Elio Revé’s musical career spanned 40 or more years during which his band passed through numerous incarnations and sounds. To review its former members might make Cuban music
appear somewhat incestuous. It’s a small country, though, and Elio had a knack for spotting great talent. At times plagued by mass defections, much of it passed through his line up over the years. Some of the better known, Juan Formell and Pupy Pedroso both left in 1969 to form Los Van Van. Decades later, Pupy formed his own band, Los Que Son Son. Juan Carlos Alfonso later formed Dan Den, but played keyboards with Revé through the mid 1980’s. He wrote and arranged many of the band’s great songs through their most memorable period. Even Chucho Valdéz was an early pianist before he moved on to form Irakere.
The early years, not represented here, sounded like a Charanga incorporating elements of fairly corny western pop music. This is not a million miles from the type of music produced by Los Van Van in the same period. I don’t understand, though, the relationship between any of Elio’s band’s formats and the rootsy Changüí. Nevertheless, Elio came to name his own music after this traditional style from his home province, Guantánamo.
In the 1980’s, Cuban music was diverging from Salsa in the rest of the Latin America and the US. Although the more creative artists outside Cuba were producing their best work, the general movement was towards music of slick, conveyor belt uniformity and insipidness. Dubbed Salsa Floja or Monga by the old salseros, a saccharine music emerged, directed at a non-Afro, teen audience and adults with European musical sensibilities. Meanwhile, each of Cuba’s leading bands developed a unique but usually rustic style, and experimented in highly original directions. It was in this period that Reve’s new sound really synchronised with the moment and arguably made his the island’s leading dance band among Afro-Cubans.
Elio turned his traditional Charanga into a Charangón (massive Charanga). Adding bongó and batá, tres and trombones (Los Van Van also added trombones around this time) he created a monster. In the hands of a skilled arranger it was capable of highly complex and intense sounds. Characteristic of many arrangements, particularly through the 1980’s, was an extended Afro-Cuban intro, sometimes lasting up to half the song. The main body was often underpinned by an infectious, if simple, four chord groove over a single clave.
The band had too many trademarks to detail but it would be remiss not to mention the chorus. Perhaps Pinky and Perky to the European ear, it imitates a characteristic old Cuban woman’s voice. Unsurprisingly, then, it’s called “voz de vieja.” This epitomises a period during which Cuban orchestras, in their references to Cuban life and experiences, tailored their music to a domestic audience.
Revé never took his finger off the pulse in 10 years and was among the first post 1959 Cuban bands to gain any recognition in the West. In 1989, Peter Gabriel released La Explosion del Momento on his Real World Label, which give these compilations several songs. Even while Timba exploded around him, his now aging Changüí retained some relevance until his demise in a road accident during 1997. This has re-emerged to some extent as his sons, Elito and Oderquis both lead bands today which emulate the Charangón of their father’s creation.
The beauty of these two compilations, which include material only from the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, is that they left out as much classic material as they included. No doubt the seals of many rum bottles will snap, their tops to be cast away, as ageing Changüiceros dispute long into the night, what else should be on the track listings. On that score, La Gente No Se Puede Aguantar, Oyan Coro and El Helado have my vote, just for starters. Volume 3, please.
This is mostly the sound of Cuba in the decade before the shit hit the fan. Not necessarily the biggest hits, personal favourites from VolumeI are Cualquier Cantidad, Gente Chevere and Suave Suavecito. The latter is from the 1990 LP Suave Suave. Along with “En La Calle” and Van Van’s “Aqui El Que Baila Gana” this arrived in a shipment from la EGREM to Mr Bongo Records, London, in 1991. It was among that first bundle of Cuban LP’s I bought.
Que nadie se quede afuera, que en la cazuela hay más. ¬¡SabrooOOOOooso!