Smoking hot salsa: Anacaona

I’m told that technically this music is more timba than salsa. Timba is a Cuban variant identified by attributes like a trap kit drummer, strong piano ostinatos and a heavier influence by contemporary jazz and pop genres. I don’t know if I agree with any of this but argue about it amongst yourselves.

As happens so often in this age of streaming content, I discovered this band on Youtube. Their sound floored me. I’ve loved the aggressive Cuban timba style since I first heard it years ago when I was working as a session player for Pier-Southern and Kim Records. Along with Georg Wadenius (guitar), Steve Robbins (keyboards) and Terry Silverlight (drums) we cut seven albums one summer with Cuban arranger, German Pifferer, for Kim’s catalog of Latin artists. There’s more to this story including the Radio City Music Hall debut of a quartet of blond American boys called Salsa Gringa, but I’ll stay on point. A few years ago I was reintroduced to timba via a band called Calle Real, who ironically turned out to be Swedish.

Anacaona is an all-female Cuban timba band based in Havana. They’re women with a past.  Anacaona was founded in Havana in the 1930s so the current lineup are, metaphorically at least, the granddaughters and great-granddaughters of the band’s founders. Not many bands can claim a legacy like theirs. In fact, none can.  Anacaona is the oldest, continually-working band in history.

Anacaona are all great musicians and singers. The bass player’s (Georgia Aguirre) phrasing especially knocks me out. I think you have to grow up with this music to play with counterpoint like hers. Mr. Pifferer used to write me simple bass lines I occasionally couldn’t even read because the rhythm contrast was so foreign to my ear as well as to my white boy OCD-ness. That musical white space is an essential component of salsa bass playing, It’s very difficult to play what you don’t play but very often what you don’t play makes a stronger musical statement than what you do play. As a great jazz pianist once told me, “The white space is the frame around the painting.” Oops, digression again.

I’ve reminders set in and for a possible Anacaona tour stop in NYC but unfortunately the Man-Baby In Chief mindlessly reinstated travel restrictions with Cuba so that won’t happen any time soon.  My next opportunity to catch the band live is next September in Madrid.



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