Puerto Plata - 'Casita de Campo'

Tagged with: Acoustic Dominicana Latin American Puerto Plata Casita de Campo iASO Bachata Merengue Son bolero guajira guaracha Trujillo Edilio Paredes Pablo Rosario Glyn Phillips WorldMusic.co.uk World Music

[iASO Records / iASCD004 / 2009]

When thinking of the Caribbean nation of the Dominican Republic (situated between Haiti and Cuba on one side and Puerto Rico on the other) merengue and bachata are usually the first musics to come to mind.

“…classic love songs and lilting dance numbers…”

However in this new (2009) recording, 86 year old sonero and guitarist, José Cobles (aka ‘Puerto Plata’) helps us to fill in the picture of the ‘lost years’ of the Trujillo dictatorship (1930-1961) when musicians were seen as potentially subversive to the reign of this most paranoid and brutal of latin american dictators.
During his iron-grip rule ‘El Jefe’ Trujillo controlled the music industry to such an extent that only government-approved bands were allowed to perform on the radio or at prestigious venues. For 30 years, whilst nearby Cuba poured out thousands of songs all over the globe often spawning international hits, the vast majority of Dominican musicians had no recourse but to play in underground clubs and in small gatherings. Consequently recordings from a whole generation of dominicans are exceedingly rare.

Congratulations go to iASO Records for trying to rectify this by getting Puerto Plata (one of the last few Dominican soneros to survive from that era) back into the recording studio with some excellent musicians before it’s all too late. This is his second album - his debut one was “Mujer de Cabaret” recorded when he was a mere 84!

"the unmistakable sabor of la republica dominicana"

The new album, “Casita de Campo” (’little house in the country’), contains 11 tracks showcasing the musical genres popular in the city of Santiago of that era: 6 boleros, 2 guarachas, a guajira, a merengue and a bolero-son, with the tempo picking up more in the second half of the album.

At first hearing the overall feel is reminiscent of Cuba’s Ñico Saquito (World Circuit WCD035 “Goodbye Mr Cat”) or the Cuban-born, Puerto Rico-resident, Guillermo Portabales (World Circuit WCD023 “El Carretero”). However, there is the unmistakable sabor of la republica dominicana permeating the album - such as the use of the güira (a metal scraper with a very ‘dry’ sound) and is particularly evident in the requinto-playing of Edilio Paredes and the contemporary bachatero Pablo Rosario - whose joyful staccato style of plucking immediately lifts each song he’s on as he takes the whole band along with him.

In fact it is this subtly modern feel to the recording that helps to elevate this from an historical footnote to a forgotten era into an album that is highly enjoyable in its own right. Puerto Plata’s voice lacks the occasionally overly nasal tones of some Cubans and instead has a light, but smoky timbre (with a subtle tremolo).

The CD also comes with a 16 page booklet in English and Spanish. Lyrics and translations of songs can by accessed by iASO’s website (www.iasorecords.com).
My only criticism is that we could have done without yet another recording of “Guantanamera” - surely the most overplayed song in the Spanish language - I’d have much preferred another old-style merengue, bachata, or guaracha.

However, full marks go to iASO Records for bringing this music out of the shadows of Trujillo’s legacy and onto the playlists of the 21st century. If this is a taste of things to come from iASO, then book me a place at the table!

Glyn Phillips - WorldMusic.co.uk