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Reseña de álbum

Cantos de Cuba sounds like vintage '50s Cuban tracks by Celina González and Reutilio Dominguez, unearthed in their original form and untouched by any modern sound restoration technology. The sound is very thin, very compressed, and often cluttered by the backing group of pianist Obdulio Morales. You can't hear the distinctive vocal harmonies of Dominguez, González's partner until 1963, as well as you'd like. The inevitable version of that absolute masterpiece of early Cuban music, "Qué Viva Changó/Santa Bárbara," isn't that strong.

So what do you hear and why should you maybe want to hear it? Only for the reasons Celina González became a force (of nature) in Cuban music because her voice just cuts through all the murk and clutter like a clarion call beacon of clarity. She has a commanding voice, one that absolutely demands respect and basically says, "Do not mess with this woman if you value your life." Just listen to her come in on "Tumba La Caña" (which is probably a pretty disposable piece of pop fluff à la cubana) or the exceptional yet so effortless phrasing on "Me Tenían Amarra'o con P" or "Canto a Borinquen." She is a born singer, an absolute natural.

These are all compact, three-minute songs with a fair amount of variety in the arrangements, though one would suppose the piano and percussion orientation of "El Rey Del Mundo" is closer to the regular Cuban pop sound of the era. "La Casa De Yagua" sports a fine muted trumpet over Morales' piano and González being González, but that vintage jazz growl can't salvage "Papá Bocó" or the throwaway "Quiero Bailar Con Celina." Likewise, nothing can save "Ritmo Cordonero" or "Agua Pa' Mi" (the piano solo tries on the latter), but González and a nice chorus hook exhort "Romance Guajiro" and the unusual lurching rhythm to "A La Caridad Del Cobre" home.

Her voice really shines when Dominguez's guitar dominates the arrangement ("Pedacito de Mi Vida," "Canto a Borinquen") and they rock out with their old-school harmonies ("Yo Soy el Punto Cubano," the last of several times when you hear echoes of an acoustic "La Bamba" in the music). Her other specialty is Santería saint praising, be it masked à la "San Lázaro," with a very strong Morales solo complementing her, or a hard drum push that spurs "El Hijo de Eleguá" to a level that makes you think of "Qué Viva Changó/Santa Bárbara" — and that's a high compliment. There are certainly better compilations out there for an introduction to the mighty voice of Celina González, but Cantos de Cuba has a lot of historical value despite its technical shortcomings. Even the mediocre and downright bad tracks are interesting in that they shed some light on what the Cuban music industry thought was right for one of its pop stars singing for the home market. But by all means, make the effort to hear Celina González — no one should go through life without hearing her sing "Qué Viva Changó/Santa Bárbara" at least once.

Alma de Cuba, Celina y Reutilio
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