Mista Savona Presents ‘Havana Meets Kingston’ (Baco) 5/5 & 4/5

Long overdue, given the geographic proximity of these two musically historic Caribbean Islands. Cuba and Jamaica brought so much music to the world over the decades, roots reggae, dub and dancehall and son, salsa, rumba and Afro-Cuban which has been exported far and wide, from entirely different political situations. Bringing together 52 artists (that’s one for each week of the year), including from Cuba – Barbarito Torres (Buena Vista Social Club), Félix Baloy (Afro-Cuban All Stars) Changuito (Los Van Van), Rolando Luna (Buena Vista Social Club); and from Jamaica Sly & Robbie, Bongo Herman, Ernest Ranglin, Burro Banton Prince Alla, to name just a few, this release totally rocks from start to finish. What is more astounding is took an Australian, Mista Savona (aka Jake Savona), to bring it all together as a producer. The project also goes on global tour in 2018 starting from March in Australia. Not sure if this means an entourage of 52 musicians as logistically that might be a challenge but the concept is massive all the same as a release. There are too many tunes on this set which meet the expectation of standout and for different reasons. ‘Chan Chan’ starts as you would expect until the double rim shot around 30 seconds signals a different bubbling drum and bassline recipe which just chugs along so sweetly that you could keep it on play all day (and night for that matter!). And the vocals are majestically delivered on this by Maikel Ante, Félix Baloy, Solis and Eugenio Rodriguez. ’Carnival’ featuring Solis & Randy Valentine is a blazing bi-lingual (Spanish/English) tune complete with a massive horns version that celebrates the biggest celebration of them all. ‘100 Pounds of Collie’ feat. Cornel Campbell (who also did the original version), Prince Alla, the Jewels, Leroy Sibbles, Cali P, Lutan Fyah & Exile Di Brave – what a line up – chanting on the virtues of the herb. ‘Fisherman Row’ has Prince Allah rounding up the release in a fine style singing for the fisherman Rastaman leaving Babylon and reaching ashore on another land. It’s a fitting ending for a release that connects two neighbouring islands in the Caribbean that have given the world such good vibes. If I had to be stranded on an island with a complete album from 2017, this would be it, as it is one of the most original and outstanding releases of this dramatic and turbulent year.

Haji Mike Rating 5/5

When ska ruled the waves in Jamaica, the Cuban-Jamaican musical connection was at its height and several Jamaican instrumentalists and singers could point to Cuban family roots there. These included Roland Alphonso and Lionel Aitken among others. Stylistically, Cuban piano vamps were sometimes a feature of ska in the early-mid 1960s (taking the Latin-soul music of Mongo Santamaria as a model), but with this brand new project, recorded at Egrem studios in Havana, by DJ/producer Mista Savona, aka Australian producer Jake Savona, that music connection has been given a major update, while still being faithful to the roots of Cuban and Jamaican music traditions respectively.

An ‘A’ grade listing of musicians includes Sly and Robbie, the Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers of reggae music, percussionist Bongo Herman and guitarist Ernest Ranglin, while for the Cuban component, Rolando Luna from the Buena Vista Social Club conglomerate and Barbarito Torres from Los Van Van are just some of the musicians that make this cross-fertilisation of styles so appealing. While some of the tinkering is minimal, elsewhere there is a genuine fusion of musical traditions and, as a whole, this works extremely well.

For the former, the cuatro intro to the anthemic, ‘Chan Chan’, then takes on a subtle Jamaican flavour with nyabinghi bongo, and reggae riddims courtesy of ace drummer Sly Dunbar. Another classic Cuban tune in, ‘El cuarto de Tula’, is a full steam ahead percussive outing complete with piano vamp and Spanish rap that definitely works and gives the song a more contemporary feel

For the latter, there is greater experimentation as on the instrumental version of ‘Carnival Horns’, which starts off as pure roots reggae, but then dramatically veers off back to the Cuban tradition, yet throughout the complementary styles play off one another organically. The vocal version, ‘Carnival’, has been released as a single and, with lyrics in Spanish and Jamaican patois, it sounds like the ideal song to showcase the album as a whole, and with the right amount of publicity, should ensure the music reaches a wide audience. A 50/50 split between Cuban and Jamaican music is achieved on ‘Vibración Positive’, where instrumentation and vocals effortless rub against one another and give off an intoxicating musical perfume.

While this record can never claim to even begin to solve the multiple social and more recently meteorological problems facing the Caribbean, it does at the every least bring a small ray of sunshine into our lives and that is no bad thing.

Tim Stenhouse Rating 4/5