For singers, recording a collection of classic tunes can be viewed as a rite of passage. These classics after all have helped define a generation. Jazz vocalists face this when they interpret the songs of Cole Porter and George Gershwin, along with many others that make up the great American Song Book. Cuban music has a significant canon as well. Songs which are not just memorable to Cubans, but well known favorites that resonate throughout Latin America.
On her new record, her third for Chesky Records, Xiomara Laugart steps up to the plate with her own distinctive style to interpret some Cuban classics from the golden era of the 1920s.“
People are familiar with Cuban rhythms, but they don’t know the songs or the composers,” said Laugart, who came to New York City in 1998 from Havana. “That’s what I wanted to do, introduce these songs to a new generation.”
Lagrimas y Rumba is a fine introduction to the singer-songwriter’s driven trova style from the city of Santiago and features works by two extremely influential composers of that era, Maria Teresa Vera and Miguel Matamoros. Laugart grew up listening and singing these tunes with her father, who encouraged her to sing starting at the age of five. “We heard these songs on the radio and everybody listened to the radio then,” she said of her Havana childhood.
As the title of the record suggests, the songs that Laugart interprets so elegantly range from the moody trova style standards like Vera’s “Ausencia” to the danceable son montuno of Matamoros’ “La Mujer de Antonio.” The heart wrenching lyrics of “Ausencia” speak about a love that will never be. Mixed with Yunior Terry’s stirring acoustic bass, they will have you sobbing in your mojito. But not to worry, Laugart, who has been influenced by Chaka Khan as much as by Vera and Matamoros, will have everyone packing the dance floor in a New York minute with her swinging versions of “La Mujer de Antonio” and “Nadie Se Salva de la Rumba,” made popular again during the 1980s by Celia Cruz.
Laugart excels at navigating shifts in style and mood thanks to a quintet of excellent musicians who are part of a new generation from Cuba that continues to flow into New York City. Terry provides the anchor giving the small band a big sound. Throughout the record, the melodies by guitarist Roman Lajara and flautist Javier Porta create a layer of sound joining Terry in creating the perfect intimate setting for Laugart’s nuanced phrasing. The Venezuelan Luis Quintero is the veteran of the group having played with everyone from Eddie Palmieri to Diana Krall. Gerardo Contino provided backup vocals and one of the youngsters of the group, Axel Tosca Laugart, the singer’s son, was responsible for the new arrangements.
Laugart’s fans from her days leading the Grammy nominated band Yerba Buena, the raucous ensemble that experimented with all kinds of urban Latin America rhythms, might be surprised by her approach here, but this is roots music. This is Xiomara Laugart unplugged. The closer you listen, the more you’ll appreciate the nuances. Her subtle phrasing weaves around the melodies and highly poetic lyrics. The country flavor of Lajara’s guitar is intensely expressive with the rustic sound of Quintero’s percussion and the culture that it all comes from. Lagrimas y Rumba will have them crying and dancing all night long, well into the morning at clubs like Hoy Como Ayer in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana where Xiomara performs regularly. That too is a serious rite of passage, one that she has already overcome and this album is her next.