Ska, that primal Jamaican sound that first shook the Western world in the early Sixties, revitalised British music 25 years ago when The Specials and Madness charged the charts with their party groove. Since then ska has become an international music form - big in Japan and Spain - yet largely forgotten in the UK.
Or so it seemed: Ska Cubano are gaining more attention than any home-grown ska band since the 1980s 2-Tone pioneers. Perhaps the interest is because Ska Cubano, as the name suggests, aren't 100 per cent British. Led by south London face Natty Bo, the Camberwell-meets-Santiago outfit mix ska and mambo to create a sound that's both nostalgic and new.
Ska Cubano's roots rest in Natty's band The Top Cats, mainstays on the European ska circuit. The investment banker Peter A Scott's desire to fuse ska and mambo found Natty in Cuba inventing Ska Cubano. Their self-titled debut album two years ago suggested a band on the verge of finding a new fusion. Their second album, Ay Caramba!, fulfils the potential. Having triumphed at Glastonbury, Ska Cubano arrived at the Academy sounding ready to take on the world. The 12-piece band are fronted by Natty and Cuban vocalist Beny Billy. With four horns and three percussionists they cook up a huge sound that keeps the audience dancing for two hours.
Natty Bo, a white Londoner who speaks with a Jamaican accent and wears a brilliant mohair zoot suit, is not much of a singer but, boy, can he hustle. Beny Billy, wearing a zoot suit and trilby, has a beautiful voice and quieter presence. Together they're a musical Butch and Sundance, pushing the horns to blow harder and the dancers to move faster.
But the blend is not yet seamless: the relentlessly upbeat ska rhythms leave Beny's Cuban ballads sometimes sounding uncomfortable. Several slower arrangements would have played to Beny's strengths. But then Natty would have been at a loss, his cartoonish pimp persona not being suited to reflective music.
But reflection is not what Ska Cubano are about. They're out to deliver an old-fashioned knees-up and they do this, winning you over with sheer exuberance.Reuse content