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  • Jonathan Widran

KIKI VALERA, Vacilón Santiaguero

Whether you want to do an intensely immersive dive into Cuban musical history or simply dance (fast and slow and always sexy) for 62 blissful inspiring and exciting minutes, there are a multitude of ways to experience cuatro Cubano master Kiki Valera’s epic second U.S. release Vacilón Santiaguero. 

On the historical side, listeners should stop their toe-tapping and finger snapping along with the brassy razzle dazzle and eclectic intoxicating rhythms long enough to learn that Valera enjoyed many distinguished years as director of La Familia Valera Mirando in Santiago de Cuba, a century old family group he is a descendent of and one of the most influential forces in Son Cubano, a hybrid genre blending elements of Spanish and African music that originated in the highlands of eastern Cuba in the late 19th century.

On a more personal level, Valera switched from his classical guitar at a conservatory to the cuatro when he saw a street musician playing it. His love for American jazz artists like Wes Montgomery, Chick Corea and Pat Metheny had a great impact on his developing artistry, which includes playing guitar, bass, clave and maracas.

All of which leads to this extraordinary ensemble album featuring 16 vocalists and instrumentalists blasting through Valera’s explosive, colorful arrangements of cherished traditional pieces – including two compositions by Valera’s father Felix that lay the creative and emotional foundation of the 12 track collection, the snappy, horn-fired call and response title track, a romp led by vocalist Carlos Cascante and El Aji de Cocina, a playful showcase for Valera’s dynamic and intricate string mastery. Other up-tempo jams sure to get listeners up dancing are “Funfunando,” the coro-harmony driven “El Penquito e’ Coleto” and whimsical, humorous “Mari-Juana,” while those seeking to sway along will enjoy the sweet serenade of the vintage vibes of “Pajaro Lindo” and “Sobre una Tumba una Rumba.”

However you choose to enjoy this remarkable album, you’ll leaving smarter about an essential form of music and in a better mood than when you trotted into the proverbial dance hall.


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