Review: Manana//Cuba – A Night of Afro-Cuban Collaborations @ Barbican (London, 26th May 2017)

DSC09772 – soundspecies.jpg

That euphoric swelling an artist feels when they connect with their audience is what rumba musicians describe as ‘Manana’. The purity of this Cuban chemistry was the motivation behind the 2016 Manana//Cuba Festival in Santiago de Cuba, the Manana record label, and subsequently this month’s Barbican gig. Three friends are obeying their dream to unite the island’s rich musical heritage with modern electronic DJ culture, mixing EDM with a vast array of Afro-Cuban genres such as rumba, son and bata. This is not the next generation of Buena Vista Social Club but a newer younger crop with hi-tech edginess.

The night’s celebration was opened by DJs Soundspecies and renowned 8-piece rumba group Obbatuké. They spotlighted the Haitian aspects of Afro-Cuban music with a set bursting with groove as swinging clave rhythms resonated throughout the hall and backing dancers showed off their mellifluous moves. The weaving conga layers and subtle injections of psychedelic house beats gave space for the abundant band to showcase their impressive percussive talents.

A subset of players from Obbatuké joined forces with British electronic producers Plaid.  With fewer musicians on stage, the electronic and acoustic soundscapes became more evenly balanced.  Deeper bass, synth chordal progressions, burning spotlights and mambo chants forced the night to take a more contemporary turn, with many audience members ditching their seats as the rhythm infiltrated their hips.

The third act to perform was Ariwo, a newly formed quartet led by Iranian sound artist Pouya Ehsaei, including rising star trumpeter Yelfris Valdés. The strong background light silhouetted Valdes on stage, conjuring images of an out of this world invasion, a stage occupation.  The foursome used melodic ideas taken from common Cuban conga processions but weren’t able to take the crowd with them to the bustling streets of Havana.  The set lacked dynamics and felt a little flat throughout, however, the inclusion of solo dancer Miguel Altunaga Verdecia, frantically synchronising every cell in his body with the rhythm launched a fresh wave of energy throughout the pews.

Italian DJ Tennis closed the night with forceful, thrusting techno beats and moody overtones, bringing out the hedonistic clubbing side of the collective. He was teamed on stage with three master musicians (Alayo, Tito and Yelfris Valdés); each bewildering in their own right. However once mingled together in a live setting the troupe left a sense of undeveloped potential, with a lack of musical direction maybe due to the absence of rehearsal time.

For a stage bloated with excitement, the Barbican was much like a pass-me-down outfit that didn’t fit properly, not allowing the bands to exhibit the full shape and seductiveness of the music. However, the brains behind Manana are used to learning and improvising as they go along, so no doubt they’ll be ready to take it to the next level for future events.

The concept of the project preceded the execution, but at the end of the night, I felt a real sense of gratitude and pride. Many Cuban artists have never had the opportunity to share their music with a global audience and haven’t collaborated with worldwide electronic musicians. One night hanging around this too-cool, daring crew makes you want to join their gang. They are on the cutting edge of political changes, a creative movement, and are forming part of the morphosis of new Cuban culture. This was an event filled with moments of both the intensity of electronica and the spiritedness and manana of energy fresh from the shores of the Caribbean.

photo ©: Genki Nishida

Content Related To These Artists

Interview: Q&A with Soundspecies – ‘When Good Vibes Lie in the Genes’ (November 2018)

The Keen brothers (Henry and Oliver) have a special affinity for music. It’s well known that family members have tight vocal harmonies, but it’s not so common to find siblings who are “well-tuned” DJs and producers and share the decks. Soundspecies are one of these rare examples. The musical journey…

Artists: Soundspecies

Interview: Yelfris Valdés – The World of Yelfris Valdés (February 2018)

When it comes to Yelfris Valdés and his countless music projects, you can be sure of two things: their quality and ability to surprise you. No matter whether they are more Latin, Afro-Cuban, electronic, traditional, jazz-oriented, or just fundamentally expressing their author – like the upcoming debut EP titled The…

Artists: Yelfris Valdés

Review: Womad 2017 (Malmesbury, 30th July 2017)

This year, we only got a glimpse of the music bonanza offered by the Womad UK weekend. Our stay in Malmesbury consisted of a hit-and-run or a ‘toccata-and-fugue’, in-keeping with the musical topic, and saw us pay a visit to Charlton Park on the last day of the event. Still,…

Artists: Ariwo , Benjamin Zephaniah , Benjamin Zephaniah and The Revolutionary Minds , Chico Trujillo , King Ayisoba , Msafiri Zawose , Noureddine Khourchid , Noureddine Khourchid & the Whirling Dervishes of Damascus

Album Review: Ariwo – Ariwo [Manana Records, June 2017]

Ariwo‘s eponymous EP may only be four tracks long, but the length of the tracks gives it more of an album feel and, indeed, one on an opus level. Bridging an extraordinary cultural and global gap, this quartet is one part Iranian and three parts Cuban and explores the rich…

Artists: Ariwo

Review: AfroCubism Revisited @ Islington Assembly Hall (London, 23rd April 2017)

The concept behind the AfroCubism collaboration is to celebrate and unite some of Mali and Cuba’s hottest musicians and to explore their shared spirit of Afro-Cuban soul. In the Sixties, socialist Mali politics had close links to those of the new communist Cuban government, creating strong ties between the two…

Artists: Afrocubism , Bassekou Kouyate , Hammadi Valdés , Piki Bosh , Seckou Keita , Yelfris Valdés

Review: Ariwo & A Guy Called Gerald @ The Pickle Factory (London, 16th April 2016)

Ariwo are a little-known, and newly-established, world fusion act. Led by sound designer, Pouya Ehsaei, they are a quartet of celebrated instrumentalists exploring Afro-Cuban, Iranian and electronic atmospheres. Their ever-growing list of accolades and projects is immense, including trumpeter Yelfris Valdes’ participation in the Buena Vista Social Club, and Latin…

Artists: A Guy Called Gerald , Ariwo

Preview: La Linea Festival (London, 17th – 28th April 2016)

As it’s happening since 2001, for ten days in April, London sounds and plays Latino. The responsibility rests on ¡COMO NO! which, 15 years ago, started to organise one of the most chéveres Festivals of the London music scene. La Linea has indeed brought to the British capital some of the finest,…

Artists: A Guy Called Gerald , Adanovsky & Xavi y Los Imanes , Ana Moura , Ariwo , Baloji , Calexico , Chico Trujillo , Criolo , Daymé Arocena , La Yegros



There are no comments

Add yours

Get an exclusive FREE compilation album each month compiled by us
Just sign up to our FREE monthly newsletter
Your e-mail address will not be passed on to anyone!
Never display this again