Listen to "Fiebre De Mambo," the latest blazing single from Orquesta Akokán
If you've been paying attention to the popular music discourse in recent weeks, you may have come across some thoughtful reflection on the 25th anniversary of Buena Vista Social Club. That unabashedly nostalgic album, along with a subsequent doc film and a series of concert tours, set the agenda for mainstream appreciation of Cuban music in its midcentury heyday.
But the Buena Vista cottage industry, as it were, isn't the only successful model for vibrant musical exchange between Cuba and the United States. Among the others to spring up in recent years is Orquesta Akokán, which was formed by a pair of Americans, pianist Michael Eckroth and guitarist Jacob Plasse, and features an array of dynamic contemporary figures on the Cuban scene, like vocalist José "Pepito" Gómez and percussionist Roberto "Tato" Vizcaíno, Jr.
The band, which harks back to the Tropicana era, released a well-received self-titled debut in 2018, and performed at WBGO for The Checkout. The following year, it was featured in a kinetic episode of Jazz Night in America.
The band's second album, 16 Rayos, will be released on Daptone Records on Oct. 22. Recorded at EGREM Studios in Havana (the same iconic facility that gave us Buena Vista Social Club and many of its offshoots), 16 Rayos marks a step forward in the evolution of Akokán. The album incorporates a string quartet on some tracks, and welcomes an intergenerational array of Cuban talent — so that Tato Vizcaíno, for instance, is joined by father, the legendary percussionist Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot.
Today, in a WBGO premiere, Orquesta Akokán shares the third single from 16 Rayos: a dispatch from the dance floor titled "Fiebre De Mambo." It opens with a scene-setting flourish played by Plasse on a Cuban tres (fed through an old amp), before the tempo kicks in. "Fiebre," of course, means "fever," and the entire performance is a nod to the mambo caliente tradition.
Don't miss the saxophone section's moment just after 1:30; that's César López on alto, Jamil Shery and Germán Velazco on tenor, and Evaristo Denis on baritone. And at 2:23, Plasse starts a rocking tres solo, briefly flirting with a whole-tone scale.
16 Rayos will be released on Daptone Records on Oct. 22; preorder here.