Ska Cubano, Islington Academy, London

We're all going on a Cuban summer holiday
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The Independent Culture

Like many arranged marriages, things got off to a slightly awkward start. The musical hybrid created didn't seem to know whether to walk, run or swagger. But here we are a year later with a much better second album, which also embraces Colombian cumbia and Trinidadian calypso. This is a band clearly a lot more comfortable in their own skin. But tonight is the real test. I'm looking forward to hearing how well this project works live.

Years spent in hard-working London ska band The Top Cats, turning indifferent shoppers into happy boppers on street corners and in malls around the country, has turned Ska Cubano's leader and lead singer Natty Bo into a supremely skilled rouser of audiences. Therefore tonight's Islington crowd - who have actually paid to see the man and his band - are a doddle to win over. Dressed in a curiously plastic-looking white suit and matching beret, he periodically jumps down from the stage, arms chopping up and down in time to the music, and by sheer force of will, gradually gets the whole house moving. We reserved Brits clearly need someone like Natty to holiday-rep us into having a good time, and this music has been expressly designed for that purpose.

The would-be hits are delivered one after the other by the nine-piece, four-brass strong band as if nothing were more important in the world, and each superlative musician has their moment in the spotlight to deliver a concise but effective solo. Notably the elegant and strikingly beautiful Japanese saxophonist Megumi Mesaku (a star in her own right) whose quirky, intense solos get the biggest cheers of the evening. Then there's Beny Billy, a Cuban baritone crooner with a voice from the distant past, who shares vocal duties, and functions as the perfect foil to Natty's more strident, declamatory style. He's probably the only singer alive who could deliver the rumba-heavy melodrama that is "Tabu" without tipping it over into self-parody.

The set is a seamless mix of rejuvenated covers (for example, the Carry-On Calypso of "Big Bamboo" - with its double entendres) and their own new material such as the obscenely catchy title track of the new album Ay Caramba!. Ska Cubano may find most of their inspiration in the past, but their future looks very promising indeed. The encore lasts almost as long as the set, and most of us go home sweat-soaked and happy.

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