 5:13 Havana d Primera
Cuando Llegue A La Casa 4:19 Maykel Blanco y su Salsa Mayor
La Madrugada 6:05 Michel Maza
Un Amigo En Madrid 4:46 Alain Daniel
La Nena 3:24 Tumbao HabanaSi No Te Quieres Tu 5:56 Los Van Van
What I do is pick up these street compilations called La Fiesta del Reggaeton which have all the popular songs, and then I play the ones I like, or the ones that get the most reaction from Cuban dancers at Babaluu. (I think we are about 6 months behind Havana) In 2009, Gente de Zona, Yulien Oviedo and Insurrecto, El Chacal, Baby Lores all had many hits, but the group that rose to the top was Los Salvajes (los 4) with their omnipresent "Si Se Va A Formar Que Se Forma"
However, the song that blew everything else out of the water was La Charanga Habanera's "Gozando en la Habana", about the young Cuban who moved to Miami and misses life in Havana. It has become almost like a second Cuban national anthem and was still being played in Havana when i was there in November - even though it was released way earlier in the year. Without doubt the single most popular Cuban song i have ever DJ'ed.
Gozando En La Habana 5:18 La Charanga Habanera
Si Se Va A Formar Que Se Forma 3:37 Los Salvajes
La Sandunguera 4:02 Yulien Olviedo y Insurrecto
Ella Me Gusta 5:22 Paulo FG y Marvin
Me Quiedo En La Habana 4:20 Gente de Zona y Orishas
Ahora Como Te Mantienes 4:55 Los Salvajes
La Gallina 4:14 El Chacal
Washusay 4:38 Gladiator and Power Ranks
El Trio 4:29 Yulien Olviedo y Insurrecto
Homenaje al Beny 3:58 Gente de Zona
Me Gusta Te Amiguita 4:36 Los Salvajes
Volver A Su Tia 5:05 Baby Lores y Micha
The best way to keep track of the Cuban reggaeton scene is through a website out of Miami called SomosdeBarrio, which posts a constant stream of videos, mp3 downloads, interviews and gossip.
Update: Franz from PlanetTimba pointed me towards this compilation, available on iTunes, that is a pretty decent collection of current reggaeton from Cuba. (Also available in Canada)
Update #2: I forgot, Jen Paz has a great documentary out about the Cuban reggaeton scene called 'Animals of Cuban Music'
Update #3: There's an intriguing anarchy that makes it confusing for the outsider to figure out what is what. Fr'instance, the group Los Salvajes are also known as Los 4, and Los Intocables. The songs 'El Trio' by Yulien Olviedo - one of my faves - has been called in certain places 'Agua Noche' and it has had at least two versions with two different MC's William Sanchez and Blad MC.
Ned Sublette has a new word to inject into the vocabulary of music studies. Postmamboism.
begins with the study of African and African diaspora musics, given their historical centrality to the music of the world and their deep connection through slavery, neoslavery, and liberation struggles to fundamental questions of colonialism, capitalism, and civilization. Postmamboism calls for a thorough knowledge of music of the black Atlantic, and implicitly has much to do with the emergent field of Atlantic studies, but its techniques and perspective can work with any musical culture.
Somewhere in the past (sitting in with tourist bands in Veradero, Cuba 1981, seeing Eddie Palmieri at an upper east side club in NYC circa 1978, Bob Marley at Convocation Hall in Toronto in the mid 70's, my first encounter with a Fela Kuti vinyl) I became a postmamboist. The seed was probably planted with soul music of the 60's (Sam and Dave, Aretha Franklin, etc) with it's history and culture and authenticity compared to other pop music of the day. Or maybe it was that movie The Tami Show, (1964) when all of us white kids got to see James Brown smoke the Rolling Stones.
