Funky Freeport b/w Funk Con Cubano Sabor

Jay Mitchell: Mustang Sally
Dry Bread: Words to My Song

Both from Cult Cargo: Grand Bahama Goombay (Numero Group, 2007)

Groupo Irakere: Bacalao Con Pan
Orquesta Riverside: En Casa Del Trompo No Bailes

Both from Si, Para Usted (Waxing Deep, 2007)

I’ve been far overdue writing about Grand Bahama Goombay, the latest edition in Numero Group’s “Cult Cargo” series (you might recall my March post on their Belize Boil-Up CD). As it happened though, on PRI’s The World the other day, they reviewed both that CD and Si, Para Usted (which I had just gotten in the mail) together and I figured if public radio was ahead of me, I needed to catch up.

The Goombay comp looks at the funk/soul music coming out of Grand Bahama Island, and specifically, the city of Freeport which (from what I can tell) was an alternative center to the better known Nassau. If your main impressions of Bahamanian music is “Yellow Bird” played on steel drums, Goombay destroys that notion in an instant, showcasing a far more diverse fusion of musical styles reflection of the Bahamas location at the center of tourist and shipping trade throughout the Caribbean.

Of those various talents, Jay Mitchell is arguably the best known given his prolific output and high profile. His cover of “Mustang Sally” (also reissued onto 12″) takes the Wilson Pickett classic and strips it down even sparser – the signature bassline isn’t really even present – and throws in some organ and an enthused drummer. This is easily the best cover of the song I’ve heard in ages, if not ever. (Mitchell apparently also does a pretty kick ass version of “Ain’t No Sunshine” but alas, that cover is far harder to come by).

The other song that really stood out to me on this comp was “Words To My Song” by Dry Bread, aka Cyril Fergunson, a rising talent in the Freeport scene who joined with Frank Penn’s GBI (Grand Bahama Island) Recordings and cut this B-Side with the label around 1974. It’s a great funky soul song on its own but you can also listen to it and pick up on the subtle blend of different sounds and influences that just barely give away its Caribbean roots (for me, it’s the guitar arrangement).

The Si, Para Usted comp is filled with similarly obscure pieces of funk from Cuba, recording post-revolution and thus, not often heard outside the island given trade embargos and anti-Castro bias. As the liner notes, put together by the folks at Waxing Deep, note however, Cuban musicians were exceptionally well-trained (for a time at least) in Cuba given the socialist makeover and this helped fuel inventive styles and blends of music.

The Grupo Irakere track is something I, coincidentally, just got in recently myself – a raucous club track that sounds, at times, like a Cuban funk makeover of a Santana song given its heavy rock influences but undeniable Afro-Cuban rhythms. The song is especially ear-catching given the various shifts it takes in the arrangement, just to drop in a little different flavor, but still comes back to the main rhythm.

The Orquesta Riverside is arguably the least obscure song on this comp given that it was also featured on the Rough Guide volume devoted to Cuba (it also appears of one of my favorite mix-CDs, Gypsy Bogdan’s Hot Breath (which, I just remembered, also has that Irakere song. Go figure!). The opening drum break is a thing of beauty and the way the singer chatters over it only makes it funkier. Like the Irakere song, this one takes one a few transformations along the way, speeding up into a quick-tempo dance midway through before slowing back down…then speeding up again (man, I need this on vinyl, bad).

It’s good to see all this soul/funk from overseas finally getting some shine in the U.S. In a way, it’s like the music comes full circle – many of these artists were heavily inspired by music they heard arriving by radio and ship and plane and in turn, their contributions to the genre, long obscure here, are now traveling back to us after too long a time away.