Songlines, June 09
‘The story-so-far on the veteran salseros’
Before the Buena Vista Social Club, Los Van Van and Irakere were probably Cuba’s two most celebrated musical exports. Juan Formell’s dance outfit had a four-year start on their jazzier rivals and Nascente’s new compilation celebrates 40 glorious years of ‘upsetting’ audiences everywhere.
Los Van Van (The Go Gos) do what they do so well that their highly polished music can occasionally appear formulaic, even slightly cheesy. The opener here, ‘Chirrín Chirrán’, is a case in point. Surely
this needs to be seen from among a crowd of steamy, gyrating bodies to be fully appreciated? Nevertheless, the music on this overview is rarely less than compelling. Salsa, songo and latterly timba – you can call their trademark sinuous blend of percussion, trombones, vocals and insistent strings what you will, but it’s almost impossible to resist. The two CDs chart the subtle changes over the decades to a sound that basically grafts Afro-Cuban funk onto a lighter, sweeter charanga root.
It’s hard to pick standout tracks from music so uniformly good, but the poptastic ‘Qué Palo Es Ese’ from the first CD, which focuses on the classic era of the 70s and 80s, and ‘Esto Te Pone La Cabeza
Mala’ from the second, which surveys the sound of the last 20 years, exemplify Los Van Van’s abiding appeal. This generous, well-balanced and modestly priced collection presents the best introduction
available to a legendary band.