Various Havana 1957: Songs For The Orishas

These recordings were made at the end of the '50s, before Cuba's folkloric traditions were to be scattered diasporically by the revolution of Fidel Castro. These sounds, particularly those on the Havana disc, will be familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in what is commercially known as Latin music. For anyone who's ever wondered about the meaning of Shango and Yemaya when they are namedropped in house tracks, these discs are your exhaustive answer. These discs are noteworthy in that they present complete song cycles of invocations to the gods of Santeria. The disc from Havana starts slowly but by the time the track listing hits the teens the energy of the song cycle rises. The Matanzas disc is recorded in the countryside and the rhythms are less familiar. They sound less urgent and more freely structured, befitting their countryside setting. On the whole, these are important archival recordings, but they aren't great recordings on their own. The recordist, Lydia Cabrera, was a novice, and it sounds as though one inferior microphone was badly positioned to capture the performances. It would be nice to hear things a little more clearly, especially since the rhythms of the Matanzas disc are unfamiliar and will undoubtedly provoke study by drummers far and wide. The lack of polish signifies that this is indeed a folk recording done on location and is best appreciated as such. (Smithsonian Folkways)