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Reviews Album cover: Brianna McCarthy / Design: Pepe Menéndez. Album cover: Brianna McCarthy / Design: Pepe Menéndez.

Mendo / Alex Cuba

In Cuba, "mendó" means talent, grace, innate virtue. For the RAE, however, something "mendoso" does not look like any of these things. Failure, slip, blunder, that's what it looks like. While “mendó” is distilled from the Cuban sap, “mendoso” cracks with Iberian severity. You have to see, in this heads or tails, where Álex Cuba turns heads and where the coin will land. 

Eighth album, 11 songs, seven collaborations, one version and no tension. Mendo (Caracol Records, 2021) is an album with a serene, almost phlegmatic temperament. Since Álex Cuba quit smoking, behind his healthy breathing, he has a clearer voice with an almost pale coloration. He slides it through mambo, funk, flamenco, salsa, all on a jazzy foundation. And well, being a jazz player by training, everything flows wonderfully for him. 

The guest artist on duty also seems to be at peace with tempos and mixes. Perhaps because among the ingredients is the genre where he moves with pleasure. Just look at Gilberto Santa Rosa in Look at me, a Cuban point with a lot of tumbao in which, thanks to the mere appearance of his voice, he can take us back to love heavy and slimy that our parents idealized. Or Antonio Carmona interpreting Gypsy Heart, a song for the up-and-comers, for those who come with a lot of light and happiness, just because, as if to remember the times of Ketama. And to Cimafunk, who doesn't miss an opportunity to throw his party and radiate glow wherever you go. In talking x talking gives the notes to which we are accustomed, with that voice to which the sequins do not come off. In the end, all to taste. 

They sing sparse letters in which it is somewhat difficult to concentrate. They have a strange lethargic effect, the theme as a whole seems like a nebulous choir wearing away towards infinity, on a melodic base always prone to monotony. This impression is caused, above all, by for two

This ridiculous ballad would suffice to remind us that it is never essential to say something. It is not that expressing oneself is forbidden, but, paraphrasing a Sorrentino lesson, given through one of his characters: The world doesn't have to care about your pain. The problem is not your pain, but that your pain is not original. 

The songs sound good, it must be specified, and the composition in all of them is impeccable, but even in a theme that aspires to spread some joy like H x H jazzed up version of talking x talking, the album's energy remains subdued. Not simple, relaxing, or smooth. Faint.

They didn't want to tweak the initial ideas too much to keep the emotions intact and that's fine. But within the things to take care of, there is also time. If what we are humming does not exceed a minute, if that is the duration necessary to manage to concentrate an emotion, it is better not to delay it to reach the canonical 3:44. 

The cornerstone of the album's production, commented Álex Cuba, was intuition. Something magical, divinities manifesting themselves through the interiority of man, melodies dictated to the ear, nature expressing itself through the voice. It may be, who knows.  

Nobody really knows. 

The dilemma of spontaneity and revelations, especially in the case of Mendo, has a possible answer on the cover. It may be in my head, but in Álex Cuba's head there is a red nimbus with a cross destined, by the way, to the image of Jesus and a color palette reminiscent of a Russian icon. To paint an icon, you first had to see it in an epiphany. It could happen, but later, at the time of painting it, there was a consensual, traditional, very earthly visual language, mediating between man and the purity of vision. All the gold and stylized figures didn't reach as much light and landed in the scheme. because no one has that Midas touch. 

But there is a song, among all, that could make the most skeptical doubt. It came to him in one night, at the time when only illuminations can occur, and in silence he tried to write down what he had just heard.

From some pretty woman my paths were forged

From some pretty woman my paths were forged

Walking in a white night with the moon there in the sky

My shadow didn't scare me 

My shadow didn't scare me 

And now I am a new man. 

He put an end point and, with rhythms typical of the New World, created a New world. There is a thick landscape, with depth, something in it breathes. The song asks you to listen carefully, even if you don't understand it. The image comes first, the understanding later. That is important, an image arrives, with it its estrangement and beauty. The accompaniment, the choir, the voice of Lila Downs, the ups, the downs. Nothing is missing, nothing is left over. 

New world it is an exception for an album whose rule was not to have found the mendó. Nor, on the contrary, could it be said that everything in the attempt was mendacious. In heads or tails, in the end, the coin landed on its edge. 

In any case, from what fire was born New world? Divinities manifesting through man, melodies dictated to the ear, nature poured into the voice. It may be, who knows. 

Listen Mendo here.

Amalia Echemendia Amalia Echemendia Visual artist, enthusiastic whistler, drawer of formidable pencil tips. He laughs like a hyena. More posts

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