For some years now, Los Van Van have enjoyed immense international status and fill large
venues in the West. Already Cuba’s number one dance band for decades, when this CD was released, in 1995, they were almost unheard of in Europe. This album began to change that.
Rumour has it that at the height of the Special Period police in La Habana went out with quotas of speeding fines to fulfil. “Multa” was a new word I learned. Though virtually unknown in Europe, bands were also put out to earn revenue and Cuba’s favourite was no exception. This is the backdrop to Los Van Van taking up long residencies at London’s tiny but prestigious Jazz venue, Ronnie Scott’s. It was a scoop for the venue, the band and for Jazz fans. There were also a few of us for whom visits by modern Cuban bands were a rare and special occasion, even if finding the ticket money was awkward.
The venue did them proud. This album is the set I heard them play several times. Unfortunately, it has to be said it sounded better at Ronnie’s than does this recording. The sound doesn’t stand up to modern recordings but that is all that mars this album. Though my ears adjust to it, some songs would be difficult to mix into a set with better recordings.
Los Van Van were changing their style for every recording during this period. One significant personnel change here, was the debut for Roberto, known back then as El Guayacán. If everything came into focus for Te Pone La Cabeza Mala, this collection clearly preceded it. The songs are mostly long, nearly eleven minutes in the case of Hoy Se Cumplen Seis Semanas. Ya Empezó La Fiesta won me over first time, and Mayito really shines in De Igual A Igual. Soy Todo is a prayer for god’s protection, which must have resonated with all of Cuba, while the Pedroso penned La Fruta has a more familiar double meaning. That, and another Pedrito led song, Abusadora, Me Entere, are personal favourites, but there’s not a dull track here, really.