(by Dave Hucker, "Hey, Mr. Music" column, The Beat magazine, Volume 20, Number 6, 2001)
In my search to bring you new musical tastes, I have also ac-cu--mulated quite a few recipes. I will not bother you with one for a really fantastic smoked zebra, because it begins with the instructions, "First, catch your zebra." I encountered this equine delicacy while camping out in the dunes in Namibia. The desert was in a rare state of bloom, flowers and grasses covered what was normally huge sweeping dunes of red sand blown in from the Namib. And there was smoked zebra ham on the menu.
I am just back from Africa researching what I hope is my first book, Navigating Botswana by Termite Mound, investigating the rare two-chimney termite mounds of the Okavango Delta. But it was in the Kalahari that I encountered a really wicked kudu stewone of the best I have ever, ever tasted. It was cooked in one of those big three-legged cast iron pots, with mushrooms, onions, sweet potatoes and lots of stonkingly wunnerful other things that I could not properly identify, gently simmered and reduced for four or so hours over mopane wood.
However the major problem I have found in London trying to recreate this lurvely jurberly kudu bourguignon is tracking down kudu. I have looked far and wide in the supermarkets for this large, dark-meated, regally handsome antelope. Even the bush-meat stalls in the local African markets do not have kudu, although you can easily find everything necessary for a hearty West African meal, like those huge land snails, and the gerbils, which are described as "mice." And grubs, you know, those attack-of-the-50-foot-monster-size grubs, and if it is your bag (not mine) and you know where to look and who to ask, you can also locate smoked monkey. The mopane wood is damn difficult to find as well, though I am having a truckload delivered soon-ish. Well, as soon as they manage to clear customs in Algeria. At the time of writing (October) the Algerians will not believe a lorry from Botswana is delivering a half-ton of mopane wood to an infidel nutter in London. But then I expected the shippers just to put it in a container.
There are many connections and comparisons between music and cooking. Cuban vocalist Aramis Galindo looks like he enjoys a good meal. The ex-Adalberto Alvarez singer has a substantial figure and a real stonker of a release out at the moment. Esto Tiene Cohimbre (Cuba Chevere) is ultra-megahit, ram packed with all the juicy goodness of a pure blast of 100% rumba and soul. His distinctive voice has so much sabor and feeling in it. What is laid out in front of your ears is a genuine powerful voice, slightly dry, but then the voice of the greatest sonero of all time, Hector Lavoe, was very seco. Aramis, like Hector, seems to also have a vast range of feelings and emotions available at the drop of a hat to express through his voice. He can twist keys, play with sound, take the emotions of the words here, take 'em there. Like all great singers it sounds as if he is talking into your mind, sitting right next to you.
There is great subtlety in evidence in the arrangements and songs, like on "Canto a Mi Negra" where Aramis swings the notes on a very jazzy step, while "Dime Si Me Ves a Querer" is a cooking bachata/rumba bump where a squiggly vocal slips genially in, sitting happily with the complex arrangement swings. Aramis' sophisticated vocals sound as if he means every one of those words that he is personally singing to you. Among the many strengths of this release are gut-busting good songs with real rhythmical depth, along with a great singer's ability to move things around a bit, to push things just enough that way and just a little bit this way, then bouncing away against the riddim, flashing around like a Malachite kingfisher. Certainly one of the best of year.
Anyway me hearties, while we have one rumba roasting away, let us look at La Rumba Soy Yo (Bis), a mucho guzzle release that features the aforementioned Aramis Galindo. It is a collaboration between many different artists on a rumba theme, a good package that steers between the roots and the popular. Some of are artists are purely rumba-rootsmongers, like Clave y Guaguanco, the great drummer Tata Guïnes, Munequitos de Matanzas and Los Papines, who are sharing the tradition with the with younger stars like Aramis and Issac Delgado (who incidentally does a real bang-up job on "Santa Cecila," a multi-layered explosion of taste). Other high points include "Un Violin pa' Chano," a wild rip-roaring effort from violinist Lazaro Dagoberto Gonzalez. It's real storming stuff, which kind of reminds me of the time when that elephant chased me when I was in the canoe.
The first time I listened to the new release from Cuban highrollers David Calzado and Cha-ranga Habanera, Chan Chan Charanga (Cio-can Music), I was not sure I liked the taste of it. It seemed a sort of a dull mixture, nothing sharp. For one thing it seemed a bit one-dimensional compared to the luxuriant rhythms and flavors of the Aramis release which had been monopolizing my airwaves. At first I would not say this is their greatest release ever, but then you cannot ignore them, they are a still serious popular force to be reckoned with in modernistic Cuban music. But I let it caramelize a bit and I was rewarded with a well-sweet afterburn. Not, my chummies, a hot chile afterburn, but a melodious popular one sloshing around in the pot. For example "Muevete," which actually grew on me as it gave up its bite, is one of the big bangers. It starts off in English with the exhortation to "move your body, shake it down baby." Usually this is something that makes me wince and pull a face as if eating a bitter fruit, especially when the track segues into "Macarena." I hear you ask, "Don't you mean macaroni?" No, the macarena! Remember that unfortunate period when record-shop shelves were stuffed with cheesy macarena? But in this particular example I forgive David Calzado for this lapse of taste because it is mixed in so well. The title track is a very crisp stir-fried al dente chunky-munky cut of that (now) classic oldie "Chan Chan," which I'm sure will find popular choice on the dance floor.
