Author: Uroš Švagan
Estimated read time: 10 minutes
The third album celebrates the 5th anniversary of the orchestra. The name De Vuelta Al Barrio implies the band has travelled around the world, but is now 'returning to da hood'. According to El Niño's own words, De Vuelta El Barrio is focused on the dancer rather than the listener, as Más Duro was. For decades, Cuban artists have been paid regular state salaries, while the sales profits have gone 'elsewhere'. As a result, the key success factor for a timba artist has never been sales, but touring and the response of the dance community, and the new album is trying to reflect this deeply rooted mentality. If the dancer was indeed the focus, it is interesting to notice the tempo only falling below 100 bpm once during the album.
It seems the primary target were not the European casino perfectionists that are either trying to show off their techniques with slower tempo songs or dance to a fast song all over the place using huge moves and then dying. The band is rather trying to win the hearts and minds of the street dancers from the barrios of Havana, who don't give a fuck about the technique, but just want to be carried away by the tide of emotion while doing less exhausting combinations of despelote and "manos pa'rriba" moments throughout the entire concert. Many songs on the album seem to miss out on the long introductions that slowly turn into montunos, but rather go straight to the boiling point very quickly, allowing the dancers to go crazy right away.
What seemed to be sporadic shouts on previous albums, turned into new Emilio's catchphrases on this album. Not only »Alaroye no, Alaroye y bien«, but also »Dale tumbao Pachy«, »Metales que no miente«, »Vamo' la Verdad«, etc. On one hand it gives the music on the album the vibe of a live act and makes dancers immediately associate the song with the band, but may, on the other hand, show signs of overuse.
The Intro kicks the album off. Rather than being one of those spectacular concert openers, it begins with a quasi field recording of Emilio's return to his barrio, turns into a street descarga, and ends with a few measures of timba. La Princesa de Cayo Hueso stars with a strong rumba beat that slowly turns into timba. While songwriting is quite good, I find Emilio's voice slightly raspy.
Fortunately, his cold is healed in El Primo, a tribute Pacho Alonso, a creator of pilón genre. The chorus is very catchy, and a slight pilón feel can be heard throughout. At one point the brass section introduces a couple of measures from Pacho Alonso's most well known song Rico Pilón. In Las Manzanas, Emilio compares girls with apples. Sometimes they are good and sometimes bad, but its always fun to bite into them.
Emilio's often excessive flirting with cameras is reflected with Tirame La Foto. An interesting choice for the first single is La Cosa Mala, that will soon be released as a video. It is quite stretched out, repetitive one note song with a simple chorus that i do not see standing out in any way. But the strategy of having the weakest song as the first single is a risky, but a smart one, and i've seen it working on some legendary albums. This allows listeners to think the worst song is actually the best one, so each subsequent single is then percieved as even better than the best one.
Cha Pa' Mi Muchacha adds diversity to the album with an easy going romantic chacha rhythm that sounds very authentic as if it really originated in the 1950s. Para Ser Cantante tells us what it means from Emilio's experience to be a singer. Que Clase Cara is a good songwriting example that starts with a romantic melody, and carries a slow tempo in album's terms of 100bpm. Reflexión is a great songwriting example as well, and i must admit that I love it how timba bands started using these kinky synth sounds sporadically, and it works surprisingly well.
A perfect ending to the album is El Nombrecito. Emilio wrote the song while still in the Charangon. Their version was released in 2014, but Emilio did not sing it back then as he already left Elito Reve. It carried a very 'charangonish' production, so i am glad that it was finally rerecorded by his new band. The live video of El Niño y La Verdad's version has nevertheless become one of the band's most viewed videos on Youtube, as it truly captures the essence of the timba live show peak with professional dancers going crazy onstage. Even the new studio version is great and is one of the album's highlights.
The album will supposedly also come with a video DVD, but we did not recieve it for the review. In my overall experience, with the average song length of above 5 minutes and the fast switches to montunos, I find many songs a bit stretched out. Furthermore, while there is a newly found genre diversity on the album, I would also wish for a larger tempo diversity. In general, the new album is a good continuation and a strengthening of the recognizable sound of El Niño y La Verdad. The band is touring Europe right now, so we can wish the band a good luck, and the dancer's response they were aiming for.