An interesting aspect here is this awkwardly worded passage (italics mine)
Postmamboism acknowledges a dialectic between its essential reference point of music that is popular (literally, of the people, signifying music that springs from historical roots and, relying on memory and person-to-person transmission, is infinitely renewable), and pop, which is presentist and must be mediated, consumed and replaced. Postmamboism speaks in the vernacular, deprivileging jargon, cultic language, and hyperpolysyllabicism. Postmamboism values the testimony, experience, and vocabulary of cultural practitioners, because for Postmamboists as for musicians, theory must be connected to practice.
I am spinning a gig at lula tonight.
Maninho Costa has a group at Lula Lounge that night as well, so it will be a complete evening, musically speaking. Cuba and Brazil.
I was trying to remember what what going on ten years ago and of course it was 1999 and the year of the Y2K hype. I was DJ'ing at Caoba (Radames Nieve's place on College St), and i seem to recall that the whole city had one of the deadest NYE's ever. People just stayed home and then nothing happened.
It wasn't until 9/11 that the 21st century really kicked in, as far as I'm concerned.....
If Cuba had normal internet access, these are some of the tweets I would have sent
Six Feet Under (the TV Show) is "Seis Pieds Bajo La Tierra".
There is way less food on the island than there used to be
"Le Gusta Mambo la mujer de pelotero"
The most distinctive voice in Cuba is not a singer, it's Hector Rodriguez, one of the play by play announcers for the TV broadcasts of the Industriales games. Basso profundo.
Two years ago, no one knew who Joani Sanchez was. Now, at least with university students, she is famous. I got asked many questions about Yoani.
Unlimited access to the internet is the universal right of all peoples including young Cubans.
"Vamos mirar Randy por Mesa Redonda", is still one of my most popular jokes in Havana.
I hate soap operas. I can handle the heat, the bureaucracy and the lack of internet, but soap operas will drive me off the island.
The house music DJ's down here are improving.
I wondered why this Cuban colleague spoke the most non accented English I had ever heard. It's because she learned it in Napanee Ontario.
If you really really really want to get married, the 'Club de Chevere' in Kholy is the place to do it. Beautiful dance floor, lovely stage, indoor/outdoor gem of a room set in bowl of lush tropical vegetation.
Course it helps to have Havana de Primera as the band.
Manolito at the Thursday matinee at Cafe Cantante. Ooops, Manolito is cancelled, it's Chispa. Discusión. Sorry Chispa.
Every tomato salad in Havana is the best tomato salad ever in the history of tomato salads.
La casa de Robertico. Finally get a chance to reveal my true feelings about the original version of Marylou.
Turns out that Van Van's "Esta te Pone La Cabeza Mala" was recorded at La Tropicale.
Now that I stay in Vedado, going back to Centro Havana is like entering a noise chamber for the testing of ear plugs....
Good to know that the strobe light at Casa de La Musica Miramar is still working. And working.
Always a pleasure to see Leoni Torres. What a sweet guy he is.
The jiniteras and chicas of C de la Musica just aint what they used to be.
Cuba has many many issues, but developing music talent is not one of them. Watch Rodney Barretto for a few minutes.
Alexander Abreu is a big Black man with lots of grace and presence. And then there are those songs.
I was recognized three times in one day because of Facebook.
Alas, one of my favorite personaities of Havana is no longer there. Her name was Dore, she sold the records on Neptuno west of Galliano. I used to enjoy sending the hottest Canadian women to her store.
On the streets of Havana. In 05,06 it was salsa vs reggaeton. Reggaeton won.
Fascinating story from a graduate student who received a knock on her door one day. It was state security, and they were there to recruit her into their information analysis section. They knew everything about her.
Cuban people live under a 'doble bloqueo'.
Damn, am missing Yusa again. This is getting serious.
Flying to Havana via Veradero is not really worth it unless you are paying $100 CAD for your ticket. Too long a drive...
Calle 23 y Avenida G (Presidente). I am learning what to look for. The freakies (rock and roll kids) the government sponsored trova singers, the reggaeton party. The cops....
Bombing around Playa at night in an original VW bug trying to explain to Ileana how useless these things were in the snow.