Daptone Taps Cuban Soul on Upcoming Release

Getty Images
Havana, Cuba

Orquesta Akokán brought U.S. and Cuban musicians together in a venerable Havana studio for the Brooklyn label’s first all-Spanish recording.

Daptone Records has tapped into Cuban soul for an upcoming album recorded in Havana, Billboard has learned. It is the first all Spanish-language recording for the Brooklyn label, which released Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings’ triumphant final recording, Soul of a Woman, last year.

The new album, Orquesta Akokán, is named for a group of New York and Havana musicians who were brought together, Buena Vista Social Club-style, at Havana’s Egrem studio; the historic recording studio designed by Ramon Sabat in 1943 that was the house studio for his Panart Records, Cuba's first independent record label. Since Ry Cooder recorded Buena Vista there in 1996, other foreign producers have been drawn to the acoustics of the time-worn room and the prestige of its extraordinary past.

Jacob Plasse, who produced Orquesta Akokán, has previously sought to bring back Latin music’s glory (and grittier) days by recording live to analogue tape, and as heard on albums recorded with his own band, Los Hacheros, and by other artists on his label, Chulo Records (who include the bilingual mariachi group Flor de Toloache), Plasse knows how to bring the feeling and verve of the past into the present.

Contemporary Cuban music fans will be thrilled to find that Los Van Van original Pupy (César Pedroso) makes a cameo on Orquesta Akokán; other musicians on the album have performed with Irakere. Cuban vocalist José “Pepito” Gómez, who lives in New Jersey, came in for the session with Plasse and jazz pianist Michael Eckroth, who served as the album's arranger.

While nods to mambo and other vintage sounds are sure crowd pleasers, it’s the strength of the artists, with their confident timba and Latin jazz stylings, that makes this high-energy album stand out among recent recording excursions in Cuba.  

Orquesta Akokán is set for release in the first quarter of 2018, according to a press rep for Daptone; a date has not yet been announced.