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Havana Diaspora

Putumayo Presents Afro-Latin Party
Putumayo Presents Afro-Latin Party
By various artists

Putumayo World Music: 2005

This review first appeared in Turbula in May 2005.

If you were offered the complete catalog of any label for free, which would you take? It's a tough choice: Blue Note for the jazz? Alligator or Arhoolie for the blues? Rounder for a little bit of everything?

Those who have truly broad-ranging tastes, though, just might hold out for Putumayo World Music. Over the past 12 years, Putumayo's world beat compilations have established it as the premiere world music label – more even than such stalwarts as EMI's HEMIsphere or Ellipsis Arts. The distinctive, stylized cover art combines with the bright, uptempo music to make every Putumayo release a treasure.

Their latest compilation, "Afro-Latin Party," takes in bands from Africa, Cuba, the United States and even Croatia! Tying the 10 tracks together is the Cuban son beat, derived from the Iberian rhythms of the Spanish conquistadors and the more complex patterns the African slaves brought with them.

As with all Putumayo releases, each of the eight bands featured here is profiled in a short but informative biography. In reading about the different bands here, one learns that Cuban dance music was all the craze in African cities in the middle of the last century as 78s and then LPs began making their way into that continent's record stores. Which explains why a producer from Senegal would have put together a West African salsa band (Africando), or why Congo's Ricardo Lemvo plays Cuban salsa music.

You can also learn about Pepe & the Bottle Blondes, a Latin band from Portland, Ore.; or Ska Cubano, a Jamaican-Cuban blend that was formed when a London producer took Jamaican musicians to Cuba, or Cubismo – a salsa band from Zagreb, Croatia.

No matter where they hail from, though, the music these bands makes all drips with warm Caribbean sunshine derived from the son beat, the bright horn charts and the love of life endemic to Cuban music.