Review | Los Zafiros, Bossa Cubana; Moby, Play By Daniel Goldmark

Los Zafiros: Bossa Cubana (Elektra 79572)

 When World Circuit released The Buena Vista Social Club, they turned the world on to a group of Cuban musicians that had been languishing in near-obscurity (at least in the United Stated). In no time, several more albums appeared, featuring the likes of Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén Gonzalez, and Compay Segundo in new solo recordings. World Circuit’s newest release, however, is a look back to the 1960s, into the world of Cuban pop doo-wop-the music of Los Zafiros (“the sapphires”), on Bossa Cubana.

A vocal quartet formed in Havana in 1962 by two singers (“Kike” Morúa and “Miguelito” Cancio), Los Zafiros combined the sweet harmonies popularized by American doo-wop groups like The Platters and The Ink Spots, and the unique arrangements used by The Flamingos and others with the craze for rhythms of South American origins, including the bossa nova and the calypso. With two other singers-Eduardo Elio “El Chino” Hernandéz and Ignacio Elejalde, the latter’s high, silky-smooth ultra-tenor voice dominating the ballads-and a guitarist, Manuel Galbán, Los Zafiros produced a string of pop hits in Cuba. These alternated between doo-wop infused with rhythmic and harmonic complexities and with slow love songs featuring Elejalde’s vocal cord-defying range. Fusing a variety of musical ideas, Bossa Cubana surprises the listener: be ready for a unique experience.


Moby: Play (V2 27409)

 One might not expect the newest album from one of the most innovative and unpredictable DJs to have a special acknowledgement to “the Lomaxes and all of the archivists and music historians whose field recordings made this record possible.” Yet on his latest album, Play, which comprises several fast dance numbers and house tunes, Moby (born Richard Melville Hall, a direct descendant of Herman Melville) samples work by the likes of Spoony G, but also draws from archival recordings made by Alan Lomax (an ethnomusicologist and folk-song collector) in the first half of the century. He includes melodies performed by Bessie Jones and Vera Hall, both women who sang for Lomax’s collections, for sampling sources on several of the tracks.

Repeated listenings of this album (listen to an excerpt) reveal how skillfully Moby can evoke different moods through his music. Each song is relatively short, giving him the chance to firmly develop one idea or impression, whether through his own spoken poetry through the songs, a slow “Guitar flute & string” riff, or the sampled voices of the Lomax legacy. By bringing the bluesy field recordings together with modern rap and hip-hop beats, Moby makes us hear how closely related these genres are, and how something as advanced and modern as techno can be even more compelling when infused with some good old-fashioned blues.


Daniel Goldmark
University of California, Los Angeles