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This Month's New Releases

EL CHANGUI MAJADERO (self-published)

An exciting new outfit that fans of changüí will love. Sometimes called the country music (musica campesina) of Cuba, changüí is a bustling story-telling form with call and response vocals and spare instrumentation. The lead instrument is the tres, a six-string guitar with pairs of harmonizing strings (gG cc Ee) and a sprightly almost harpsichord-like twang. This percussive sounding guitar is supported by acoustic bass and then there are three percussion instruments: bongos, maracas, and a metal guiro called a guayo. While their hands are busily occupied the performers are in full voice and have their craft honed to a fine art. I was surprised to read the band are from East L.A. because if you had told me eastern Cuba that would have made perfect sense. They have translated the form perfectly and are aware of the rich traditions of the music: the bongo becomes a solo instrument; the bass echoes the patterns of the marimbula which is like a giant thumb piano; the tresero and the vocalists improvise. Garcia, the group's leader, started out as a boxer (on the Mexican junior olympic team), until he heard Grupo Changüí Guantanamo and was hooked and took up tres. He even went back to school to get a Masters in Afro-Cuban Jazz! Changüí is the root of Cuban music just as blues is the root of American popular music. Garcia's father composed corridos, which are sung news bulletins or ballads on current events, in a tradition that goes back to the medieval troubadours in the era before print, so that fits in with the timelessness and timeliness of the songs in the changüí repertoire. Garcia went to Guantanamo to study with the group whose LP had entranced him, and learned many songs from them. He found fellow souls back in LA who were also interested in the form: between them they have played with Maraca, Poncho Sanchez, Son Mayor and other luminaries of Cuban music. They knock it out of the park with this set: lovely, revelatory, beautifully recorded and strikingly new.