Timbamerchant was founded in 2000 as an independent company, primarily to import, distribute, retail and promote Timba, then Cuba’s newest form of popular urban dance music. After closing in 2006 for the reasons you will find in our “Early History” linked below, TimbaMerchant reopened in January of 2017.
The mission is essentially the same as before, but has broadened as Timba passes its thirtieth birthday. While still sourcing the best in contemporary Timba and Cuban Salsa, we aim to draw together an extensive catalogue of classic Afro-Cuban popular and folkloric music from all ages.
We are currently licensed to sell digital titles from the Bis Music and EGREM catalogues and would consider contracts with other recording houses. Experience shows that most of our customers are looking for physical CDs and we are now focused on obtaining the most extensive range of high quality CD releases.
In June 2018 Timbamerchant became a limited company. In September that year we released the Adalberto Álvarez compilation CD Casino… el baile popular, our first release under the TimbaMerchant label.
TimbaMerchant is a specialist in Afro-Cuban music, orientated particularly towards people who do not want to be distracted by other music when browsing or looking to find what they want.
We remain independent of all other interested parties. The music reviews and recommendations you will find on site are honest opinions given in good faith, informed by nearly thirty years of immersion in this music. As such, they place the promotion of the music we believe in above any other consideration. Users of the site are welcome to disagree and also to add comments if they wish.
If you’ve got this far, you probably know what Timba is. In case you are still wondering, here’s a brief explanation.
The term was coined by NG La Banda’s leader, José Luis Cortés. It describes a hybrid music that took shape in 1989 with the release of their seminal LP, “En La Calle.” Cortés was a former member of both Irakere and Los Van Van, bands which had pioneered different strands of Cuban music in the 1970’s and ’80’s. Los Van Van was, and is, a popular dance band, while Irakere pioneered Afro-Cuban Jazz-Funk fusions. Drawing on both and with no shortage of their own ideas, Cortés and his band created a new music. Timba was, then, at its inception, very jazzy popular dance music.
The original group was a talent concentrate. It included several musicians who went on to form their own ground breaking bands. Both Issac Delgado as well as polymath Giraldo Piloto, who founded Klimax, were original members.Though not world renowned as a band leader, Feliciano Arango also revolutionised bass playing in Cuban music.
The ingredients drawn upon by NG La Banda and those they inspired, were diverse. Timba draws on Afro-Cuban roots while simultaneously looking overseas for fresh inspiration. It tends to use folkloric Guaguancó clave as its fundamental structure rather than the Son clave found in Cuban derived music such as Salsa. Characteristic of the genre are an expanded number of musical gears, compared to Salsa or Son, in which various instruments change pattern, role, or cut out altogether. Switching between these can add enormous emotional charge and dynamism to the music.
Timba places less restraint on its rhythm sections both in composition, division of labour and improvisation. Trap drums are usually added to traditional percussion, and though solos of any kind are rare, musicians are often much freer to improvise than traditionally.
From outside, several prominent Timberos cite Earth, Wind and Fire as a principle influence. In truth, elements of contemporary American Jazz, Funk, Hip-Hop, Rap and Rare Groove and others, have transformed the traditional Cuban song structures, instrument patterns, vocal styles and much more.
These numerous ingredients have given enormous scope for individuality among Timba’s proponents. In its most creative phase bands would often create new sounds for each recording. Though certain techniques and styles have come to be associated with it, Timba is, then, a highly diverse genre loosely identified by time and circumstance, heritage and influence. It is accurately described as an “intergénero,” a crossbreed fusion of multiple genres.
Early in the Castro regime, talented youth were streamed into specialist academies, including those dedicated to musical training. The unequaled quality of musicianship evident in Timba is a result of this. But far from elitism, no less important was the way in which Timba took the lives and experiences of ordinary Cubans and turned them into art.
I contend that the decline in the quality of much modern Timba flows from the commercial orientation of many bands to both a foreign middle class audience and a new, aspiring urban Cuban middle class stratum. While the former tends towards a narcissistic dance culture for which music is reduced to a prop, to cure the ills of Stalinist bureaucratic nationalism, the latter looks to individual advancement and capitalist restoration rather than completion of the socialist revolution. This coincides with a divorce of the relatively affluent musicians from their traditional poverty stricken audience and inspiration. Often today, though not always, reference to the street or the neighborhood sounds decidedly contrived. Iconic band Los Van Van, meanwhile, recently covered one of their 1980’s classics, La Habana Sí, replacing the lyric “La Habana socialista” with “La Habana siempre lista.” While it is undoubtedly true that to call La Habana socialist is a lie, the abandonment of pretense for their audience is significant.