When you listen to Anacaona, the all-female, 12-member band from Cuba that favors a highly modernized version of salsa music, you might think you are listening to a new group. Yet Anacaona has 67 years of history behind it.
The band, which will perform tonight at the Sportsmen's Lodge, was founded in 1932 by 11 sisters named Castro. Back then, the idea of a group made up exclusively of women was unheard of, even scandalous. But Anacaona flourished through the decades, and when the original members decided to retire, a new set of women offered to continue the tradition.
"My sister Georgia and I have been members since 1982," said Dora Graciela Aguirre Gonzalez, the group's saxophonist and singer. "When the founders decided to call it quits, we asked for their approval to continue working as Anacaona."
You need not speak Spanish to realize the band's name has a uniquely sensuous sound to it. But who or what is Anacaona?
"She was an indigenous queen in the [Cuban] region of Quisquella," Gonzalez said recently by phone from Havana. "A woman respected by her tribe because of her artistic talents. She loved to sing and paint. But she ended up being executed because of her anti-colonialistic feelings."
There is nothing tragic about Anacaona's music, and its current sound has nothing to do with the 1932 lineup. This is edgy, propulsive salsa that draws heavily from the '90s style of Cuban music known as timba, which adds an extra touch of syncopation to the beats and an overall patina of instrumental aggressiveness that can push you to the dance floor. It can also exhaust you rather quickly.
Many critics consider timba to be one of the most unfortunate innovations to hit tropical music. Gonzalez's attitude is more philosophical.
"The timba movement is a result of the high level of technique that Cuban musicians mastered in the last decade," she said without a trace of defensiveness. "There has always been a lot of different styles in our music. Timba must sound very aggressive to a world that seeks refuge in more melodic rhythms like the bolero or the merengue."
But the group also strives for balance in its repertoire, including a handful of traditional tunes by such venerable composers as Miguel Matamoros and Marcelino Guerra.
"In Cuba, we carry music in our blood," Gonzalez said. "Cubans are joyous people. Most of us dance, sing and carry the clave [the fundamental beat in all Afro-Caribbean music]. Through that special gift, we influence anybody who shows interest in our culture and way of life."
Anacaona performs tonight at 10 at the Sportsmen's Lodge, 4234 Coldwater Canyon Blvd., Studio City. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Doors open at 8 p.m., and a free dance lesson is included with admission. For reservations, call (310) 450-8770.