Papa Noel & Papi Oviedo

While it's true that Afro-Cuban music is the music of West Africa filtered through a distinctly Cuban lens, it's only part of the story; Cuban music has profoundly influenced musical styles all over the continent of Africa. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in Congolese rumba (which mutated into soukous), a dance craze that arrived in Congo in the 1940s on the heels of imported Cuban 78s that married African fingerstyle guitar picking with Cuban rhythms. Congolese guitarist Papa Noel and Cuban tres player Papi Oviedo make that link beautifully plain on their new collaboration, Bana Congo, a mosaic of trancelike acoustic guitars layered over a bed of Afro-Cuban rhythm.

Indeed this is probably as pure as the term "Afro-Cuban" ever gets; much of the music bears a distinctly traditional Cuban son feel (Buena Vista Social Club fans, step right up) with touches of African harmony in the vocals and in Papa Noel's gorgeous guitar picking. On tracks like Oviedo's tres showcase "Limpia Mi Son," the pair seem to be evoking the classic Cuban era of Arsenio Rodriguez and Benny More, while there's an undeniably African slant to some of Noel's tunes like "Molimo." Of course, as the altogether enchanting marriage of African and Cuban elements on Bana Congo makes clear, the question of just who influenced whom is entirely beside the point.

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Ezra Gale
Contact: Ezra Gale