Daptone Records Goes to Cuba: Orquesta Akokán Makes Blazing Hot Mambo Debut

Akokán is a Yoruba word used in Cuba meaning "from the heart, " and indeed, every song on the self-titled debut album (March 30/Daptone Records) by Orquesta Akokán feels like a heartfelt gift from the band to the listener. Assembled and led by Cuban vocalist José "Pepito" Gómez, Orquesta Akokán is a big band collective of the finest musicians on the island, both young and old. It features all-original music and was cut live to tape over a three-day session at Havana's hallowed state-run Estudios Areito. Areito is one of the longest operating studios in the world and where important Cuban records have been made. The album was produced by Jacob Plasse and arranged by Mike Eckroth.

'Orquesta Akokán' flexes its blazing hot mambo from the first downbeat, with lead-off track "Mambo Rapidito": a breakneck pace, deft big band orchestrations that dart and weave, rich cascades of piano, all led by Pepito's soaring, joyful proclamations.

"An explosion of brass and saxophone call the dancers to order then the rhythm rides on the pulse of the saxes, calling to mind the full bodied sound of past masters Pérez Prado and Tito Puente…The groove is as intense as a run away train." – NPR Music

José "Pepito" Gómez sang for legendary groups in Cuba before moving to the NYC area in 2008, where he's continued to perform over the past decade. Intersecting pathways in the music scene led Pepito to Jacob Plasse and Mike Eckroth. Plasse founded Chulo Records (he produced and released the Latin GRAMMY-winning Flor de Toloache album) and met Pepito through his band Los Hacheros. Mike Eckroth is an accomplished pianist, composer and arranger with a deep knowledge of Cuban music. Together they yearned to rediscover the sounds that Pepito knew from his childhood.

Pepito assembled the band, with help from Cuban musicians he worked with long ago. It boasts an all-star cast, including pianist César "Pupy" Pedroso from Los Van Van, a saxophone section featuring members of Irakere, and a percussion section featuring members of NG La Banda.

Then Pepito, Jacob and Mike flew to Havana for the session that began Nov 7, 2016 (straddling the U.S. election). The Areito sessions were electrifying, with a magic energy emanating not only from the historic room, but also from the musicians all gathered together. 'Orquesta Akokán' celebrates the Cuban kingpins of mambo: Pérez Prado, Arsenio Rodríguez, and Cachao. In fusing their distinct styles, the album evokes a sound straight from 1950s Cuba, and shot through with Daptone's distinct sense of soul, attention to sonic detail and songcraft.

This is a fascinating next step for Daptone, which released the final album by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings and mourned the loss of Charles Bradley in 2017. 'Orquesta Akokán' finds the label branching outside its own studios to release its first Spanish language album.


Mambo Rapidito

La Corbata Barata

Un Tabaco para Elegua

Otro Nivel

La Cosa

Cuidado Con el Tumbador

Yo Soy para Tí

No Te Hagas

A Gozar la Vida

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