Akokán is a Yoruba word used by Cubans to mean “from the heart” or “soul”, so it was no surprise that Cuba’s Orquesta Akokán lit up the stage at NYC’s Le Poisson Rouge a couple of weeks ago with a blazing presentation of deeply soulful mambo reminiscent of Benny Moré and banda gigante of the 1940’s and 50’s. Orquesta Akokán is a big band collective of all-star Cuban and New York musicians led by Cuban born and raised singer José “Pepito” Gomez. I was fortunate to catch them live as they are currently on tour supporting their new (and recently Latín American Music Award nominated) self-titled album.
The album was recorded at Havana, Cuba’s famed Areito studios. Built in the early 1940s to exact audio specifications by a recording engineer, it has played host to virtually every single Cuban musician of note for almost 75 years. In 1996, the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon put the studio back on the map and since then, many Cubans and non-Cubans have recorded inside the legendary wood paneled room. The album is available on Brooklyn’s Daptone Records and you can give it a listen on Spotify.