Out with the Geezers

Englishman Rupert Mould takes Cuban music to new frontiers

The end result of this fusion isn't quite the sound clash one would have expected based on Up, Bustle and Out's previous work. Instead Egües's group is allowed to jam largely unmolested, swinging into loose-limbed, jazz-inflected pieces that revolve around graceful piano comps. Then radio static will filter in, giving way to a sampled Radio Rebelde transmission. The voice of Che will heartily declaim on the “compañeros de Fidel,” flowing into a double-time drum loop (complete with the crackle of its original vinyl source), an overmodulated Hammond organ, some frenetic cowbell whacking, and a slinky, funkified bass line.

It's only toward the very end of Master Sessions that Mould employs a Cuba-in-a-blender approach: “Carbine 744, 520” places an insistently strummed flamenco guitar front and center against a fiery James Brown-style get-on-the-good-foot groove; “Made in Cuba, Part 1” uses live DAT recordings, dropping street-corner conga players into its harsh wash of Havana police radio communications and Santiago street ambiance.

“I wanted to reflect the two worlds, the two histories,” Mould notes. “Here's the Bristol sound: hip-hop barrio tracks, upbeat rhythms, studio production. But echo that with theirstyle, the descarga. I wanted to show that Fifties son and a 2000 studio record could be played back to back in a club, and youths today would love it.”

In a passage from The Rebel Radio Diary, Mould's just-published book-length account of recording the Master Sessions and his subsequent travels across Cuba, he relates some of his ambivalence at these two worlds -- DJ culture and son -- colliding.

Gazing out from behind the Sonocaribe mixing board as the sessions began, he writes, “[It] reminded me of why I once chose to be a performing musician, on the road, lugging equipment, long journeys and long nights. It would sound crazy to these maestros to know that I can now earn more money and put in less time by DJing. The live scene is simply where I would prefer to be, but high costs prevent it. The feeling of performing together, reading and inspiring each other, and causing the dance floor to erupt is a stimulant that makes it all worthwhile.”

On this side of the Florida Straits, however, it's not Mould's guilt over the ascension of DJs on the nightclub scene that's bound to raise eyebrows; it's his impassioned defense of the Cuban revolution. Which is exactly what he's hoping for.

“It's important to me that people in Miami hear this record,” Mould says earnestly. “I feel certain that if a lot of second-generation Cubans in Miami went over to Havana, they wouldn't find it as bad as they've been told. There's a certain amount of amazing grace and enchantment there -- you can't help but see it and feel it. It's notthat bad!”

Perhaps sensing the implications of his words, Mould continues cautiously: “Don't get me wrong. There's no getting away from Cuba being a totalitarian state, and at times for a local, I should imagine it feels like one big prison. But they've achieved so many outstanding things. I've traveled extensively around Latin America, and the basic poverty in Cuba is nothing compared to what it is in Peru, Brazil, Bolivia. It all depends on the ground you're starting from. In Lima or Rio you'll see thousands of children sleeping on the streets. I didn't see any of that in Cuba.”

Informed by Kulchur that he just blew any chance of ever spinning on the turntables in a Miami club, Mould turns annoyed. “People in Miami should realize that Elian Gonzalez thing has been broadcast all over the world,” he says sharply. “And none of the Miami [Cuban-exile community's] campaign won any sympathizers in this part of the world. We looked on it with horror!”

Recalling the televised demonstrations around the Gonzalez relative's Little Havana home, he says, “I saw them holding up posters with pictures of Mrs. Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and the word ¡Si! And next to them was a picture of Castro with ¡No! Well, to many of us in this part of the world, Reagan and Thatcher were the worst dictators the world's ever known in this part of the century! They were warlords; they steamed into countries out for complete domination. For many of us, Thatcher is someone who really ruined the philosophy of this country. She broke down the family, broke down the general community feel of this country, made everyone an individual living on their own.”

Hold on there, comrade. Is Mould suggesting that Thatcher was a worse dictator than Fidel Castro? “Far worse, far worse,” he answers emphatically. Mould then downshifts into a gentler tone. “I hate to say this -- and I don't mean to offend you -- but America is not a loved country,” he murmurs. “There's so many people from all walks of life who will tell you about how the United States is trying to police the world, telling everybody how to live. For many people Cuba holds a certain respect for its resistance to that.”

Mould begins growing agitated again, launching into an array of the ways American culture is sprawling, creating one bland, sterile planet: “All anybody wants to talk about is the Internet, and the whole thing's bloody American!” He recalls his recent return from one foreign tour of DJing, whereupon he bumped into Cuba's Afro-Cuban All Stars inside London's Heathrow Airport.

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