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NG La Banda, "La Banda Que Manda," Video, TL-15130.30
NG La Banda, "La Banda Que Manda En Concierto," Video, TL-15131.30
Varios Artists, "Varios Artistas de Cuba: NG La Banda, Los Van Van, Paulito y su Elite, El Medico de la Salsa, Charanga Habanera, Issac Delgado, etc." Video, TL-15133.30

Review: Three Cuban Videos Revisited

by Abel Delgado

NG la Banda La Banda Que Manda
The band that commands in Cuba and elsewhere is shown live on Cuban TV in several performances in this video. “La Bruja” starts things off, an MTV-type video which is also included in another Musicales de Cuba tape. Then, an unknown Cuban TV personality briefly interviews Jose Luis Cortes, NG’s director, followed by clips of the band on the show “Mi Salsa.” Some of the songs featured include “Mata la Cucaracha” and “Picadillo de Soya,” with new arrangements and terrifyingly terrific horns by los metales del terror. Cortes seems uncomfortable during the interviews and says little of importance except to state that his songs will have staying power because they come from the Cuban pueblo, his success base.

One memorable song is a lip synched version of “Santa Palabra,” where the band plays in a bizarre Cuban TV studio decorated with clothes hung out to dry and a toilet by the microphones. As the chorus goes “Despójate, quítate lo malo,” the crowd begins to ritually clean itself with handkerchiefs. Then, an old man jumps up to do a crazy Michael Jackson dance and the crowd sings the song a cappella after the music ends. Don Francisco, talk to these people! At least get the toilet in the bathroom where it belongs. Finally, there’s a clip from an award show in 1993 where Jose Luis gets a Cuban Grammy, “La Clave del Sol,” a G clef with the hat and cane of Beny Moré on top, which is followed by a cheap looking MTV wannabe video of “Echale Limón.” In spite of the lip synchs, the video is still a ticket to see the NGs kick it, until we’re lucky enough to get a U.S. tour. So, consider this an authorization to free your hard earneds for this one.

NG la Banda La Banda Que Manda En Concierto
This video features one of the hottest bands in Cuba, the NGs, who burn bebop mambos over wicked songo variants, winning the hearts and dollars of hard-core music heads like myself. The NGs perform live in this one, and in various incarnations. First, Tony Calá and Issac Delgado sing “Necesito Una Amiga,” backed by original bandmembers “Wickly” on congas and Giraldo Piloto on drums. You can see the evolution of the NGs and how far they have come, as the sound is weaker than on later recordings. But you can’t deny their stage presence, especially with Tony Calá’s spectacular dancing as he shifts from Cuban grooves into the Running Man with ease.

Bandleader Jose Luis Cortes intersperses the music with funny asides about women’s rights, picking up girls, and machismo which lead to improvised choruses and to Tony Calá shouting out soneos to all the bandmembers and the fine women in attendance. Several nice early NG songs are featured including “No Se Puede Tapar El Sol” and “Por que Tu Sufres Con Lo Que Yo Gozo.” However, a mediocre no-name band is sandwiched in between the live shows, which is jarring, not to mention the occasional video test patterns which show up on screen from time to time.

The video ends with a newer version of the NGs in Japan, belting out “Echale Limón.” The sound is powerful, and the way Jose Luis tries to explain “el baile del limon” to the Japanese in broken English and Russian is hilarious. Overall, it is worth the price of admission-ataca chicho!

Varios Artistas de Cuba
This video is designed to pull in the Cubanophiles who are desperate for a glimpse at the fine groups behind the sugar cane curtain. Although it features some of the top bands on the island, as my abuelita used to say, “no es oro todo lo que brilla.”

First of all, the performances aren’t live. A close viewing reveals that the artists are lip synching the songs in a studio set up for the purpose. A tip-off is the Cuban Soul Train line formed by the Charanga Habanera during “Hey You, Loca!” while the music keeps playing. The Cubans are good, but they ain’t that good....

Because the bands aren’t live, they perform stiffly, especially Van Van, so the power of the music is diluted considerably. Comic relief comes from Charanga Habanera’s clothes, overalls with ties. I guess Tommy Hilfiger hasn’t made it that far south yet. The one bright spot is NG la Banda’s “La Bruja,” which is an MTV-type video. It features Cubanas doing the exotic “despelote,” a bump and grind that makes Showgirls look G rated. Call me sexist, but if Fidel wants to attract tourism, show the men of the word “La Bruja.” That snapping noise you’d hear would be packed bags closing.

However, like exotic dancing, this video is a tease. You get interested, but, overall, it starts something without finishing it.

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