2019 Year-End Charts

Albita Releases Cuban Big Band Album

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Albita

The big-voiced Cuban iconoclast records classic songs with old school sound performed in contemporary style

For Albita Rodríguez’s new album -- her 14th -- the big-voiced Cuban iconoclast brought 17 musicians into a studio to record “without cutting and pasting.”

“The idea was to pay homage to Havana in the 1950s,” Rodríguez, who is known professionally as just Albita, says to Billboard in a recent call from Miami. “But with very young musicians who approach playing the songs from the present day. We wanted to recreate the spirit of that Havana that was so incredible.”

To that end, the album, titled Albita, includes the piquant “Se Te Cayó El Tobacco (You Dropped Your Cigar”), and other songs in a medley honoring the great Cuban sonero Beny More. And Albita gives a nod to the essential Santiago composer and musician Miguel Matamoros with a version of his “Vamo’ Pa’ La Conga.” 

But the album, set for release Friday (Feb. 3) also sets out to capture the feel of pre-Revolutionary Cuba’s golden age of music with tracks that reflect the global sound that permeated the island then, and the international scope of the artists who performed then in Havana.

Albita delivers a saucy payback version of “L-O-V-E,” singing English with her thick Cuban accent -- rivaling Nat King Cole’s own heavy American-inflected interpretations of Spanish songs on his Cole Español albums. Her powerful rumba version of the classic  “Angelitos Negros” is an album highlight. Another is Simon Diaz’s “La Vaca Mariposa,” performed with criollo singer and cuatro player Rafael Pollo Brito.

Brazilian pop singer Alexandre Pires joins Albita on Jorge Ben Jor’s international hit “Pais Tropical,” from 1969. Ednita Nazario is featured on 1949’s flirty “Loca,” popularized by the Sonora Matancera with Myrta Silva. Ana Gabriel and Albita bring joyous gusto to the Pedro Flores bolero “Perdon.”

Albita came to Miami from Cuba almost 25 years ago, and has since been an essential keeper of the Cuban music flame, remaining faithful to traditional genres without devolving into a nostalgia act. She was a pioneer, leaving an island in crisis and arriving, in 1993, into an exile community that was not accustomed to welcoming nonconformist singers who had grown up in Revolutionary Cuba.

Only after gaining a considerable word-of-mouth following in Miami was Albita signed by Emilio Estefan’s Sony imprint Crescent Moon. Her 1995 album, No Se Parece a Nada, reached no. 3 on the Tropical Albums chart. Despite having three more albums in the Top 10 of that chart, Sony canceled her contract, and she went independent by default a dozen years ago. She has since been nominated for seven Latin Grammys.

“I record what I like,” she says. For Albita, she teamed with Miami label and management company InnerCat Music Group after meeting Producer Paris Cabezas, Managing Partner at InnerCat, who shared her passion for the Cuban big band era.

The result is a high-energy cocktail shaker of an album, recorded with depth and feeling by an unfaltering orchestra. 

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