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Culture: Cuban amigos hot up the Latin pace; Martin Longley recommends an authentic taste of Cuba in deepest Northfield.

Byline: Martin Longley

The obvious thing to do is fight for tickets to see the Buena Vista Social Club at the NEC on May 4 but a more astute move would be to check out Cuba's Asere for a fraction of the ticket price.

While the Buena Vista package delights in the best of Cuba's vintage performers, the youthful and as yet undiscovered Asere, who play the Old Chapel in Northfield tomorrow night, put the sound of son through some more volatile paces.

At the same time as hotting up the old rhythms, they still have respect for the classic format, sticking to the traditional septeto line-up of trumpet, guitar, tres (a smaller guitar, with higher, ringing strings), double bass and a trio of percussionists.

I saw them perform in typically intense mode at the 1999 Womad Festival, where they collaborated with veteran Colombian singer Toto La Momposina. It was Toto who gave them their name, when she visited Cuba in 1996.

The word 'asere' is used right across the island as a general greeting, a blend of 'hello to you', 'amigo' or 'compadre'. It was originally used by the Abakua religious sect.

Speaking via an interpreter, I asked the band's director/guitarist Adan Pedroso Ojeda and trumpeter Michel Padron Padron how Asere was formed. Adan stresses that their main stance was always to stick to a completely acoustic sound, concentrating on original compositions and arrangements.

The band members hail from various parts of the island (Santiago de Cuba, Camaguey), but mainly from Havana, where they all eventually gravitated.

This has led to a mixture of stylistic influences, described by Adan as a 'soup'. He had worked in various septetos before deciding to form his own, playing shows and cabarets in Havana's Casa de la Musica and the Touristic Centre.

The current tour is longer than any of Asere's previous four visits and the first time they've come to Birmingham. In the UK until February 14, they gig around the rest of Europe until March 11, then return to Cuba.

Nowadays, Asere don't find themselves playing at home that often, due to recording, rehearsals and overseas touring commitments.

A good guide to their sound would be to compare them to the earthy intensity of Sierra Maestra rather than the glitzy night club flash of, say, Los Van Van.

Adan says that this is largely because the nature of the band's line-up tends to dictate the musical form, a septeto being the magical formula for hardcore son.

Adan stresses that the band do have a distinctive sound, even though they play in a set style. Their aim is to make a contemporary statement whilst retaining traditional roots of forms like the guaracha and bolero.

The members of Asere all started playing at a very young age, with Adan himself being very influenced by the Nueva Trova troubadour style. This movement was a product of the 1960s, with Pablo Milanes and Silvio Rodriguez being its prime exponents. Its influence is apparent on the Caricolillo and Alguien me Dijo un Dia tracks on the band's new Yo Soy El Son album.

It's their second for the French Label Bleu, based in Amiens, a follow-up to Cuban Soul, which was recorded live in an old radio theatre. These two tracks are in the soft ballad style, a great contrast to the rest of the album.

Adan tells me that the band don't play these subtle songs at every concert, that they tend to change the dynamics of a performance and that the band usually prefer to see audiences dancing all the way through their gigs.

Once the present tour concludes, Adan will be collaborating with veteran Congolese guitarist Papa Noel (seen at last year's Womad), higlighting the constant traffic of influence and inspiration between West Africa and Cuba. Adan says that the two share the same manager, making this package a natural choice.

Asere have certainly noticed that Cuban music is very strong in Europe, but they feel that they can compete by actually taking to the road in determined fashion. Their fan base is growing with each visit.

Despite what could be deemed a glut of Afro-Cuban recordings, there aren't that many bands actually burning rubber out on such comparably lengthy tours.

Asere play the Old Chapel, Manor Park Road, Northfield, tomorrow night at 7.30pm (Box office: 0121 683 1834).


The authentic sounds of Cuba come courtesy of Asere, who play the Old Chapel Northfield tomorrow night
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 7, 2001
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