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Sons of Cuba

Valle Son warms the North with southern salsa



Missoula will soon be torched by a musical force so hot and intoxicating that it will surely remain seared upon the hearts of those who bear witness. And as a wildfire recharges the ecosystems it visits, so too will Valle Son leave fertile ground in its wake, in the form of inspiration and education. Unlike most bands, who blow into town, play a gig or two, and then head off on their merry way, Valle Son will stick around for a string of performances and workshops in music and dance.

From the rich tobacco country of Pinar del Rio, the westernmost province of Cuba, Valle Son is a seven-piece group that includes bassoon, saxophone, guitar, tres guitar, stand-up bass, percussion and vocals. Tres guitar is a guitar with three sets of doubled strings, whose melodic role is a predecessor to the keyboard parts of modern salsa. It provides the oh-so-dirty melodic sidestepping, called the montuno, often associated with Cuban music. The bassoon (called a fagot in Cuban Spanish) adds a funky wind-driven accompaniment to the bass lines. Vocalist Lazaro is a soulful tenor, at home crooning romantic boleros, while reserving the right to employ unbridled spunk and masterful improvisation while belting out the upbeat stuff. The music is deeply rooted in tradition, but also highly sophisticated, and will appeal to both Latin music junkies and music aficionados in general.

Repeated listenings of their newest album, Son de Cuba, have left me thoroughly impressed with Valle Son’s polished musicianship, creativity and propulsiveness. I would be no less excited if the Afro-Cuban All-Stars were coming to town, because in all seriousness, Valle Son is just as good.

The name Son de Cuba is a play on words. “De Cuba” means “from Cuba,” while “son” means “they are,” as well as being the name for a musical style that is the elder brother of salsa. They are from Cuba. Son is from Cuba. Valle Son is all of this.

This album was recorded in—get this—Whitehorse, the capital of Yukon Territory in Northwestern Canada. Valle Son spent a month touring around Yukon Territory in the summer of 2000, recording for three days in a studio in Whitehorse and releasing the album on the Caribou Records label.

Son de Cuba is a mix of originals and standards. I recognize many of the covers, and dig what they did with them, but I’m even more impressed with the originals, such as the title track, a tribute to the delicious flavor of son music.

All of the songs, covers or originals, are beautifully lyrical. Consider “La Colina,” a song about a couple that returns a year later to the hill that was the scene of their first date. A year ago, it was laughter in the rain, songs, poems, kisses and “la divina desnudez en las maridas” (eyes filled with divine nudity). This time, only half a song. There are no poems or laughter. They wonder if this is just an off day, while secretly fearing that their love is over.

The many related musical styles of Cuba, such as son, mambo, rumba, bolero and cha-cha, all share common roots in the Yoruba tradition of West Africa. In Cuba, these African roots mingled with European—especially Spanish—influences, as well as jazz, big band and other musical styles of their neighbors to the north. The import of Cuban music to the U.S. allowed for further fusion with North American styles, resulting in salsa. Today, this fusion continues, with current salsa pioneers integrating elements of hip-hop, Motown, Tex-Mex and Brazilian music into salsa’s new wave.

But no matter what it’s fused with, for it to be considered salsa it must remain rooted in its clave-driven percussion, its montuno-driven melodies and its oh-so-dirty danceability. And here we are, back at the feet of Valle Son, keepers of the roots, who never strayed far from the path to begin with.

Valle Son’s western Montana excursion begins with a salsa class by Iglois from Valle Son from 8–9:30 PM at the Ritz on Thursday, June 12, followed by a performance. The dance class is $10 per person, $15 per couple. The next night, June 13, they will play at Charlie B’s. On Saturday they will be at the PARTV building on UM campus for a drum class at 1 PM and a folkloric dance class. Their final Missoula performance will be at 8 p.m. All of these events will be in room 005. On Sunday, June 15, Valle Son will be in the Homesteader Days parade in Hot Springs, at noon. And the band performs at 5 p.m at the Symes Hotel, also in Hot Springs.

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