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Mala in Cuba (NOT MALI in Cuba)

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Lately, a new trend has been upending the conventional approach to the transcultural collaborations. Moving away from the Paul Simon/Ry Cooder model, in which western instrumentalists attempt to fuse their playing style with ensembles drawn from another region, a newer generation of projects tends to draw more on the stylistic and compositional vocabulary of the DJ, reshaping- in subtle or not so subtle ways- the sounds of their collaborators, sounds that come to function as raw materials for this (re)mixing, (re)editing process. Enabled by an increased flexibility found among the tools and attitudes of many electronic musicians, and driven by an increasing appreciation of the rhythmic possibilities created by (more) traditional music from across the globe, recent years have seen a number of such projects, many of which have been remarkably successful.

We can now add Mala, half of Digital Mysticz and one of Dubstep’s founding fathers, to this growing list. Invited to Cuba by Gilles Patterson, a highly influential BBC DJ/label owner who had previously released projects featuring Cuban musicians (2009’s Havana Cultura and 2011 Havana Cultura 2: The Search Continues), Mala embarked on the journey with no premeditated goal in mind. According to an interview with FACT magazine, “The plan was literally just go to Cuba, link up with some musicians, check out the vibes, and then see what happens.”

After jamming and recording at his preferred tempo with a band of local musicians lead by Roberto Fonseca (and being blown away by the Cuban musicians legendary chops), Mala went to work, twisting and layering their fast-paced grooves to fit them into his slinky, dubbed out compositional style. The results, as demonstrated by the initial Calle F/Cuba Electronic single released this Monday, are quite impressive.

Although still ensconced in the sparse, echoing style that is one of the hallmarks of dubstep, the natural warmth of the Cuban musicians whose playing provides the foundations for the tracks is still apparent, injecting a relaxed and upbeat tone into the genre’s typical rolling brood. A strange and productive tension is apparent throughout, as the chopped and folded beats that create the superstructure pull against the swinging, syncopated groove of their materials. Add to this some distinctively Cuban piano, a bright trumpet swathed in echo, and synth swells that emerge out of the depths, and you have some idea of how the tracks sound.

The Mala in Cuba album will be released on September 10th by Patterson’s Brownswood label.

Check out the two songs that have been released so far below.

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  • Vaitomar

    Gilles Peterson!