But the real big banging hot piri piri of the moment is the first release from Azucar Negra, Andar Andando (Bis). This delicious slice of crackling from ex-Bamboleo singer Haila Mompié seems to have the taste buds of modern Cuban music fans all a-salivating and has certainly sent their groove-ometer off the dial. Quite right too. It is a simple recording, very nice and basic, nothing fancy or flashy, just touching the right points in the right way. Straightforward and solid, this is a classic musical concoction that can never fail, just like the contest between a plate of bottom-fattening rice'n'black beans vs. anorexic nouvelle cuisine. All I can say is give me the pure carbohydrates any time, with fries as well. On Andar Andando the jazzy beats flux away with the timba, while Haila pours her heart out on the vocals. This is a very serious top-notch release, it builds on the groove, it flows like a good gravy. It is one of those epic journeys, simply no need for garnishes, just straight-in-your-face banging-shock food. Certainly cutting-edge Cuban music.
Termites interest me. I stand in awe of their ingenuity of existence and industrious nature: serving a useful purpose in the big picture of things, turning over the soil bringing nutrient--rich lower levels to the surface, clearing old grass and consuming dead wood. As a socialist, I appreciate their ability to work together for the common good. I have actually tasted them-you hold the head and bite the back bit. Though I tell you, me little muckers, it is not really possible to snuffle up as many termites as a hungry aardvark does (20,000+) at a sitting. However they are quite tasty especially during the wet season when they accumulate water. Anyway what I've discovered, happy campers, apart from all the other really useful things an old termite mound can be used for, like making bricks for houses, is it makes a rilly spondiciously wicked pizza oven. You obviously check it is empty, then you carve out a chamber in it about two feet wide by two feet deep and three foot high. Bang in a load of wood, set fire to it, then when it is nicely warm and it is just coals at the bottom, zip in yer pizza. The flavor of this very purist wood--fired oven is very scrumpal. However the hot coals hanging to the bottom of the crust can burn your mouth slightly.
Tobacco and rum are not widely accepted as a diet. However, I have come across quite a few octogenarians whose only calorific intake is from rum, and they look quite healthy on it. Of course the tobacco must be pure and organic with none of the 300 additives, like gunpowder, that are included in mainstream oily rags. Infusing in a fiery form on San Francisco's Dimelo label Orquesta Tabaco y Ron have struck a chord with many of my fellow salsa chums spread near and far. Their new release Que Se Sepa continues the quality of choice and musicianship on their previous release Salsa de Verda. On that one there were a large number of great cover versions, where as Que Se Sepa is mainly original numbers. All the tunes are very strong and the kicking quality of the playing continues. They deserve every accolade heaped on them like custard.
Elephant-foot bread. Now, this is very nice. You need to find where an elephant has stood trying to drink at the edge of a waterhole and left his pad prints in the mud, which have now dried terra-cotta hard in the hot sun. You carefully remove one print and use it as a mold for the bread. You dollop together a good measure of potato flour, a pinch of yeast, some salt from the pans and some tepid fisherman's daughter. Then you use your German bands to give it a good kicking and kneading. Then bake over hot ashes for about 20 minutes. Again I recommend you use mopane wood. Leadwood is not any good for this, it burns too hot, and as a very dense hardwood which is impossible to chop with any kind of blade, you actually have to shatter it with a big stone. I recommend that you use leadwood for your blacksmithy work.
Some of us travelers were parked together one night and were sharing a barbecue. Bored with antelope (it would be very hard being a vegetarian on the road in Botswana), I had passed on the bacon-wrapped eland wors with mieles and lemon leaves, and was doing some Botswana T-bone steaks with a special Kalahari sharp sand marinade. I had Juan Pablo Torres' Descarga Afrocuba (Caiman), playing on the Land Cruiser stereo. A guy came over waving some farmer's sausage at me. "Do you know who is that incredible trombone playing?" I explained it was a jumicilious Cuban trombone player called JP Torres. I'm not exactly sure when this release came out as the label, Caiman, is notorious for being economical with any sleeve information, but with its jazzy groove and rootsy sound it really seriously kicks Khyber Pass. And the wailing basso sound of a beautifully played 'bone always gets my knees all a-quiver, especially on the track "Trombomambo" where the trombone ebbs and flows in a series of very wigged-out solos. The way the sound of a trombone moves reminds me of a New Orleans gumbo. Hmm, maybe I should change the title of my book to Bush Chef.
Copyright 2002 Dave Hucker