By Joe Ross, Roots Music Report

Kiki Valera opens his debut album with “Mi Son,” a tribute to Son Cubano, the music that originated in eastern Cuba in the late 1800s by black and mulatto musicians, and then incorporated both African and Spanish elements as it gained universal appeal. We learn that the music comes from the hills (“mi son viene de la loma”), has lyrics sung with grace, poetry, rhythm, love (“gracia y poesia, ritmo y amor”) and if you want to dance, you need this music (“para bailar te hace falta mi son”). Kiki Valera’s father was the leader of Familia Valera Miranda, a distinguished family that preserved and performed the traditional music of Cuba’s Oriente province at the island’s eastern end. One of his father’s compositions, “Se Quema La Chumbamba,” tells about a fire at the family’s ancestral ranch. Introduced to the tres (an instrument with three sets of double strings) as a boy, Kiki Valera then studied classical guitar, before discovering his chosen instrument, the cuatro (with its four pairs of strings).

Throughout the set of music, Valera’s jazzy playing is impressively virtuosic, while Coco Freeman’s robust voice tells his self-penned stories exquisitely. Percussion, bass, trumpet and background vocals fill out the arrangements. The tightly crafted music is up-beat with a joyful, playful spirit and contagious energy. The album has plenty of explosive standout tracks like “Mi Son,” “Berenjena y Quimbombo,” “Homenaje a Panchita,” and “Desenfreno.” For more emotional and passionate musical statements, cue up the romantic tale “Dejame al Menos” or the ballad about a broken heart, “El Sinsonte.” (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)

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