If I had to pick a couple of terms to describe myself, they would be: funky Afro-Caribbean woman. Imagine my instant connection to the debut album of Palo!’s This is Afro-Cuban Funk. I first heard of them while listening to a Blog Talk Radio show that featured their music and immediately went to their website. Their homepage is simply amazing. Not only do you get to sample each of their songs, but you can also enjoy the phenomenal imagery that is the hallmark of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, specifically Cuba.
The first thing I noticed that sets Palo! apart from other Latin fusion bands is their inclusion of a saxophone, played by Ed Calle. Leslie Cartaya is on lead vocals and her voice is piercing in a comforting and familiar way. There’s a certain rasp to Cartaya’s pipes that works so well with the rustic sounds Palo! produces. It’s difficult to pick a favorite song off This is Afro-Cuban Funk as they have been playing on my Ipod all week. “Lengua Larga” is the first track on the album that is a wonderful introduction. We hear the traditional sounds of what we know are the staple of Caribbean music from the Spanish-speaking islands. You can’t miss the sudden howl of Calle’s saxophone at the end.
Things get real funky by track three of This Is Afro-Cuban Funk with “Tobaco y Ron Pa’ Mi Santa” and definitely by track eight, titled “Oro.” The only song that features other artists is “Pa’ Changó,” a celebratory anthem for the orisha Changó with Los Herederos. There are several songs to the santos/orishas, which is also found in many traditional Afro-Caribbean tunes, and “Pa’ Changó” takes its place among them all. I had the most fun listening to “Crescencio” because I imagined how it can drive everyone to the dance floor on a Friday night.
One of the challenges I’ve noticed with some self-identified funk and fusion bands is that many of the songs sound very similar. The tracks are so alike that the entire album can almost be one long song. Fortunately, this isn’t the case with Palo! Each track has its own unique style that is textured with exciting beats from the tropics. “Camina Con Los Codos” is a perfect example of the live vibe Palo! produces, with the added touch of some serious jazz!
Albums like This is Afro-Cuban Funk make you wish there were more than ten tracks. Yet, it does make us all want more and I’m sure Palo! has plenty to share. If there were ever a band that was looking for a tambourine player to join them, I’d be the first in line!