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La Ritmo is calling me...

Revering the work of the Orquesta Ritmo Oriental is a noble gesture and, above all, an act of justice. To take out of ostracism iconic works of its repertoire to deliver them with renewed airs to the new generations is, at least, a fact of sober Cubanness, which denotes respect for the best of our tradition. That is what this album is all about.

La Ritmo is calling me is a sign of attention to one of the emblematic groups of the island, whose foundation reached its 65th anniversary, and on which inexplicably has fallen all the weight of oblivion. Formed under the charanga format, their works represent a vital part of the sonorous testimony of a golden era for Cuban music, in which the best and most valuable that has transcended in the danceable sphere coexisted in open competition. The unavoidable contributions of La Ritmo, as it is also known, have become essential nutrients in the process of sedimentation of the style of several musical lineups that make up that scene, and are materialized in a good part of the orchestral concepts in use, perceptible for a long time in each of them.

In this sense, the constant change and experimentation in the structures; the recurrence of the contracoros to the air, developed by the instrumentalists out of microphones as a response to the choruses made by the vocalists; the ingenuity of the percussive blocks and the effects generated with them, counteracting the repetitive character of the arrangements in most of the orchestras of the time, stand out in this sense. To all this must be added the scenic projection of its singers, which undoubtedly became a signaling element of the contemporary timba. These and other appreciable innovations remained as traces of the vast creativity of the troupe led by the legendary percussionist Enrique Lazaga, considered the most renowned güirero in and out of the island. 

That is why, when in 2022, the outstanding violinist Enrique Álvarez promoted his idea of creating the Encuentro Unión Charanguera with the aim of highlighting the importance, evolution and contemporary projection of the charanga format in Cuban musical history, he considered it fair and necessary to put the spotlight on the sixty-year-old orchestra, and to honor the figure of maestro Lazaga in its first edition. 

This was the ideal opportunity to materialize an album in sound and audiovisual support, which would enhance the objective of the event from the phonographic point of view. And it is not surprising that it is precisely one of the branches of the fruitful trunk that represents the Álvarez family for the Cuban popular music, the one that has propitiated this production. Enrique Álvarez Navarro was joined by his son, Lázaro Álvarez del Risco, assuming the general and musical direction, respectively. For this, they had the approval of the record company Bis Music, whose cultural projection towards everything that represents the preservation of tradition from current approaches, is already recognized in the guild of the national music industry. 

La Charanga Latina, a father and son band, is the protagonist of this endeavor. But this is not just another product in the orchestra's career. On the contrary, it is a phonographic document whose selection criteria, exquisite and wise, was made by Enrique Álvarez and José Manuel García, one of the most experienced music producers in Cuba in these times. Both took into account ten paradigmatic pieces from the repertoire of La Ritmo; those that were hits and made up the soundtrack of many generations of Cubans, among which the following stand out Mi socio Manolo and The mamey girlby Juan Crespo Maza; Chenche buchencheby Roberto Núñez Povea; And it is danced like thisby Enrique Lazaga; I dance all kinds of thingsby Rolando Vergara; Who says?by Rodulfo Vaillant; or La Ritmo is calling youby Tony Calá. Undoubtedly, the exhibition rescues an important part of our musical heritage, promoting the reissue of the good experiences of listening and enjoying a work of excellence.

Perhaps one of the album's greatest strengths lies in the youth of its orchestrators. Lázaro Álvarez and Maikel García BladeThe two musicians, who combined their skills as percussionist and pianist, respectively, proved to be a talented and effective duo in this field. The rhythmic knowledge of one merged with the harmonics of the other in an interesting creative laboratory that successfully met the challenge of performing versions of anthological themes. Carrying out this exercise put before them a universe in the open. Amazed by the original arrangements, they decided to bet on the marked balance between the traditional and their artistic concerns as creators of these times. At every step they respected the essences and, starting from the matrix, they contributed what they thought was appropriate in order to bring the sound result closer to the current market requirements. And they succeeded!

In their revisitations, the performance of the tumbao and the harmonic treatment of the brass stand out as two of the most outstanding features. In this process, recreating the percussion was one of the main challenges. The rhythm section, consolidated in its good times from the scaffolding built by the trident of Enrique Lazaga, Juan Claro Bravo and Daniel Díaz on the güiro, tumbadoras and timbal, which remained intact for more than thirty years, set itself apart from its peers. The young Álvarez respected the codes established in the past. His approach managed to recreate the sui generis set of timpani with tom-tom and bell on the foot that offered new rhythmic possibilities, defining the march in the style of La Ritmo. At the same time, he added modern elements to the typical bell ringing, and the result is commendable. 

The album brings together a valuable brotherhood of Cuban singers, recognized in the field of popular danceable music. Some of them had been part of the ranks of the charanga, such as Tony Calá and Pedrito Calvo, who here intervene as special guests. Others joined in a musical embrace, recognizing in the legendary group an essential part of their sonorous heritage. Thus, the spectacular voices of Mayito Rivera, Lachy Fortuna, Dayán Carrera, Maikel Dinza, Wil Campa, Diamante or Ronnie can be appreciated in the different grooves of the album. The phonogram also offers a priceless surprise that stimulates the springs of nostalgia, while adding wisdom, experience, and constitutes one of its greatest attractions: Enrique Lazaga himself was summoned to the tribute, who intervened with his interpretative mastery and was called to tears, as a tacit proof of his approval and gratitude. 

The Ritmo Oriental deserves many more efforts to preserve its memories and, above all, to bring it closer to the new generations of Cubans. This is only the first link, materialized as a live session, filmed at the National Museum of Fine Arts Theater under the direction of José Manuel García. It is enough to watch the first images and listen to the initial chords to appreciate the effectiveness and value of the proposal, the transcendence of the artistic event, the invitation to enjoy and appropriate a crucial part of our musical history.

By: Neris González Bello. 

Havana, December 2, 2022

Neris Gonzalez Bello More posts

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