From the opening notes of "Mambo Rapidito," the first single and opening track from Orquesta Akokán's self-titled debut album on Daptone, it's impossible not to move one's feet and hips. An homage to the great mambo music of the '40s and '50s, this 16-piece big band of seasoned Cuban musicians -- that includes lead vocalist Jose "Pepito" Gomez and pianist/arranger Michael Eckroth -- makes the dancefloor burn. Recorded at Havana's legendary Areito Studios over four days in 2016, this nine-track set offers the same intensity and joy that burst forth from recordings by Arsenio Rodríguez, Benny Moré, Tito Puente, and Perez Prado.
There's a layer of richness infused into the debut album from Orquesta Akokán that hard to deny. Akokán, a Yoruba word that means "from the heart," is an apt descriptor for the collective led by Cuban vocalist José "Pepito" Gómez; this collection of original music, recorded over a three-day session in Havana, is equal parts fiery, vibrant and technically sound.
It's much ado about the mambo here: kickoff single "Mambo Rapidito" moves swiftly and without fear. "Un Tabaco para Elegua" wears its Afro-Cuban tambor spirituality on its collective sleeve, leveraging meandering horns to preach to the choir and recently converted alike.