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World Music CD Reviews Reggae & Caribbean

Various Artists

By Michael Stone
Published March 16, 2007

La Collection Cubana
Empire Musicwerks 824


This compilation draws from the archives of the Cuban Sonotone label, whose owner fled north in 1960 with only his masters in hand, joining the mass exodus to Florida in the wake of the revolution. A three-CD survey, it presents an array of solo singers and famed Cuban trios lionized by the Cuban middle class. Volume 1, Las Divas Cubanas, offers 20 tracks by female singers who, for the most part, never regained anything close to the aura they had enjoyed in the swank nightclub scene of 1950s Havana. The opener is a haunting son by María Teresa Vera, whose artistry altogether defies the “diva” tag, and whose career predated by a generation the 1960s pop-operatic and show-tune repertoire rounding out the volume in all its campy glory. Best known of the latter artists are Ana Margarita and Julie Rufino, of Los Rufinos fame. Volume 2 presents Los Trios Cubanos, highlighting some of the classic guitar and percussion-backed vocal trios whose son and bolero style still represents the apex of romantic Latin canción for many. Represented are Los Camperos, Trio Taicuba, the flamenco-tinged Los Martinos, the stentorian Evaristo Quintanales, and the rather puzzling inclusion of the Los Rufinos family quartet, performing classics from the Cuban songbook (“Piel Canela,” “Guantanamera,” “Me Voy pa’l Pueblo,” “El Mar y el Cielo,” “Corazón, Corazón,” “María Elena,” “La Última Noche,” and the onomatopoetic “El Reloj”). Volume 3, Los Crooners Cubanos, essays the male lounge singers whose syrupy repertoire and bel canto self-fashioning were all the rage in 1950s Havana. The tragically romantic filin genre will be familiar to listeners of a certain age (“Historia de Amor,” “Miénteme,” “Jugué y Perdí,” “Fui Culpable”), although few of the singers will be recognizable to today’s audiences (Buena Vista Social Club stalwart Manuel “Puntillita” Licea is a notable exception).