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Reviews Cover of Modo Van Van. Taken from the Facebook profile of the group.

Van Van Mode / Los Van Van Van

At the end of 2023, after a long wait (and I am not exaggerating when I say it, if we take into account what represents a three-year period in the digital era), the album was presented. Van Van modethe most recent production of the legendary band. 

The group, an icon within the Cuban popular dance music, is rightfully elevated to a patrimonial rank with its 54 decades of trajectory: more than half a century in the company of demonstrating that yes, "here you can dance better".

This is the fourth album in the process of reinvention and continuity of a legacy. The band's goal is to show itself in good health and attractive to a young audience, mostly alien to this musical style. Thinking of them, they bet on a proven formula that accelerates the rhythm and takes care of the transit between old cadences and others with a certain evolution. 

The disc has an approximate duration of 45 minutes. Short and lively; a montuno to shake your feet. The nine songs, mostly unreleased, make a social sweep on the dynamics of social networks, loves, heartbreaks, gossip... 

As usual, another composition by Juan Formell appears, titled Land, sea and sky. This, together with Perfectly imperfectby Jorge Leliebre, in the voice of Vanessa Formell, are the songs on the album aimed at a female audience. Both are carriers of stereotyped messages, lacking a gender perspective, with prejudices that are even more reinforced when sung by a woman.

Image taken from the Facebook profile of the group.

With so many threads to pull on in this macho society, it would be desirable to show different nuances that overcome frequent topics such as sexualization, frivolity, submissive dependence, among others. An orchestra of their caliber already surprised us once by summoning a woman to their roster. Now they could set notions within dance music, and even society. 

Following the tradition of portraying popular aspects of our reality in their songo, this time they chose the ins and outs of Internet connectivity: the service that is incorporated late and with damages. 

Van Van mode starts the disc while inviting you to enter into a danceable state. Blah, blah, blah virtual entanglements, and You have to stopas well as Friendship requestis similarly fortunate. 

No matter how plausible the plot, flooding a proposal with technological jargon is tantamount to setting in motion the machinery of obsolescence. It feels forced to want to connect with the younger generation. As an example, the chorus of Amiga mía (disc Legacy, 2017), which read "Mamita, download Imo," an app popular at the time but hardly used anymore. 

Lovelessness and fraternity make up another thematic block. Come, give me a hug is an enjoyable song in general terms, although it fails for condensing too many hackneyed phrases at once. The instrumentation is highlighted by the violins and trombones, and the electronic sounds are appreciated, which, together with the tempo changes, avoid monotony. 

The song is performed by Mandy Cantero, who also repeats in the piece. Canta la Ceibaby Calixto Cayava -the only versioned piece to close this phonogram-. Here every long-time vanvanero can take a sip of nostalgia.

With lyrics that in their first segment sound like the orchestra of decades ago, after the coro everything happens: Samuel's solos on drums (a recurring resource), and the singer's inspiration that rides behind the rhythm of the song. Those who have listened to the previous arrangement will notice that this one is more dynamic and doubles the flavor. 

Musically, the volume fulfills its assignments. The sonority is unmistakable, although it does not explore beyond its comfort zone. Limiting experimentation seems to be part of the method of maintaining the band's hallmark. This leads to recycling refrains and known passages in the new songs -simulating a great potpourri- which, in the long run, detracts from the novelty of the album. One is left with the sensation of having listened to pieces of a puzzle capriciously put together. 

One element to highlight is the guests on the album, since it is a new generation that is being integrated. Miguel Ángel Rasalps on the piano, played the bridge from Friendship request, while Jonathan Formell played the electric guitar solo on Land, sea and sky.

Image taken from the Facebook profile of the group.

As far as lyrics are concerned, it is worth reviewing certain points. An orchestra like Los Van Van does not need to chase trends. Nor should it have the luxury of exchanging poetry for acceptance as it adjusts to the times.

At the mention of this, I am reminded of the song Montuno (disc Chaping2004) when he questions:

"Is it possible 

Composing a montuno

With a deep text

And that it's good for dancing?

The question remains valid today, if we take a closer look at the triviality of certain texts in the album, in which one can appreciate a plain, uncomplicated verse, drowned out by the prevalence of contagious choruses. 

Likewise, other vices appear: the confrontation with that omnipresent enemy, of which there is so much talk in popular dance music; the eagerness to emphasize continuity, the fierce defense of the legacy, and the reference to the Grammy that dates back to 1999.

The pop-style cover design insists on the simple concept that defines the album's title. The production was released under the record label Amboss Media and Bis Music, dedicated to the memory of Juan Carlos Formell, bassist, composer and arranger of the group, who passed away a few months ago. 

This is an eminently danceable work, devoid of large-scale hits that reverberate in houses, parties and "motorinas" throughout the island. Van Van mode serves as a sign of life until the next update is released. 

Imperishable music is born of the times, the contexts, and the people who create it. It is not always fortunate that the elements crystallize into masterpieces. It is necessary to accept that the orchestra is taking paths dictated by the moment it is living, and perhaps it is not fair to measure it with the yardstick of its founders. Regardless of how eventful the future may be, it will certainly always be Van Van.

Eusebio Linares Barthelemi More posts

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