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Lazaro Ros con Mezcla, Cantos CD

Review: Lazaro Ros & Mezcla, Cantos

by David Peñalosa

One of the richest musical traditions in Cuba comes from the liturgical songs and rhythms of Lucumi (also known as Santería). Lucumi is Yoruba religion in Cuba that came to the island from Nigeria during the centuries in which the slave trade flourished.

In the call and response singing of Lucumi ceremonies, the lead singer is known as the Akpuon. The most famous Akpuon in all of Cuba is Lazaro Ros. His performances and recordings with the Conjunto Folklorico Nacional De Cuba has brought him international acclaim.

Lazaro's most recent recordings include Olorun (Xenophile 4022) and two attempts at blending Lucumi and pop music: Ancestros (Sintesis: Qbadisc 9001), and Cantos (Mezcla: Intuition 3080)

Cantos is a collaboration of Lazaro Ros with Pablo Menendez who did the arrangements and played guitar. The other personnel on this recording are Lucia Huergo — saxophones, keyboards, arrangements; Jose Antonio Acosta — bass, keyboards, arrangements; Sonia Cornuchet — keyboards; Juan Carlos Abreu — drums percussion; Octavio Rodriguez — Bata drums, percussion. Although not mentioned in the liner notes of this CD, San Francisco Bay Area percussionist John Santos also plays on three of the cuts.

As a result of this work of fusion, a wider audience may now appreciate the artistry of Lazaro Ros. My favorite selection is "Ikiri Addá," which is in the zouk style and includes some South African flavored chorus lines. However, the “Synth-pop” sound of Cantos is not really my cup of tea.

An interesting feature in the liner notes is a translation of the Lucumi songs into English by noted scholar John Mason. As far as I know, Mr. Mason’s sources are Nigerian, which raises a small controversy. Depending on who you talk to, Lucumi is either a dialect of Yoruba or a related but separate language. My father, who is a linguist, tells me that politics are what mostly determines what is a dialect and what is a language. I’m certainly not qualified to make a judgement one way or the other about this, but I do know that Lucumi is old Yoruba that has gone through some changes over many years of usage in Cuba. The controversy stems from the fact that the understanding of the meanings of the songs by Nigerians and Lucumi speaking Cubans are often not constant. It’s too bad that the producers of this CD did not ask Lazaro Ros himself to translate the songs. Lazaro knows their meaning and, afterall, he’s the one who’s singing them here.

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