A DVD with a lot of “ache”
By: Michel Hernández
The Afro-Cuban music DVD Los hermanos Arango y las estrellas del folclor was born with the blessings of the great Yoruba deities. Or, as we Cubans say, it has enjoyed plenty of “aché” (luck) since its release two years ago by the Bis Music label.
Evidence of that: three Cubadisco awards in the categories of Folklore, Testimony, and Album Liner Notes; praise from local critics for its contributions to the recovery and promotion of Cuba's authentic roots; and a well-received concert for its launching at the Sala Che Guevara of Havana's Casa de las Américas cultural center. Moreover, the DVD has been lauded outside of Cuba: it was selected to be part of the Arizona International Film Festival in the United States, a prestigious event in the world of film in that country because of its rigorous selection process.
During the festival, Los hermanos Arango easily won over spectators and critics alike, and was screened on one of the days devoted to showing the most artistic audiovisual productions. And for good reason. The DVD pays tribute to Cuban folkloric music by featuring a selection of its most representative figures: Zenaida Armenteros, founder of the Conjunto Folclórico Nacional (National Folkloric Ensemble); Gregorio “El Goyo” Hernández; Ángel Mesa; Luis Chacón; and Mario Jáuregui (from the legendary Aspirinas). With music direction by the expert double-bass player Feliciano Arango and produced by Enrique Carballea, the DVD endorses and expands musical awareness about Los Hermanos Arango, an Afro-Cuban band founded in February 2003. Their musical arsenal expertly fuses many of the different currents that came to Cuba's coasts from the African continent. It is no surprise that they benefited from the knowledge of eminent researcher and ethnologist Natalia Bolívar, and the group is completing work on a project called El Barracón del Puerto.
The Los hermanos DVD, with photography by Luis Najmías and sound by Maykel Bárzaga Jr., recreates four songs that pure expressions of Cuba's roots, such as the yambú, a toque de palo, a song to Oshún and a guaguancó. These are folkloric genres that the band performed with notable fidelity to their original characteristics.
“It was a very special opportunity for this album to participate in the Arizona International Film Festival, because it allowed the U.S. and Latin American publics to appreciate the creative richness of Cuba's folkloric music and its great figures, such as Zenaida Armenteros, El “Goyo” Hernández and the Aspirinas,” said Enrique Carballea, one of the creative minds behind the project, in an interview with Cubaplus.
“With its release, we want to maintain and foster our country's heritage without the need for somebody from another part of the world to come here and do that. We are the ones who are going to preserve our heritage. We already are.”
Feliciano Arango is also very clear about why he is involved in this project. “We've known who these artists are since we were kids. Now they're almost all in their 80s and some have retired, which might be why they're out of the limelight somewhat. So with this album, we are trying to keep their legacy alive,” he said.
Arango said these veteran performers amazed him when he began producing the album. “We have made the work of these maestros very much a part of our own, but at first we really thought that some of them would have a hard time because of their age. For example, Miguel Ángel, at the age of 90, gave an incredible performance singing a columbia. I didn't think he'd be able to do it, but I was completely wrong.”
Without question, Los hermanos Arango y las estrellas del folclor has been blessed by the great Yoruba saints. And because you never know exactly what might happen when it comes to orishas, this album very well may continue winning accolades that attest to its value as a point of reference in Cuba's folkloric discography. For now, let's offer a shot of strong rum to keep the orishas happy!