Mala has more of a claim than most to be one of dubstep’s founding fathers (a tag he is reportedly uncomfortable with), and to decide to drop a challenging album fusing his style with sounds from Cuba’s unparalleled musical tradition as his first official full length release is testament to the talent of the man. Not unfamiliar with the knowledge of craft needed for the assimilation of different genres (Mala’s background as a disciple of Jamaican sound system culture has always been evident in his productions across the electronic music map), the Digital Mystikz man was always going to have the skills and creativity to pull this project off.
Mala in Cuba manages to deftly incorporate the fiery temperament of Cuban son into the vast, cavernous spaces of his production style without ever once compromising either, and, with all its intricacies, it isn’t surprising to learn that the album has been in production for over a year.
It also comes as no surprise to discover that the project has Giles Peterson’s fingerprints all over it – a European artist producing some contemporary fusion in Cuba would be foolish not to tap up the seasoned DJ – and Mala in Cuba is slated for release on the Brownswood label. Peterson famously had a hand in the creation of Roni Size Reprazent’s New Forms, bringing the worlds of jazz and drum & bass together in a staggering feat of production, and it appears he’s struck gold once again by curating this masterpiece.
Contributions by stars of the Cuban scene are expertly merged into the heaving beats, from pianist Roberto Fonseca’s gentle chords on the introduction (and sporadically throughout), to percussionist Changuito’s flurry of syncopated rhythms added to the track that bears his name. Timbales jangle and pianos tinkle, while all the while there’s that rhythm and bass-heavy Mala production mutating underneath. ‘Mulata’ and ‘Tribal’ both share a deconstructed, half-time drum & bass feel, unsettling piano chords dotted in and out of the percussion, while the rallying cry and twisting tempos of ‘Como Como’ make it an early highlight.
‘Cuba Electronic’ and ‘Calle F’ both appeared earlier in the month on a preview 12”, and show the variety of approach that runs through Mala in Cuba: the former a rampant, echoing mover; the latter a playful, salsa-inflected cut complete with a scatterbrain trumpet solo.
For those only interested in Mala’s dubstep endeavours, ‘The Tunnel’ provides a bit of bass-induced speaker movement, while ‘Ghost’ brings some melancholic triplet groove to the party. ‘The Tourist’ most clearly harks back to the Tres Cubano and double bass sounds brought to the attention of the world by The Buena Vista Social Club 15 years ago, Mala treating the chiming guitar phrases delicately with minimal percussion, before the drifting strings and reverberating piano chords of ‘Change’ eases the tone back down towards the daylight hours.
Danay Suarez adds her seductive and sultry vocals Noches Sueños, riding over a spaciously dub-heavy production with window-shattering potential. It’s a pensive closing to an album that has twisted, turned, shocked and awed its way through almost an hour of some of the most seamless and natural sounding combinations of genre you’re likely to hear in a long, long time.