Subtitled ‘Funky sounds from Cuba & Miami 1973-1988’ DJ John Armstrong’s compilation does exactly what it says on the tin.
A skilfully compiled 20 track survey, Cuban Funk Experience surveys a wide spectrum of Latin funk and at the same time highlights the different styles developed by Cuban émigrés and those who didn’t leave the homeland after the revolution.
Armstrong writes in the insightful sleeve notes that “The two most populous Cuban conurbations are Havana and Miami, yet the widely differing styles of funk produced suggest a gulf somewhat more complex than 90 miles of water.” Never a truer statement written. The influence of American blues and soul on the music of the Miami funksters is evident. Hip-shaking songs by Coke and Luis Santi are shaped by popping bass lines and chunky brass riffs while Peter Fernandez serves up an irresistibly sashaying pop tune with his version of ‘Borriquito’.
If a host of American artists, from Otis Redding and James Brown through to the Rolling Stones loom large over Miami-Cuban funk, its Havana cousin draws from a suitably wide range of influences. Cuban funk tends to have looser vibe, distinctly jazzier and supported by the full range of Afro-Cuban rhythms. Grupo Monumental (the name says it all really), a 13-piece band, plays unstoppable grooves on two tracks – ‘Yo Si Que Estoy a La Moda’ and ‘Hasta Las Cuantas’. There are strong showings from legendary bands Los Van Van and Irakere and plenty of other rarer gems too, like the perky shuffle of Los Reye 73’s ‘Un Lamento Hecho Cancion’.
What Armstrong also achieves with this mix is to demonstrate the variety of music and rhythms – Songo, Afro-Cuban, Mozambique and so many more – employed by funk bands from both Havana and Miami. Funk gets a bad rep for being samey but that is simply not a problem here. Cuban Funk Experience is a satisfying snapshot of an important period in the island’s musical history.