Changüí Majadero Bring a Rare, Slinky Oldschool Cuban Sound to New York This Weekend
“It’s gonna be an amazing night,” Lincoln Center’s Jordana Leigh beamed, a couple of hours ago. “Our programming is designed to represent the best of New York and beyond. Even though they’re from East LA, and Cuba, Changüí Majadero represent the kind of quality that we need at Lincoln Center.” She was on to something.
Changüí Majadero play the roots of salsa with a slinky passion. It’s the kind of Eastern Cuban dance music that was popular back when US gunboats were self-destructing in Havana harbor and mishaps like that were blamed on the occupying Spanish forces. It’s a soundtrack for rum and lechon parties on the beach that last for days. Which is to say that the six-piece band play it that way. It’s what the Buena Vista Social Club guys’ grandparents would have listen to as kids.
The tingly, metallic chimes of bandleader Gabriel Garcia’s tres opened the first song of the night, Guararey de Pastora. Roberto Bauto Segarra had a very serious reason for writing this undulating, crescendoing vamp: to placate his mother-in-law, who didn’t like him. Reggae-like polyrhythms between the tres and David Gomez’s 6-string bass percolated throughout this song, and much of the rest of the set, testament to the influence of Jamaican music. Lots of cross-pollination floats across the water in the part of the world this music comes from.
A bouncy tres riff and friendly, conversational trumpet from Roque Garcia kicked off Popurri De Sones, a catchy, upbeat ballad with jaunty harmonies between Garcia and frontwoman/guayo player Norrel Thompson. The bandleader took pride in telling the crowd that he’d written Pa Cuba Me Voy, a fearlessly political shout-out to the island: the packed dancefloor responded with a spontaneous clapalong.
Jorge Ortiz’s bongo de monte opened the steady, pulsing Mayumbero. His twin drums differentiate from your typical set of bongos since one is tuned with the usual drum pegs, but the hardware on the other is fire-tempered, and the sound is boomier. That might be a Haitian influence, considering that Haitian lights are visible across the water from Guantanamo.
The group went back to vampy, matter-of-factly rising proto-salsa in Me le Llevo al Megaton, the guy/girl vocals slowly rising toward fever pitch as the dancers twirled in front of the stage. The deadpan, sardonic Peor Es la Envidia dealt with “Haters that you can’t get off your back,” as the bandleader put it; Gomez’s soulful, serpentine solo echoed Garcia’s tres lines as the percussion section bubbled and clattered behind them.
They finally, finally slowed it down a little bit with Canconera, sung with wounded poignancy by Thompson over a similarly brooding, bolero-tinged bass groove punctuated by the chime of the tres and a mournful trumpet solo. It was the best song of the night. La Rumba Esta Buena, with its graceful minor-key riffs, was also pretty chill.
From there the band took a fat, bass-centered, trumpet-fueled departure into oldtime Cuban son and followed with the catchiest song of the night, which also most closely foreshadowed the sound that would become classic oldschool salsa in the 1960s and 70s. At the end of the show, the group left the stage and led the crowd in a parranda around the space.
Changüí Majadero are at SOB’s this Monday, Jan 15 at around 10; what’s even better is that the show is free. If you missed the Lincoln Center gig, this is a rare chance to see rural Cuban party music that doesn’t sound like it belongs in a museum. If you’re lucky they’ll play Un Burro y un Elefante, their wryly spot-on critique of American politics written in the wake of the 2016 Presidential election.
And the next show at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is this Jan 18 at 7:30 PM with classic oldschool Cuban-style charanga José Fajardo Jr. y Sus Estrellas. These free dance parties are wildly popular – if you’re going, get there early.