Author: Uroš Švagan
Estimated read time: 10 minutes
On average, Havana D'Primera releases a new album every three years. All fans eagerly await the event, but due to high expectations the risk of experiencing dissatisfaction runs high. If the first impression leaves you dissatisfied, let me alleviate your pain - the music of Havana D'Primera is just not shallow enough to be judged after the first listen. Every time the band releases a new album, it can take years before it fully settles.
We knew the new album was on the horizon, but today's release came as a surprise. Lately, HDP have been releasing a number of individual songs that could have easily found their way on the record, but Havana decided to offer us ten completely fresh and previously unheard songs.
The title of the album implies that Alexander represents the voice of the people. One would expect such a title to introduce simple music. But timba has never been simple by definition, especially Havana D'Primera. Alexander's people-focus lays in his warm-heartedness. There has always been a spiritual dimension in his music, which is only present in other timba bands to a lesser degree. That undescribable that touches us, reaches far into the depths of our hearts and finds its way to our tears. At first glance one can notice the songs are seasoned with a bunch of studio flavors: from a string orchestra and a saxophone to an electric guitar and synthesized sounds directly from 1980. Additionally, with HDP, crystal clear sound production has never been in doubt.
#Dprimera offers a striking introduction to the album. The lyrics are trying to remind us that the band is still the best one in Havana. It offers bombastic funky bass lines, which in combination with a lethal dose of trumpets makes it hard to remain indifferent. A joyful atmosphere resembles Resumen de los 90 from their first album.
Cuban music was transformed into timba the moment it became highly eclectic. The big push came in 1989 when timba innovators NG La Banda started putting a bunch of new elements into cuban son: rumba, santeria, hip hop, jazz, mambo, salsa romantica, to mention only a few. Today, such diversity of influences is already the norm, so HDP have always been upgrading their eclecticism to higher levels with some fresh, non-Cuban, mainly Carribean influences. But Cantor del Pueblo is stepping on a highly dangerous terrain. The song Tres Dias starts as a Dalmatian song, turns itself into a timba song, and then voilà: bachata! The hardcore bachata turns back into timba with a strong contratiempo, but continues to carry a subtle bachata feel throughout the montuno. In my humble opinion this is the first such merger in timba that sounds natural, spontaneous, playful and one could almost say: »Makes sense!«. Even the bachata haters should grow soft on this one! In only a couple of measures Alexander proves that bachata could offer a pleasurable experience to a much wider audience, if only it was supported by a strong masculine voice of a man who still owns a pair of testicles, and a crystal clear sound production. Only time will show if by merging bachata and timba the band inadvertently started a general trend. Absorbtion of new influences should be welcome in the genre which is a strong fusion in itself, but i sincerely doubt that anybody on this planet can merge the seemingly unmergeable in such a refined way as Havana D'Primera.
Personally, i would prefer to see La Mujer Piropo placed at the second half of the album. However, all Alexander's abilities as a composer come to light in the title song Cantor De Pueblo, which carries quite a fragmented structure that distinguishes bad timba from good timba, and timba from other genres of popular music. In the song, Alexander fails to bring his catchphrase »Vaya camina por arriba el …« to its end, saying »tu sabes« - you know what i mean, I am the voice of the peoples!
Manantiales carries an interesting rock flavour. The beginning of the montuno part introduces a distorted guitar riff, which is then transformed into a virtuoso solo towards the end. Mujerigo is a simple, short and joyful song at 97 bpm that aims to please rueda dancers. But the question remains whether the target audience is ready to accept the absence of computer samples and the missing catchphrase »Berna Jam in da house!«
No Cuban album would be complete without a song describing the magical atmosphere of the country or its capital. I would prefer to see Habana Mia in the third place on the album instead of La Mujer Piropo.
A peculiar off-road adventure is the Energias Oscuras, an Eurovision song contest sounding balad. Such dark energies may signify a novelty for Havana D'Primera, but sound quite worn out in general. The song is completely missing 'the cubania', but can also be viewed in a positive light. If the dark energies aim to bring the new audience into the fanbase and slowly transform these innocent victms into timba maniacs, I can understand this.
Pastilla De Menta carries a pilon connotation, but it is at the same time far from traditional pilon. The bass seems to start each mesure on the same note, which is not neccessarily a bad thing, but perhaps only surprising for the band which has spoit us over the years with higher melodic sophistication. The choosing of a guitar effect in the middle of the song might be a poor choice, as it brings more noise to the forefront than the actual tone. A distinct rhythm will likely please the audience that is only beginning to explore this kind of music. Personally I will have a hard time not to whistle Michael Jackson's They Don't Care About Us along this song.
A spectacular closing of the album is set by an epochal Lamento Yoruba, a tribute to the roots of cuban culture, which explores many of its aspects from Santeria through rumba to timba. This song might be too fast and too complex for the mainstream dance floor, but listening to it at home will surely bring you towards revelation and convert you to an authentic Santero. In the coming years we can expect a number of virtuoso dance performances to this song.
Whatever Havana D'Primera do, they do it perfectly. If 40% of the songs are excellent and the other 40% are very good, I can easily put this album to my favorite twenty of all time list. I will press Play button once, and perhaps the Skip button once or twice. But the most worn out on my player will be the Repeat button.