Malamanya moves to Cuban son

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Malamanya plays tonight at the Cedar Cultural Center. The group also will perform Saturday during the CD release party by for the hip-hop group Villa Rosa (Maria Isa and Muja Messiah) at First Avenue.

A visitor to Havana is overwhelmed by airborne melodies. From the water’s never-ending slap against the city’s famed sea wall to the murmur of crowds, there is a call to listen — and move.

For more than a century, such inspiring earthy melodies and the pulse of daily life have been delivered by bands that play Afro-Cuban son, a homegrown musical style that owes much to the island’s fusion of cultures.

Although son is the root of modern salsa, most people outside of Cuba and international cities with large numbers of Cubans seldom have an opportunity to see a traditional ensemble. But Latin music lovers in the Twin Cities have a great opportunity to hear musicians who aim to capture the music in Malamanya, an intriguing group.

Minneapolis has more-authentic Cuban bands, particularly in Charanga Tropical led by Viviana Pintado, a dynamite pianist who once played with singer Albita Rodriguez.

Indeed, none of the members of Malmanya are Cuban. The band includes Tony Schriener on upright bass and guitar; Luis Ortega on congas; Jesse Marks on timbales; Trevor May on tres and guitar; Jason Marks on trumpet; and Adriana Rimpel on lead vocals.

But the six-member ensemble does an inspiring job of playing to the genre’s roots. At the band’s final concert at the Driftwood Char Bar in south Minneapolis a couple of weeks ago, Malamanya played to a devoted following of local fans in a vibrant set of traditional sones and originals.

The musicians are comfortable with the music, occasionally expanding the tunes with expressive solos. But the group revolves around the 27-year-old Rimpel, who brings heart and feeling to the songs.

A singer of Mexican and Haitian heritage, Rimpel grew up in West St. Paul. She revels in the genre’s expressions of joy and pain – and the space that it allows for performers.

“I have a connection and because of that complex mixture it excites me,” she said. “The words are pure and distilled emotion. That’s how I see the music. It’s been really exiting to learn.”

On stage, Rimpel uses her voice to offer celebratory or soothing interpretations of songs. But she and the band know when to switch tempos mid-stream, as they do on Dimelo, an original tune. Their repertoire also includes a version of the song El Dia de Suerte, famously sung Puerto Rican sonero Hector Lavoe during the salsa music explosion of the 1970s in New York.

Lavoe was among the Puerto Ricans and others who built on Cuban musical traditions that North American fans lost touch with after the United States isolated the island following its 1959 revolution. Malamanya’s use of that tune would seem to point it toward more-contemporary salsa, if the band can adopt music written for large orchestras to a small ensemble.

While they experiment, they’ll continue to show a sincere passion for Cuban son and try to keep dancers on the floor.

“Regardless of who they are, I hope what they walk away with is an experience where they’ve let themselves come out of their shell,” Rimpel said, “that somehow, they’re given permission to express what they feel.”

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