J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, November 28, 2014

ADIFF ’14: Rumba Clave Blen Blen Blen

Forget Arthur Murray’s bastardization of the bolero-son. This is the real rumba. Think “The Peanut Vendor,” pre-Stan Kenton. It is a dance and a rhythm and maybe even a philosophy of life. Arístides Falcón Paradí surveys all manifestations of rumba, tracing its journey from Africa to Cuba and on to New York in Rumba Clave Blen Blen Blen (trailer here), which screens during the 2014 African Diaspora International Film Festival in New York.

You had better believe rhythm and percussion are important to Afro-Cuban music. Those who have not had at least a beginner’s introduction to Afro-Latin jazz (Trueba’s Calle 54 being a nice place to start) might not realize how sophisticated the music really is. It can also be wonderfully earthy, even though it has distant roots in sacred music.

Falcón Paradí explores rumba from both perspectives, celebrating the virtuosity of rumba musicians and its enduring popularity, particularly within the Cuban-American community. In fact, if there is one defining event for RCBBB, it would arguably be Mariel. Without it, Falcón Paradí would not have had nearly as many interview participants.

The doc features some big name musicians, most notably including the revered Candido Camero, considered by many the preeminent jazz conguero, still going strong in his nineties. With at least 2,000 recording credits, Camero (or just plain Candido, as many know him) is clearly the dean of RCBBB, but it is still tough to beat the effortless cool radiated by Jerry González, probably still best known for his work with the Fort Apache Brass Band. However, the late, great Orlando “Puntilla” Ríos largely serves as the film’s Obi-wan, carrying a disproportionate share of the on-screen commentary with authority and charm.

From time to time, RCBBB looks backward at rumba history, especially Chano Pozo’s legendary collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie that more or less constitute Latin Jazz’s creation story. Yet, despite his background as a CCNY faculty member, Falcón Paradí is more interested in putting the music in an everyday listener’s context. We get a sense of where the music is played and the lack of a rigid hierarchy demarcating artist from audience. Still, he recognizes interesting material when it arises. Several times he asks about the role played by the Abakua, the secret Cuban fraternal mutual aid society in the development of the music, getting evasive responses like “hmm, maybe for the next documentary.” At least he asked.

In fact, the extent to which Falcón Paradí is welcomed into the Rumba scene really tells you what you need to know about the communal nature of the music. Granted, in a politically focused documentary, a lack of editorial distance is highly problematic, but in this case, it just means he is invited to the party along with everyone else. Striking a good balance between scholarship and a jam session hang, Rumba Clave Blen Blen Blen is recommended for all fans of danceable music when it screens this Monday (12/1) as part of this year’s ADIFF New York.

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