A Cuban friend of mine just sent me this video of the redoubtable Cuban charanga group Orquesta Aragón. Charanga music is a kind of swinging Cuban chamber music prominently featuring flutes and violins. Add drums, hand percussion like congas and bongos, and you get a perfect combination of European and African music. It’s this magic musical synergy that makes Cuban music special.
Years ago, asking the great Malian singer Salif Keita who his biggest influences were, he uttered just one word: Aragón. They were one of the very few bands to tour West Africa in the 1960s, a period when many newly-independent African nations looked to Cuba as an inspiration, both politically and musically.
Years later, Aragón performed in LA and I was there, at two different concerts (before 2001, when Homeland Security made it virtually impossible for Cuban bands to come here) dancing to the sweet music. I also stood in line behind middle-aged and elderly Cubans who brought their 1950s lps for the band to autograph. I figured that many of these septuagenarian Cubans probably danced in Havana and fell in love to the dulcet sounds of Aragón.
This video, a recent one with good camera shoots and production values, shows the sweetness and dynamism of this great Cuban band. I hope they return soon.