Kiki Valera

Vivencias en Clave Cubana



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MUSIC REVIEW BY Dee Dee McNeil, Musicalmemoirs's Blog


This is a Cuban production full of happy and joyful music. These musicians create the kind of excitement that encourages you to have a party or at least to get up and dance. Kiki Valera is a Cuban Cuatro master and a member of the Familia Valera Miranda. The 'Cuatro' is a stringed instrument, smaller than a guitar and more the size of a violin. It has deep roots in Puerto Rico and is an instrument creation of Puerto Rican people. The Familia Valera Miranda are a respected, century-old group and one of the most important purveyors of the Son Cubano. They carry-on a rich Cuban music legacy. Son Cubano is a genre of music and dance, originating in the Eastern Cuban highlands during the late 19th century. It employs clave rhythm and vocals that celebrate the slave-style of 'call and response.' Much of this music is drawn from the Bantu influence and origin. Although the entire album is sung in Spanish, (and I do not speak the language) I could still feel the emotional connections these singers and musicians perform. Their messages stretch like sunrays across our divide and I warm to their international music.

Coco Freeman's lead baritone vocals are beautifully performed and plush with emotion. You will see that I reference the 'coros' above. The common instrumentation of the 'coros' is a group that features a viola, a string-less banjo used more as a percussion instrument, claves, guitar, harp and jug bass. But, Coros also references a choir of voices that is part of an artform grown in Havana and other Cuban cities around the 19th century. So, this music shares much historic data with us, as well as cultural roots. Interestingly, many of these compositions grew out of the roots of black slavery in Cuba, similar to the way jazz was birthed in America.

Kiki Valera, who has dedicated himself to performing traditional Cuban music, was also influenced by cassette tapes he listened to as a child. Some of those artistic influences included Pat Metheny, Wes Montgomery and Chick Corea. These jazz inspirations elevate the quality of his Cuatro solos. Valera is a prolific arranger and has arranged much of the original music on this album. Most of the songs are composed by his longtime friend and fellow musician, Coco Freeman. Freeman and Felix Valera Miranda also co-arranged some songs. One of the things I appreciated about this enjoyable album, inside the liner notes (in English) they describe the meaning of each composition. For example: "El Caballo de Curingo" is a humorous tale of Kiki's uncle whose drinking habits eventually even annoy the horse that brings him home every night. Another original composition, "El Perro de Juan" recalls a night when Kiki's father was chased up a tree by his brother's ferocious dog. Another composition, "Homenaje a Panchita" recalls the sad end of the family pig, which had been a pet to the children.

Along with tongue-in-cheek humor and the master musicians Kiki Valera and Coco Freeman employ on this project, you are certain to be thoroughly entertained.





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