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Revelation and truth

Robby and Negro at the Third World War
Robby and Negro at the Third World War
By Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez y Robby Ameen

American Clavé: 2004

Buy it now

This review first appeared in the Autumn 2004 issue of Turbula.

Bunch of damn music snobs, these critics in the paper. Always writing about some weird band you've never heard of, when what you really want to know is whether the new album from Britney/Mariah/Coldplay/Alan Jackson is as good as the last one that had you dancing all over house, laughing with your friends, crying when you drove home from breaking up.

Don't these critics like anything normal? Why can't they review music the rest of us actually want to hear?

Good questions all, and fair.

But take a look at things from the reviewer's point of view. Thousands of CDs are released each year, and the record companies and bands send a good chunk of them to your loyal correspondent. Most of them you'll never hear about, much less hear on the radio – generally with good reason. Being a music reviewer too often seems like being a judge on early season episodes of "American Idol." After awhile, you start thinking the world is full of William Hungs.

And then after you've just listened to about the eight hundredth Coldplay knockoff in the last week, sometimes something magical happens. Something like Panamanian singer Rubén Blades turning the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" inside out. Gets you to stop whatever you're doing. Play it again to see if that was really the Stones turned into as hot a salsa number as you ever heard. Then you play it one more time to marvel at how much Blades sounds like Jack Bruce, the singer and bassist for Cream all those years ago.

At which point you look at the jacket the CD came out of and see that it's by someone you, music critic, haven't heard of before – two Cuban drummers name of Robby Ameen and Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez.

Now you're hooked. The rest of the album is just as sizzling as that opening track. The rhythms fly by in a torrent, faster than you can possibly take them in. The piano and vocals combine with the drumming to create this incredible trance-like effect that is unlike anything you've ever heard before, and you thought that you, as critic, knew something about Cuban music.

There's a groove here deeper than night, a spirituality that transcends language and culture and politics. You find yourself forcing your friends to listen to this track or that; putting the disc in the stereo at your sister's house – without actually asking first. You're a believer now, and this disc is your bible.

And so it's not snobbery that makes the music critic want to write about "Robby and Negro at the Third World War" – it's excitement. The excitement of a new find you want to share, of a whole passel of songs you can't get out of your head, of a band none of your friends have heard of but has you more excited about music than at any time since you were in high school.

Only in thinking about it, you realize it's more than excitement. This CD is revelation – musical truths and gifts passed on to us that must be shared with the world.

Even if the world thinks it would rather hear about Mariah, Maroon 5 or Nelly.