Re-imagining 80s rock classics in the era of geo-political warming
Havana Rocks Cecilia Noël - 140 g. VINYL EDITION
Compass Records, 2015 (revue)
Lima, Perú-born, L.A.-based Renaissance woman Cecilia Noël continues to push boundaries and delight fans with her original and ground-breaking take on Cuban-derived Latin dance music. On her latest release, Havana Rocks, she brings authentic, made-in-Havana instrumentation and arrangements to her own refreshing reading of classic 70s/80s rock, New Wave and pop tunes. However, unlike some Latin pop salsa romántica with English lyrics, Ms. Noël’s interpretation of how to cover gringo rock tunes differs from your Ricky Martins and J-Los in that Havana Rocks does just that: it rocks out! And way down in its soul, the record’s still resolutely Cuban too. Noël describes her style as “hard-core salsa” and feels she is more of a “punk salsa singer” so it’s quite fitting that she revisits the punk and New Eave era for this outing.
With Havana Rocks Noël and her fun-loving band make truly hybrid music that feels honest, real, and playful at the same time. At first glance, skeptics might balk at AC/DC done as salsa – is this some sort of hipster exercise in irony, a corny nostalgic gimmick to cash in on Buena Vista’s coattails, or just an embarrassing continuation of the Yankee Imperialist project to dilute “pure” Cuban music? One listen will silence critics as they start to move to the familiar melodies buoyed along by the infectious tropical grooves. The amazing thing is Ms. Noël fully integrates the contrasting elements of Latin and rock in a bi-cultural, organic union that is both pleasingly danceable and satisfyingly confident, where similarities and affinities are highlighted to cunning effect (it helps that the tunes are bi-lingual and that snippets of equally classic Cuban songs are melded seamlessly onto the Anglo tunes). A case in point is her imaginative re-working of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town” that fits her hard-core son cubano treatment like a leather glove. Yet the question of cultural imperialism with Havana Rocks, if there is any, is more around an interesting reversal of sorts – the viewpoint is resolutely looking outward from the island at the larger “90 miles” world beyond the “Mango Curtain,” where the rock element is merely a jumping off point for something deeper (literally in the instance of her brilliant version of Van Halen’s “Jump”). When Brit synth-pop icon Gary Numan’s originally ennui-infused “Here In My Car” is done within the context of Cuban history, it takes on a whole other meaning, enriching the album with sociological layers that belie the notion that salsa is only for the feet. Perhaps it is Noël’s own outsider immigrant perspective that facilitates this richness. Whatever the case, her special blend goes together like Havana Club rum and Coca-Cola.
In a time of ever-warming relations between Cuba and the US, this release is indeed timely and hopefully is a harbinger of our putting a more positive, collaborative spin on our shared past history and future destinies. As a vinyl fan and DJ who only plays wax, my own desires were answered when Noël’s label heeded the public’s petitions and came out with this vinyl edition in October, 2015. In a way it’s only fitting since the tunes covered on the album originally came out in that very same timeless format. (Hey label folks, any chance Cecilia’s 2009 release, ¡A Gozár! will be reissued on vinyl?!?). My advice is snap Havana Rocks up while you can and shake all night long, or as we say in Cuba, ¡Sacúdanse toda la noche!
Listen to song samples here:
Gettin' ready to rock tha house at New City Brewery's After Work Vinyl Hang, Easthampton, MA
From Compass Records' press release:
“If you’ve ever wanted to hear a boogaloo version of “Whip It”,” a timba chart of “You Shook Me All Night Long,” or salsa-dance to “Cars,” then Havana Rocks is definitely the album for you. Seriously, this is more fun than should be legal.” –WRIR’s Global A Go-Go
(Nashville, TN) October 21, 2015 — CECILIA NOËL's newest album, HAVANA ROCKS, is now availble on vinyl LP. Havana Rocks is a Latin-infused collection of pop/rock classics recorded in Havana, Cuba which recently won the 2015 Cubadisco International Award (the first American album to win this award). Together, Noël and crew combine elements of salsa, soul, jazz, funk, and Afro-cuban music to deliver infectious Latin takes on MTV-era mega-hits. The album includes covers of Devo’s “Whip It,” Gary Numan’s “Cars” andACDC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long,” along with hits from her husband Colin Hay's 90's hit machine Men At Work, Thin Lizzy, David Bowie, Van Halen and more–all propelled by deep percussive grooves and Noël’s rich and appealing alto vocals.
Originally from Lima, Perú, Noël was discovered by Stan Getz and moved to New York City where she briefly performed as a dancer with Jo Jo’s Dance Factory and Menudo. In 1989, she relocated to Los Angeles and became involved in the local music scene. She formed Cecilia Noël and The Wild Clams, a James Brown meets Pérez Prado type band, which received frequent bookings at the House of Blues and the Playboy Jazz Festival and instant acclaim for their explosive live shows. In 2009 Noël released A Gozár! (Compass Records), an infectious set of playful ‘salsoul’ grooves for which Noël is known and which earned Noël a spot on Putumayo’s critically-acclaimed Latin Party release in 2010. In addition to her band, Noël also performs and records with husband and former Men At Work front man Colin Hay and has produced Los Chapillacs. She is currently finishing production on Cuban tres master San Miguel Perez's first solo album.