Sexy, propulsive Cuban rhythms, sprinkled with South American soul, recently converged slightly closer to home for London dubstep producer Mala. Seen in a fresh light, the calypso climate, peppered with a distinct latin flavour, pours down into Mala’s music like the brilliant blue Cuban heat. This not only ensures your average dubstep is left back at the airport, but it also rejuvenates the dehydrated style (not bad for a debut full length album.) Mala seems to know that a steady injection was desperately needed. In blending Cuba’s native instrumentation alongside electronic elements, Mala In Cuba has soaked up the lively essence of the country, and its vibrant musical culture, leaving us with a swirling exploration of soundsystem culture and Latin soul; a delectable musical cocktail concocted in Cuba.
At the suggestion of his musical sensei Gilles Peterson, Mala boarded a jet destined for Havana. During his visit, he worked with afro-caribbean musicians of the highest calibre – most prominently jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca, his band and other notable musicians. All Mala requested was his favourite 140 bpm pace. As a result, the music zooms along, airily blending the two styles across the musical borders; this doesn’t sound like your regular dubstep. Mala creates a dreamy coalescence between electronic and natural instrumentation. Those tasty, irresistible rhythms found deep inside the spirit of Cuba can be found here; Latin beats folding over light, undressed electronics, dabs of a sweet perfume breezing into the sun-kissed sky, while sweet, jazz-light piano segments help to smooth out the electronic atmosphere.
One also feels the gritty urban soul of dubstep that could just as easily be found on the streets of London. Sadly, this level of musicianship isn’t always a trademark inside London’s clubs. As long as that cycling bassline is rockin’ and capable of tipping the decibel levels into the red, nothing else seems to matter. Mala forgoes mediocrity by introducing a sophistication inside the music, bringing it back to respectability.
“Mulata” and its tinted piano melody shies away from the brash beats, and any kind of bass frequency is unobtrusive (for once), content to support the musical structure instead of consume it. The piano, leaving a delayed, chordal trail, enjoys a healthy spotlight during the first three tracks; tribal drums sprinkled with Cuban voices shape a playful atmosphere in their support. It is the multitude of instrumentation that impresses – trumpets infused with smoking electronic beats and natural, native drums that are welcoming to hear, while also highlighting Mala’s skill as an arranger. The dubstep influence is still present; heavily anchored beats that are capable of sinking naive melodies, but they never dominate the record. Elsewhere, the upbeat tempo of “Revolution” will surely get the hips swaying. The two styles may seem continents apart, but they make for an interesting, irresistible duo…if done correctly.
It isn’t all blue sky, though. “Como Como” falls a little flat, although it does capture the wider atmosphere and geography of Cuba with the introduction of vocals. Yet, despite pacing issues, the high quality of musicianship more than makes up for any lack of coherence. Following on is the galloping “Cuba Electronic”, and normality resumes. Shifting between a tribal percussion and a darker, industrial sample, this track sparkles in the urban sun. The drop still sounds refreshing despite the inevitable approach. Any electronics stay lightly touched in the studio, blossoming out of the speakers like musical bubbles.
The psychotic dubstep wobble isn’t too far away. In fact, it almost diminishes all of Mala’s previous efforts. Latin beats are violated on “The Tunnel”, upended by that wobble we are now all too familiar with. One feels the record would sound so much more cohesive if the focus remained purely on the latin ryhthms. Even on another continent, the standard dubstep tag is still here, sprayed onto the record and staining it like tacky graffiti. Yet, for the majority Mala gets the balancing act just right, and he’s daring to be different.
Dancing becomes addictive when listening to Mala In Cuba, so much so the listener may find themselves forming a drunken conga line that shifts from side to side like the two, very different styles. Can we return?
Love from Cuba. (James Catchpole)