The album Mujer y Cantante from Bobi Céspedes is masterful--a rambunctiously danceable, yet tender return to her roots in the Cuban son. With this offering Bobi claims her rightful place as an icon in the tradition of music making and singing that nourished her as a child in Cuba. The inspiration for the album comes from her mother, Dionisia, for whom song was a constant companion. Approaching the end of her life, she presented Bobi with the melody and first stanza for what would become “Mi Canto.” Singing allowed Dionisia to transcend the drudgeries of life. In Mujer y Cantante Bobi gifts us with a collection of songs deeply rooted in the Cuban countryside where she was born, and full of heart and wisdom that serve as a magic elixir to facilitate our own transcendence in hard times.
This swinging collection of songs celebrating cultural heritage must have Miguelito Cuní, Benny Moré and all the Cuban sonero ancestors dancing on the other side. Oricha chants, rumba, trova, son, bolero all come together in her style. Legendary Cuban women singers like María Teresa Vera, Celeste Mendoza, Merceditas Valdés, and Celina González echo in her. But even as she honors and extends tradition, Bobi is totally unique. Her voice is as inimitable as ever, with a sumptuous timbre rich as the finest ebony wood. Her singing boasts a rare blend of power, warmth, and dexterity in the low range. Her lyrics, informed by Afro-Cuban religion, prod and tickle us as they teach about life.
For this album Bobi gathered a powerful cast of musicians to conjure golden renditions of eight original compositions that constitute a journey. Travel with her on a review of Cuban music genres in “Rumbólogo.” Dance to “El Choko Choko.” Enter the house of blessings with “Ilé Mi.” Feel the deep longing for mother on the haunting bolero, “Mamaíta.”
After a long, distinguished career as co-director of Conjunto Céspedes, touring with Mickey Hart, then fronting her own band, it’s fascinating that Bobi Céspedes would choose now to release her most traditional son recording. Her own answer is “Because son is who I am.” Mujer y Cantante is proof. Just listen.
By Umi Vaughan, Ph.D.
Author of Rebel Dance, Renegade Stance: Timba Music and Black Identity in Cuba and Carlos Aldama’s Life in Batá: Cuba, Diaspora, and the Drum