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Pop Music Review

Bamboleo: A Dynamic Dozen From Cuba

June 13, 1998|DON HECKMAN

L.A.'s informal monthlong festival of Cuban music kicked off appropriately Thursday night with the appearance of Bamboleo at the Conga Room.

Appropriately, because the hot young 12-person ensemble touched on all the elements coursing through the dynamically creative Cuban music scene--from traditional rhythms to jazz and from funk to rock and hip-hop. And it did so with startling ease, masterfully in control of everything it touched.

Instrumentally, Bamboleo--whose complex visa problems delayed its arrival in Los Angeles until a few hours before the show--consists of a three-piece horn section, keyboards, bass, two percussionists and drums. As with virtually every young Cuban musical group, the players are equally at home with the complex rhythmic riffing of dance music and with the thorny demands of stretched-out jazz improvising.

But Bamboleo's heart and soul, the force that drives the ensemble, is the singing, dancing and sheer libido-triggering performances of the band's four vocalists, especially the two female leads, Haila Momprie and Vannia Borges. Shaven-headed, wearing matching tight black dresses, moving constantly, singing passionately, exhorting the crowd to join in by clapping the clave rhythms essential to Cuban music, the pair is irresistibly appealing, a unique look (and sound) combination.

Equally important, every tune by Bamboleo--from compelling, body-moving Latin funk to an occasional soulful ballad--takes each genre to the limit. The vocal sound of the four-voice ensemble is filled with lush harmonies, rather than the more typical three-part triads. Funk rhythms never get stuck in one rudimentary pattern, moving instead through complex, multilevel rhythms without losing their dance potential.

Thursday's was, in short, a performance by a band that may well typify the music of the coming century--music that starts with tradition, then reaches out to embrace the world.

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