‘Putumayo Presents Afro-Cubano’ Is An Enjoyable Tribute To The Musical Roots, Connections Of Africa And Cuba

Courtesy: Putumayo World Music

Music that so many people call Latin and Spanish is neither Latin nor Spanish.  It is, at its root, African.  The bongos and congas that are so commonplace in “Latin” and “Spanish” music came from Africa. So did drums, such as timbales, and even other so-called Latin percussion.  Considering the very close connection between Latin and African music, World Music label Putumayo World Music has assembled a new compilation of songs that celebrates that connection in the form of Putumayo Presents Afro-Cubano.  Scheduled for release Friday, the 10-song collection is another enjoyable presentation from the famed World Music label.  Its appeal comes in part through its featured musical content, which will be discussed shortly.  The liner notes featured with the collection make for their own appeal and will be discussed a little later.  The digital download card that comes with the set rounds out its most important elements and will also be examined later.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the recording.  All things considered they make the collection yet another fully enjoyable offering from Putumayo World Music.

Putumayo Presents Afro-Cubano is hardly the first time that Putumayo World Music has ever released a compilation centered on music from Cuba.  It is also hardly the first time that the company has released a record centered on music from Africa.  It is something of a rarity though, for the company to release a compilation that bridges the music and cultures of both nations.  So to have music from both regions in one setting here is unique and welcome.  As pointed out in the liner notes (which will be addressed a little later), the music in this record comes from Cuba, as well as African nations, such as Congo, Angola, and Senegal.  That blending of nations’ cultures and music is evident right from the set’s opener, ‘Bessoka.’  Composed by Manu Dibango, the song comes by way of Cameroon.  The use of the marimba alongside Dibango’s distinct vocal style and delivery – he sings in his native tongue – alongside the African percussion make that obvious.  At the same time, listeners can hear how that instrumentation brings about thoughts of Cuba.  It is an interesting connection that is certain to engage and entertain audiences.

On another note, the sounds of Senegalese music are just as clear in ‘Femme Noire.’  Composed by the single-named Meissa, the stringed instrumentation and equally distinct vocal delivery style here immediately take listeners to the West African nation.  At the same time, the arrangement also boasts just as much of a clear link to Cuba as to Senegal.  That is made clear in the distinct sound of the guitar line.  There is a certain tinge (for lack of better wording) to the guitar line that immediately cries Cuba.  That blending of culture and music once again makes this another clear example of what makes the compilation’s primary content so important to its presentation.  It is hardly the last example of what makes the set’s musical content important.  ‘N’dona,’ which closes out the collection, is another way in which African and Cuban influences come together.

‘N’dona’ is an interesting addition to this compilation in that so much traditional music from that nation actually does already have some very close stylistic similarity to music from Cuba.  That is evidenced through the use of the percussion and guitars.  The similarity is likely due to the fact that for a certain period of time, Angola was colonized by Portugal, which is also connected musically and culturally with Spain and Latin America.  To that end, the sounds of those song are that much less of a surprise.  To that end, the song is yet another clear example of the importance of the collection’s musical content.  When it is considered along with the other songs examined here and with the rest of the set’s other entries, the whole of that primary content makes clear why the record’s musical content is so important.

As important of a role as the record’s musical content plays to its presentation, it is just one part of what makes the record another successful offering from Putumayo World Music.  The liner notes featured with the record once again make for their own appeal.  As with every other compilation that Putumayo World Music has released to date, the liner notes here give brief but concise histories of the acts featured in the record.  The brief bio of Mel Malonga for instance, outlines his talents as a multi-instrumentalist and his experience working with a variety of well-known African acts.  It also outlines the meaning behind his song, ‘Requiem De L’Amour,’ noting that the song is about the rise of African musical influence in Cuban music.

The information about Meissa’s ‘Femme Noire’ is apparently a tribute to African women in terms of their physical form.  In other words, it is apparently meant to be something of a sensual song.  That understanding definitely adds another layer of interest to the song.  Further, it continues to show the importance of the collection’s liner notes.  It shows just how much the liner notes add to the record.

On yet another note, the brief bio on Los-Angeles-based artist/producer Ricardo Lemvo makes for its own appeal.  It is here that audiences learn of his and his family’s roots in Congo-Kinshasa, and how that played into the music that he crafts to this day.  The notes point out the blend of Congolese rumba and soukous has on those creations.  This revelation is certain to serve as a starting point for many audiences into those genres, just as much as his music.  Once again, it means the record’s liner notes play a pivotal role in its presentation, very much to the positive.  When the positive impact of this information and the other information addressed is considered with the positive impact of the rest of the record’s liner notes, the whole makes just as clear why the set’s liner notes are just as important to its presentation as its musical content.  The two elements together give audiences plenty to appreciate here.

While the primary and secondary content featured in Putumayo Presents Afro-Cubano are unquestionably important to the record’s presentation, they are not all that is worth discussing.  The inclusion of a digital download card with the compilation adds even more appeal to the presentation.  That is because in having that, audiences can…well…download the collection onto their phones, computers, or other digital devices so that they can have the set in physical and digital form.  The digital will allow audiences to have the record on computer, and in turn, potentially burn it to disc with an external drive, or simply carry it with them on their portable streaming devices.  So really, the download card allows audiences who buy the compilation to enjoy it anywhere they go.  Providing that option once again is yet another win for the company and for audiences alike.  The label is to be commended for once again going this route, as it puts that proverbial cherry on top for the record.  When this is considered along with the impact and importance of the compilation’s overall content, the whole makes the record yet another enjoyable World Music offering from Putumayo World Music and one more of the year’s top new World Music offerings.

Putumayo Presents Afro-Cubano, the latest World Music compilation from Putumayo World Music, is hardly the first time that the label has taken on the music of Cuba and Africa.  It is however, one of only a handful of times that the label has paid tribute to the nations’ music in terms of their connection to one another in one setting.  The music that makes up the collection’s body does well to exhibit those links.  Whether listeners are casual audiences of either musical genre or more seasoned, those connections are clear throughout, and can in turn serve as a starting point for those casual audiences in discovering even more music from either side of the Atlantic.  The liner notes that accompany the record make for their own interest.  That is because of the background that they offer on the artists and songs featured throughout the compilation.  That background adds to the listening experience, and in turn, the engagement and entertainment.  The inclusion once again of a digital download card with the compilation allows audiences to enjoy the set no matter where they go and where they are.  It puts the finishing touch to the whole and when considered with the record’s overall content, shows why this collection is yet another successful offering from Putumayo World Music.

Putumayo Presents Afro-Cubano is scheduled for release Friday through Putumayo World Music. More information on this and other titles from Putumayo Music is available at:



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