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

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