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Timba Kings Rein in the Beat

By Cheryl Hazell

There's a place of Cuba right here in Toronto in the guise of a fairly new band on the Latin music scene. Ther high energy and strong following of Cafe Cubano is steadily making this band a favourite at nightclubs and festivals across Ontario. Cafe Cubano, a 12 piece timba son band is more than just your typical Latin musical ensemble. Let by director Jorge Betancoutr, the son of one of the most well known musicans in Cuba, the band's remarkable lineup of talents vocalists and musicans never fail to give pheomenal performances that keep dancers moving and singing to a blend of strong salsa beats and funk-driven timba.

Cafe Cubano boasts several new additionals from Cuba who had performaed and recorded with same of that northern Caribbean island's finest bands and musicans such as Valentin y Los Del Caribe, Adalberto Alvarez, Hasbana Ensemble, Irakere, and Cubanismo.

This big band style consists of a tight and talented lineup hailing from Camaguey, Havana, and Matanzas in Santiago province. Several band members have known each other since childhood while a few others were tutored under the likes of piano master Chucho Valdes and learned the ropes through direct exposure to top bands. The band consists of : Jorge Betancourt (Piano and Musical Director), Yaniusky Borrell (Vocals), Alberto Alberto (Vocals), Angel Luis Marquez (Vocals), Reinier Torres (Trumpet),

Alex Michael Borges (Trumpet), Jorge Maza (Flute and Sax), Aris Montenegro (Percussion and Vocals), Frank Marcos Aular (Bass), Ernesto Vizcaino (Congas), Jalidan Ruiz (Timbales), and Pablosky Rosales (Tres Cubano and Vocals).

Frank, the bass players, and the only Venezuelan in the lot broke down the genre that the band's musical director is bent on preserving. "It's not the commercial salsa like New York or Venezuela salsa. It's hard to explain but there's the timba which is very hard core, a revolutionary form of music, but this kind of timba which is more like a son, is the one Jorge wants to preserve."

It doesn't hurt to have tow of the best vocalists in Toronto in the mix - Angel Luis Marquez and Alberto Alberto - whose talents are crowned with infectious personalities, dazzling stage presence and perfect improvisational skills. Once described as the Iggy Pop of Latin music, Alberto Alberto is also known as a singer's singer and both are bonafide showmen.

One of the notable differences between Cafe Cubano and other salsa bands is the way the members come up with verses. They all know the structure of the song but anything is bound to happen when they get excited along with their audience members and things can take a musical turn at anytime. This is where the intensity comes from because although it can be the same song, it's never the same show. Try recording them one day and then do it a couple of days leter - it won't cound the same or contain the same elements.

Cafe Cubano, in keeping with the musical culture of Cuba, also incorporates a touch of social satire and political commentary into their songs and for those that are in the know, the element of subversive mischief can be easily detected. Frank explains: "When they talk they say it in ways that for an outsider sometimes doesn't make sense but the ones that are in the know understand what they're trying to say whether it's about politics or something else. It's a way to protest so the way that they talk and what they say usually carries a double meaning."

Timbe in itself is a revolutionary sound and is the local music of the streets in Cuba. In Toronto's Latin community, however, folks tend to be a bit wary of contemporary Cuban music and are drawn more to Puerto Rican and Colombian commerical salsa which seems to be easier to understand. But then again salsa music seems to be transforming into something just like timba south of the border.

"I'm from a salsa country, " Frank reflects, "but I love timba and Cuban music more than I love salsa. In Toronto there's a phenomena. Cuban music is more welcome than anywhere else and I think that is because a lot of Canadians go to Cuba and when they're there all they listen to is son. So when they go to see a Cuban band here I think they remember that happy time and that's what they want to listen to."

Cafe Cubano promises to keep your feet moving to their sweet Cuban rhythms and strong salsa beat at IRIE Fest on August 2nd at Nathan Phillips Square where they headline IRIE Salsa and beyond. Catch them while you can.

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