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Articles Illustration: Laura Llópiz. Illustration: Laura Llópiz.

Cuban albums of 2021 (chosen by critics)

In 2021 some artists stepped into the spotlight with the best albums of their careers so far. Others filled our hearts and ears with expectations of what may come next. But, despite having been a strange year, in which at times we had the feeling that nothing was happening, good music could be found if we listened carefully.  

This list, with the best Cuban music albums of 2021, was made from the votes of collaborators and members of the team of Magazine AM:PM: Joaquín Borges Triana, Leannelis Cárdenas, Iván Egüed, Darsi Fernández, Diana Ferreiro, Yansert Fraga León, Pepe Gavilondo, Rafa G. Escalona, Nahela Hechavarría, Marcel Lueiro, Agapito Martínez, Raúl Medina, Carla Mesa, Pistacubana, Rogelio Ramos, Daniel Danko Rosete, Lorena Sánchez, Meily Téllez and Rafael Valdivia.

These are the phonograms that we consider essential and that made us vibrate during the last 365 days.

The food / Cimafunk (Therapy Productions) 

Almost four years after the release of their debut album, Terapia, Cimafunk returns with a highly anticipated album: The food. And he serves it to us at a buffet table full of Afro-Cuban sounds seasoned with rhythms like funk, hip hop and soul; and luxury guests such as, among others, Chucho Valdés, George Clinton, CeeLo Green. A new milestone in the artist's career who can make you dance in this new year, if you didn't do it in 2021. 

Flies of fire (the concert) / Roly Berrio (Hummingbird) 

Until we finally have a record? that collects Roly as it should be, live and direct. Under the tutelage of Alain Pérez in the musical production, and with his home in El Mejunje as the stage, Berrío displayed his charms as a poet, musician and showman which were magnificently captured in this dvd made by Igor Studio, which we hope, sooner rather than later, will transcend YouTube and arrive on music platforms. Meanwhile, we will have to go there (or pirate it, that's why we are in Cuba) to enjoy one of the most exceptional artists of contemporary Cuba. At a time when everything seems to invite confrontation, Roly tells us “it's already good and handsome, that in Cuba what is needed is affection”. Lucky for us that we have made his songs.

two languages / Ruy Adrián López-Nussa (Bis Music)

Ruy Adrián López-Nussa was always an inspired and virtuoso drummer, but he waited until he matured enough, even as a composer (properly) to set out to make his mark. of a first phonogram. The idea of using the baroque Martí Theater as a stage, empty of public, creates a mysterious atmosphere that adds beauty to the result. The careful conception of the repertoire, of the formats and guests (all great artists and friends of the protagonist) denote a formidable teamwork and derive in a beautiful, consistent material, of high artistic carats. kudos!

Cuban Soul / Leoni Torres (Puntilla Music) 

In 2021, Leoni Torres, a cautious artist, focused on his work reaching large audiences, decided to "get involved" with traditional music. The result is this amazing album, which goes from bachata to bolero, from son to changüí, from guaracha to troubadour song. A very clean, acoustic phonogram, with the septet as the main formation, and very romantic, where we can also see the marks of Kelvis Ochoa —author of five songs on the record and musical producer together with Leoni himself and Leonardo Gil Milián—. Contemporary traditional music, as defined by the interpreter of hits as Loneliness, which comes to remind us how much he can unfold musically. 

inside / Telmary (Hummingbird)

Telmary premiered its fourth phonogram in mid-2021. This production has the strength of a tsunami, a woman's claw and a natural flavor. Here what sounds like miscegenation: afrobeat with hip hop, jazz, funk, timba, electronic and total Cuban music. An LP, with nine songs, which had the special collaboration of Omara Portuondo, Pedrito Martínez, Alexander Abreu, Osaín del Monte, the Brazilian Munir Hossn and the Spanish Ana Torroja, along with other greats of the Cuban music scene. A brilliant ajiaco overflows on this album, a sound definition of the good musical work that they always bring us Telmary Díaz and Habana Sana as a gift, defending what they feel, with spirit and feeling. 

No Comments / Adonis and Osain del Monte (Egrem) 

If you want to know what the current panorama of rumba is in Cuba, this is a more than appropriate album. With a great capacity to summarize contemporaneity drinking from various influences that other genres and styles have had in recent years in the rumba demonstrations, and at the same time traveling to tradition when rigor requires it, Adonis and Osain del Monte they give us an ambitious phonogram that seems to be called to set guidelines. In order not to lose certain essential ideas of this album, we recommend listening to its songs in the precise order in which it is designed. 

Voyager / Ivan Cantaloupe Lewis (Cezzane Productions)

Ivan Cantaloupe Lewis, the pianist from Pinar del Río who made history with Issac Delgado, has released an album this year in which he displays all his skills as a composer and instrumentalist. Voyager, for which he won the 2021 Latin Grammy Award in the category of Best Latin Jazz Album, is a journey through the musical DNA of an artist forged in the effervescent scene of the 90s and with a very particular technique that draws from both jazz more exquisite as the fiercest timba as can be seen in the piece that opens the album, 90's, and in that delight that he performs alongside Gonzalo Rubalcaba and which is called The Traveler 1. The result is a delightfully anachronistic album, a perfect escape from the uncertainties of this unanswered present.

Mendo / Alex Cuba (Caracol Records)

Guitar in hand and without fear of swimming in whatever musical genre has grazed his eardrums, Alex Cuba brings us Mendo, a beautiful album with both moving and intimate songs. The artist, based in Canada, shows us subject after subject that physical distance does not affect his connection with Cuban rhythms one bit. Within the guests of this album there are well-recognizable voices of music in our language such as Gilberto Santa Rosa, Antonio Carmona and the explosive Cimafunk, who complement Alex throughout the phonogram, displaying their wide musical range.

Cha Cha Cha. Tribute to the traditional / Issac Delgado, Alain Pérez and Orquesta Aragón (Egrem- El Carro Records)

If there is a genre of Cuban popular music that can be considered transcendent, that is the chachachá. Originated in the 50s of the last century, as a result of the evolution of dance, the contradanza, the minuet, the danzón, the rumba and the mambo, its "danceability" and freshness have brought it alive and kicking until our days. There is the fireproof Aragon Orchestra to prove it and two of the best soneros and singers in Cuba. Brothers-in-law and compadres by way of affection, Issac Delgado and Alain Pérez, with their acting abilities, their good taste and their swingThey are like midas kings of Cuban music. The combination is too good to fail. 

Will it be over / Alexander Abreu and Havana D´ Primera (Unicornio- Páfata Productions)

The path taken by Alexander and his group had been telling us for some time that this was a logical step in their evolution. Recounting a stage that he himself knows by heart, and of which he is currently his most faithful follower, is a project that is appreciated, timely, but also risky. Above all because the considerable number of songs chosen contains a diversity of styles, rhythms and arrangements of orchestras that are very different from each other. Adapting those songs to Havana D' Primera and not distorting them when facing the memory of the dancers is what Alexander seems to have achieved with his musicians in most of the songs on this massive album. 

Other recommended discs: 

Changüí: The Sound of Guantánamo / Various Authors (‎Petaluma Records) 

Silvio Rodriguez with Diakara / Silvio Rodriguez (Hopefully)

Without sauce there is no paradise / Aymee Nuviola (Top Stop Music)

50 degrees / Kelvis Ochoa (Bis Music)

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