BE the maracas

Congo to Cuba (Putumayo)
Various Artists

By David Lilly

Ready for exotic, romantic music? The gang at Putumayo ought to strike a deal with the Calgon people to bend that "Calgon, take me away" slogan just enough for them, Putumayo, to use something similar, like "Putumayo, take me there." Each Putumayo disc I've had the pleasure of hearing has been a new, if vicarious, cultural experience.

Congo to Cuba continues the tradition by containing the music of artists who hail from, well, literally like the CD title reads, Congo to Cuba. I am monolingual, but that has never stopped me from digging vocals I can't understand. I mean, I love Bob Dylan's singing (I'm not kidding) and that's practically the same experience, especially from the stage.

Dancers and romantics, are you ready to rumba? This disc features several glorious opportunities to do that, beginning with the sexy "Val Carretero," from Cuba's Chico Alvarez. For Mama Sissoko's "Safiatou," I don't know who hired the Guinean woodpecker to play percussion, but he/she deserves some reward for keeping flawless time all the way through the song. If that's computerized, I'll eat a clarinet reed.

I remember being forced to square-dance in kindergarten. That was probably before "Yiri Yiri Boum" was recorded by Benin musician Gnonnas Pedro, because I bet that would be far more fun for a bunch of five- and six-year-olds to dance to. I can hear all those shrill voices singing along with the simple lyrics as well. Harpo Marx seems to make a posthumous whistling cameo on Gambian musician Laba Sosseh's tune, "Son Soneate." Actually, it's probably a skilled flute player but it kind of sounds like someone whistling and Harpo was the first whistler I thought of. Without going into real detail, the rest of the disc is inhabited by rumba and Mardi Gras songs as well as one for folks agile enough to limbo (I'll sit that one out, thanks).

Congo to Cuba is recommended to you, faithful reader and music lover, as is each Putumayo compilation I've heard and written about. Visit their world of sounds at