Sierra Maestra, The Dome, Tufnell Park, London
Reviewed by Jon Lusk
Wednesday 05 August 2009
When Juan de Marcos González left Cuban son revivalists Sierra Maestra in 1998 after two decades with them, it was in order to fry bigger fish as talent scout, arranger and tres player with Afro-Cuban All Stars and the Buena Vista Social Club. While many of the veterans who made up the latter group are no more, the band he co-founded are still soldiering on, with five original members appearing at their latest London show.
The frumpy acoustics and static lighting of The Dome in Tuffnell Park may be a far cry from Carnegie or the Royal Albert Hall, but its old-fashioned dance hall ambience somehow seems appropriate for Sierra Maestra's sturdy, no-frills take on Cuban son. The genre they set about rejuvenating in the late 1970s is an umbrella term for a wide range of folk styles that reached its zenith of popularity during the 1920s. In the 1960s, son became one of salsa's main ingredients, and the swivelling couples on The Dome's half-empty dance floor make that much clear as they wait for the band to arrive.
The question on many fans' lips is: have Sierra Maestra managed to find a suitable replacement for star vocalist José Antonio "Maceo" Rodríguez, who died in 2005? The answer is a resounding "yes". Like his predecessor, Jesús Bello is a small, effervescent man with a huge, brassy tenor voice and a guitar. With all the skill and charisma of a circus ringmaster, he lures the parts of the crowd who've stopped dancing. He shares the vocals with founder members Alberto "Virgilio" Valdés and Luis Barzaga. With five out of the nine men onstage playing percussion (congas, bongos, cowbell, güiro scraper, maracas and the ubiquitous clave rhythm on sticks), the melodies are largely carried by the three singers, the piquant trumpet of Yelfris Valdés Espinosa and Emilio Ramos' slithering workouts on tres – a small, chiming guitar with three pairs of strings.
The pulsing changüí "Juan Andres" (with Barzaga on lead vocals) is a promising new song, although marred slightly by an over-enthusiastic bongo solo from relative youngster Eduardo "Ñiquito" Rico. Old favourites include "No Me Llores Más", "Camina Como Chencha" and an extended take on "Mi Música Es Tu Música" (from the soundtrack to the French film Salsa).
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Crystal meth addict 'gouged out his eyes and ate them' while high on drug, Australian MP claims
- 2 Saudi Arabia 'seeking to head United Nations Human Rights Council'
- 3 Group of students refused entry to Leicester nightclub 'because they are black'
- 4 Irish people are travelling home from all over the world so they can vote to legalise gay marriage
- 5 Arsenal fan asks the Queen for tickets to the FA Cup final - gets a reply from Buckingham Palace
Cannes Film Festival rejects women from red-carpet screening of pro-LGBT romance 'Carol' for not wearing high heels
'We didn't really think we'd get away with it': The astonishing story of how two young Irish men completed an audacious £7m art heist
Game of Thrones rape scene criticised as 'disgusting' by US senator Claire McCaskill who says she's 'done' with show
Beyonce angers fans by pouring expensive champagne into hot tub in Nicki Minaj 'Feeling Myself' video
Eurovision 2015: Armenia's Genealogy forced to change song title in wake of 'too political' Armenian Genocide claims
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
Report finds that Britain's wages are the most unequal in Europe
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland