Prom 23: Havana Meets Kingston – Mista Savona

“Leading reggae and dancehall producer Mister [sic] Savona brings together some of Cuba and Jamaica’s most influential musicians for a concert combing the sounds of roots reggae, dub and dancehall with son, salsa and Afro-Cuban to create a new musical fusion.” [BBC Proms website]

Mista Savona (keyboard & samples), Randy Valentine (vocals), Solis (vocals), Brenda Navarrete (percussion & vocals), Julito Padrón (trumpet & vocals), Matthieu Bost (saxophone), Bopee Bowen (guitar), Rolando Luna (piano), Valery ‘Valess’ Assouan (bass), Manuel Garcia (drums) & Inor Sotolongo (percussion)

Reviewed by: Denise Prentice

Reviewed: 31 July, 2018
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Havana Meets Kingston at the Royal Albert Hall, as part of the BBC Proms 2018Photograph: Mark Allan / BBCHavana met Kingston with swagger and style in this late-night Prom exploring the fusion of Cuban and Jamaican musical traditions; the introductory piece captured the deep spiritual element of both: the mesmeric heartbeat of the African drum accompanied by Brenda Navarrete’s soulful chant. The collective brought together by Mista Savona featured a virtuoso line up of musicians. Julito Padrón set the standard, blending Afro-Cuban jazz in a contemplative trumpet solo and Rolando Luna’s adept piano skills graced the evening with expression and fluidity as Brenda Navarrete’s vocals undulated in rich commanding tones.

The influence of the Buena Vista Social Club was reflected through the choice of pieces. Inor Sotolongo drove the Cuban son rhythm with liberated energy in a flamboyant presentation of ‘El cumbanchero’. This expressive and joyful rendition made it almost impossible to sit still. At the Jamaican end of the musical spectrum, ‘410 San Miguel’ showcased dub reggae. Bopee Bowen delivered a pulsing bass riff with Manuel Garcia’s drumming dexterity weaving around elaborate piano passages. Savona delivered on the mixing elements of dub, adding echoes and reverb as Padrón’s trumpet syncopations explored unexpected textures.

Strong vocal performances reflected both the distinctions and connections between the two customs. ‘Candela’, the Social Club standard, presented with a Jamaican twist, featured a robust vocal performance in Spanish by Solis joined by Randy Valentine’s Jamaican ‘toasting’ (lyrical chanting to a rhythm) in a thrilling marriage of styles, while the titular piece, ‘Havana Meets Kingston’, sustained a sense of drama featuring Matthieu Bost in an exhilarating sax solo, which carried through to a fittingly exuberant rendition of ‘Carnival’. The final nod was accorded to Jamaican roots reggae, with Bob Marley and the Wailers’ ‘Positive Vibration’ as an uplifting encore.

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