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Musical Alliance between Cuba and Jamaica

One of the forms featuring Cuban musicians that had a great impact in numerous European festivals recently is known as «Cuban Ska.» This is an effort that tries to combine our traditional rhythms with the musical genre characteristic of Jamaica.

Musicians from two Caribbean islands with great influence on contemporary music got together to offer a product that, while not heard in our country, is popular in Britain, Spain, France and Japan.

The links between the music of our two peoples are not new, and even two of the key personalities in the history of Ska, instrumentalists Roland Alphonse and Laurel Ailken, were born in Cuba. Therefore, the ground was set for Peter A. Scott, a businessman and founder and promoter of the idea of Cuban Ska, to carry out his plan. To accomplish it, he first went into partnership with Natty Bo, prominent multidisciplinary artist in London who was known for his participation as a signer in the famous Top Cats band.

In 2002, the two men arrived in Santiago de Cuba and there they met who they were looking to be the front person of the project. Beny Billy, whose true name is Juan Manuel Villa Carbonell and is known among us for having lent his voice to embody that of Benny More in the movie by Jorge Luis Sanchez. Billy fit perfectly as singer in the project that tried to join calypso and mento with rhythm and blues and American jazz on one hand, and the traditions of Cuban music on the other.

In addition to the two vocalists, Natty Bo and Beny Billy, the first line-up of the group also included saxo player Megumi Mesaka, Matanzas-born bassist Rey Crespo, tres guitar player Jesus Cutido (from Las Tunas, Cuba), Jamaican trumpet player Eddie Tan Tan Thornton (who has played with acts such as Bob Marley, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones) and drummer Dr. Sleepy, from the island of Monserrat.

The first record of the Pan Caribbean project was entitled Ska Cubano, and was released by Casino Sounds. The album was conceived with previously known songs such as Babalú, Yiri Yiri Bon, Con el Chan Chan, Changó, Relax and Mambo and Loca rumba. The 16 tracks of the record were completed with pieces composed by vocalist Natty Bo.

This material, which was well-received by critics and audiences in the United Kingdom, is noted for the introduction of several instruments, in which the spirit of ska is the base to create other rhythms. In the sung pieces, most of them by Beny Billy, his voice always reminds us of that of the great Cuban singer Benny More. There is an opening to genres in the CD, besides Cuban and Jamaican rhythms we can also find a little bit of Cumbia, as in the piece Coqueteando.

The attempt to open to the multiple sounds of the Caribbean is better appreciated in the second record of Ska Cubano, the album ¡Ay Caramba!, released in 2006 under the company Cumbancha, a firm founded by ethnomusicologist Jacob Edgar. In this new record, the band extended its line-up totalling twelve musicians. Despite the multiplicity of timbers, the prevailing instruments are saxophones, the piano, percussion and tres.

Some of the highlights of the CD are tracks Marianao, Tabu and Cachita, old pieces now revisited in the style of Jamaican ska. Among the new pieces that stand out are Oye Compay Juan. As it happened with the previous material, the quality of the booklet is also outstanding in this CD, which provides abundant information and is very useful for those of us who work in the media. Summing up, this is a festive musical proposal one should not miss.

Source: Juventud Rebelde

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