Orishas: 'El Kilo'

The frequent Day to Day contributor and writer reviews El Kilo, the new CD from Cuban band Orishas.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

It may be difficult for Americans to see Cuba with travel and trade restrictions, but you can hear Cuba practically anywhere. Musicians from the island are popular in many places, and all the more accessible if they have emigrated overseas, as with the band Orishas. It has a new CD; it's called "El Kilo." Here with a taste is DAY TO DAY contributor Gustavo Arellano.

GUSTAVO ARELLANO reporting:

Throw your "Buena Vista Social Club" CDs into the trash, hide your Celia Cruz albums, forget about Desi Arnaz forever. Now get up, listen for a sec and move your hips and minds.

(Soundbite of song)

ORISHAS: (Singing in Spanish)

ARELLANO: This is the music of the future Cuba. This is Orishas.

(Soundbite of song)

ORISHAS: (Singing in Spanish)

ARELLANO: Orishas is a trio of expatriate Cubans based in France that has lorded over Latino hip-hop since their 1999 debut. Their reputation rests on an invigorating alchemy of old and new Latin American rhythms. The group's zippy turntables and vibrating base lines aren't surprising, but few other hip-hop acts toss them into a cauldron of congas, horns and leaping pianos. And the menacing, boastful lyrics that you expect from hip-hop? Of course. But instead of taking verbal jabs at other groups, Orishas go after the big boys: social injustice, world poverty and--Dare I say it?--Castro.

(Soundbite of song)

ORISHAS: (Singing in Spanish)

ARELLANO: Orishas' last album, "Emigrante," was a dark, grooving tail of nostalgia for Cuba. "El Kilo," their third album, however, is more positive. It accepts that the Orishas' homeland is forever changed, but doesn't allow this fact to taint their love for the island. Take the opening track, "Naci Orishas," or "I Was Born Orisha." A lazy trumpet strolls through the intro, then the three members shout out, `I was born Orisha in the underground.'

(Soundbite of "Naci Orishas")

ORISHAS: (Singing in Spanish)

ARELLANO: After this, the song slows to a slinky beat as the three trade off greetings to Havana's musicians.

(Soundbite of "Naci Orishas")

ORISHAS: (Singing in Spanish)

ARELLANO: Orishas are masters of Cuba's rich and varied musical heritage. But what's more exciting here is how they seamlessly graft hip-hop onto complex genres, such as the ...(unintelligible) rumba, fast-paced guaguanco and other frenetic rhythms of the Caribbean. Rappers Russo and Yotuel lend a lyrical weight to "El Kilo" with their distinctive styles. Russo is staccato and terse, while Yotuel growls like a lawn mower.

Lead singer Roldan Rivero, meanwhile, assumes the role of sonero, the improvisational singer integral to Latin music. Rivero's raspy, floating voice leads his group to musical zeniths and does that with verve and soul. Hear his voice tumble out almost as fast as the traditional guitars that open, "La Calle," "The Street," a tune that decries the plight of the world's homeless.

(Soundbite of "La Calle")

ORISHAS: (Singing in Spanish)

ARELLANO: Orishas handle other heavy topics on "El Kilo" like prostitution and race relations, but the guys know that the audiences are more receptive to a political lesson if it's danceable. So Orishas wring joy out of even the darkest of situations with ease and love. With bards like these, Cuban music lovers can rejoice and the rest of us can just dance along.

(Soundbite of "La Calle")

ORISHAS: (Singing in Spanish)

CHADWICK: Gustavao Arellano writes for the OC Weekly in Orange County, California.

DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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El Kilo

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  • Album: El Kilo
  • Artist: Orishas
  • Label: Universal Latino
  • Released: 2005
 

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