Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Bamboleo Shows Who's Boss
Lazaro Valdes y su Bamboleo @ Star Lounge
Late Sunday night, I made my way to the DC suburbs in Virginia to see Bamboleo, one of Cuba's legendary timba bands. Back in the late 90s, Bamboleo made waves with their urban sound and look. Recalling the sleek sophistication of a late 70s funk band like Chic, Bamboleo broke the norm by featuring a powerful pair of female lead singers, Vannia Borges and Haila Monpie. The band's personnel has morphed since then (like most timba bands), as first-gen fans are eager to point out, but maestro Lazaro Valdes maintains the Bamboleo trademark with current leading lady Tania Pantoja. Her young, "Generation Y" Cuban fans were ready and waiting for her at Annandale's Star Lounge when I arrived, just after La Tremenda had finished their opening set.
Have you ever noticed that timba bands don't stop to talk to the audience between songs, they talk to the audience during the songs, which are usually extended dance versions with added coros and transitions? They hit the stage like water on greasefire, and the show never lets up. Here's Tania giving the welcoming shout out during the band's opening number:
Having seen Pupy y Los Que Son Son and Manolito y Su Trabuco earlier this year, I have a widening database of live Cuban timba bands to compare this to. They all use a little different orchestration, and a little different take on the timba mix of styles of influences. Each band has a "mastermind" or main songwriter/director, with the rest made up of some combination of long-time associates and younger, renewable parts (especially singers). Renewable is not to say interchangeable; a lot rides on the "who's who" of who is singing or playing with which band, when, and often it lends each era in a band's recording and performance history its own classic character, even when the same material is repeated. The repertoire is the soul of the band, evergreens mingling with new innovations as the dance bands constantly battle each other for the Cuban public's attention.
In the case of Bamboleo--like Pupy and Manolito--the "mastermind" is the pianist/keyboardist, Lazaro Valdes. Timba bands also tend to have BOTH a piano and synth keyboard (or "teclado") player, so the setup for Bamboleo was interesting: One guy alone played both piano and traditional synth keyboards, which were mounted together on one stand, while Lazaro in the frontline wielded a Roland AX-Synth.
Here's what I could piece together of the personnel list: Maykel Rojas (trumpet), Tony Garcia Gonzales & Alejandro (sax), Karel Samada Fernandez (pianista/tecladista), Lazaro Valdes (keyboards/leader), Tania Pantoja and Ronnys Lopes Salas (vocalists), Juan Aguilera Noris (drumset), Alexander Sanchez (timbales), Roberto ("tumbadora" aka congas), Cachito (a dedicated guiro player). The bass player switched out instruments, carrying his rock bass piggyback at times when opting for the electric upright.
I talked to dancing timbalero Alexander Sanchez, who says the Dolce & Gabbana symbol just happens to be popular right now (some of Manolito's younger guys were also sporting it). It's his first time touring in the States, since he joined Bamboleo only about 5 or 6 years ago. Before that, he spent 4 years with Pachito Alonso y sus kini-kini.
The set was about an hour and a half, and I recognized a lot of songs from their most recent albums, 2010's Quien Manda? (also released as Vengo A Lo Cubano) and 2006's Mi Verdad.
Here is Tania singing "Los Guapos" from the new album:
Bamboleo singer Ronny
The "audience participation" number, a chestnut of any live timba show, was the rumba-based "Atrevimiento" from the album Mi Verdad. There are some great dancers here, especially the guy in all-white dancing rumba:
My favorite, most unpredicted moment of the night was this funky mambo version of "Tequila" as a mashup with The Beatles' "Come Together." Is this recorded somewhere? Sometimes these guys sound strikingly like an American funk, rap or R&B band, but with all the energetic rhythmic underpinnings of timba. Pretty infectious:
This crowd was smaller than those for Manolito and Pupy in DC, probably owing a lot to the fact that it was a Sunday night. All these shows happened in different venues with different promoters, so it's hard to know the effects of such variables on turnout. It's also hard to figure out if we are making headway or not, as far as developing a timba tour network that may, one day, stretch into the Southeast?
Having played a great show, with one power ballad (not something you hear in Pupy's shows or albums, by contrast), the encore set was modest, taking it out with the title track from Bamboleo's 1999 heydey recording, Ya No Hace Falta: