Ah, Street Scene and its ability to blend the unblendable-like, say, Tool, Snoop Dogg and Donavon Frankenreiter. If this blending-the-unblendable stuff tickles your xenophillic bone, we've got the band for you: Ska Cubano. As you may have guessed from their name, Ska Cubano have taken the music of two tiny islands with big sounds and done some serious crosspollination.
"Ska and rock steady, as far as we know, wasn't known in Cuba [because of the] blockade since the revolution in '59," says singer and producer Natty Bo. "Jamaicans could get Cuban radio, but it was a lot harder in Cuba to get reggae, ska and rock steady."
The idea to combine the musical heritages of the two islands came from musicologist Peter Scott, who had spent 10 years exploring Cuba and Jamaica. Scott became convinced that ska would have become a major part of Cuban music had Castro not put the kibosh on the swapping of ideas. Because the world missed out on this marriage of sounds, Scott took matters into his own hands. He brought together London ska legend Natty Bo of Top Cats, charismatic mambo singer Beny Billy and a band of ripping ska musicians.
"Scott brought me to Santiago de Cuba to start the project," Natty Bo explains. "I had ideas of songs, rhythms, styles, instrumentation that would work and so I produced, arranged, and wrote songs.... Then I met [Beny Billy]-the living reincarnation of [legendary Cuban vocalist] Benny Moré in Santiago de Cuba. So now we have Benny Moré-goes-ska."
Natty and crew aren't content to rest on Ska Cubano's laurels. The group plans to keep adding sounds and cultures to the pot. Mambo, son and cumbia, calypso, swing jazz and rock steady will be part of Natty Bo's recipe in the future. Sounds like you should catch them before Natty Bo gets too ambitious and tries to mix in a little Tool prog-metal.
Ska Cubano play Street Scene on Saturday, Aug. 5.