Paulito, or Pablito as he’s sometimes called, used to sport a mullet. I’m going to cut him
some slack though, as from a tender age he could hold his own amongst Cuba’s greatest soneros. You’ll find footage of him on YouTube, if you’re so inclined, battling it out with the likes of Candido Fabré and Revé’s El Indio. He also went on to direct one of the most important Timba bands through the 1990’s and can still turn out a tune today.
Paulito’s career is longer but he first came to my attention as the singer with Opus 13. This band recorded Tú No Me Calculas, one of the greats of the early ‘90’s. In no time, Paulito renamed the band Paulito y su Elite. As did NG La Banda’s Necesito Una Amiga, Tú No Me Calculas makes stylistic concessions to the Salsa Floja outside Cuba. Paulito’s voice lent itself as much to ’90’s Salsa as to the rustic Cuban styles prevalent in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. His appearance also made him much more accessible to the foreign teen market. As is common with the best Cuban music, and although nothing can be done to salvage the mullet, Paulito F.G. y su Elite assimilated outside influences and took them to a higher level. Tú No Me Calculas is an example. With its slow burning, old style long tumbao, it adds a fresh infusion of jazz, while the percussion sounds modern. It’s a bridge between both old and new Cuban as well as between Cuban and Salsa music.
Two years later, in 1995, the Magic Music label released Sofocándote. A handful or less found their way to Mr Bongo Records in London. With “New Salsa” written on the front cover, along with Issac Delgado’s El Año Que Viene, it was one of the CDs that pulled me, slowly, inexorably, in the direction of Timba. If this had appeared five years later, it would have gained the recognition it deserved. In 1995, however, hostility or incomprehension towards Timba were near universal here. Ignored or not, it remains essential, a classic.
The first three songs particularly, are a display of blinding musical virtuosity, from conception to delivery. Horns are brash, exuberant and dissonant from the get-go. There is nothing lazy or routine in the arrangements, which give purpose to every detail. I’m not as up on music theory as I’d like but suspect many use modal chords and scales. At any rate, they often jar, and diverge refreshingly from conventional harmony. These are works of art and for me El Cacharrero is something close to perfection. The songs here- Ina is nearly 8 minutes long- include a number of rhythms, culminating in a Conga. You might also get an occasional déjà vu of early George Benson. But then Cuban popular music has been, since at least the first experiments with Jazz in the 1930’s, a fusion with African-American music. As the latter has diversified, so have the ingredients integrated into Cuban music. I can’t help but notice that so many Salseros who rant against Timba as a Western corruption of Cuban music are those whose Salsa is bleached free of Jazz as well as its Afro-Cuban roots.