Papa Noel & Papi Oviedo,
Bana Congo
(Tumi, 2002)

Tumi music has started a series called "Crossing Borders." The first release in the series is Bana Congo, which blends the musical talents of Papa Noel from the Congo and Papi Oviedo from Cuba. While at first their respective musical styles might seem a bit disjointed, they are, in fact, rather complementary. The musical styles of both geographical regions were influenced by the other at different times in history.

This album is heavily dominated by the guitar. Papi Oviedo learned to play Afro-son on the tres from his father. Living in Havana, they played at various fiestas as he grew up. Many of the Cubanesque songs on this CD have Spanish lyrics and are accompanied by the trumpet as might be expected by those of you who listen to "son." The tunes are mostly upbeat and imply the superiority of son over other musical styles such as salsa.

Papa Noel is credited with helping to shape the Congolese rumba. He is mostly self-taught by listening to imported 78s back in the 1930s, imitating what he heard and adding an African touch. According to the promotional material, the "Cuban 'son' took the Belgian Congo by storm" during that time period. The songs on Bana Congo that showcase more of the Congolese influence are lighter in tempo with more focus on the guitar. I have to say that I love Noel's talent on this instrument! The lyrics in these pieces focus more on love than anything else.

It would be a hard decision to decide which side of the Atlantic produces better music. On the one hand, I prefer the Spanish lyrics and upbeat rhythms of the Cuban son. Yet, the style of the guitar playing is more captivating on the Congolese tunes. I think Tumi Music had a good idea putting both styles on one album and showing how they complement each other. The flow between the two styles works smoothly.

Bana Congo was recorded in Havana and Paris. I counted more than 20 musicians and singers in the liner notes! Other than Noel and Oviedo, none of these musicians contributed to more than five of the ten songs on the CD. Not a single track is bad -- but neither is one so good as to merit special mention.

Bana Congo is an enjoyable CD for those of you who enjoy Cuban son and Congolese rumba. As the promotional material states, "Noel and Oviedo blend classic sounds of Kinshasa, Brazzaville, Oriente and Havana, into a delightful mix of rural and urban, past and present." With a slice of Central Africa rhythms and the taste of Spanish folk music, how can you go wrong? World music lovers would be advised to check out this meeting of two worlds.

[ by Wil Owen ]
Rambles: 23 November 2002

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