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Music Review: Telmary – A Diario

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When this album dropped in my mailbox, I had never heard of Telmary. A Diario is her first solo album, but it seems she's no newbie in latin music; she's part of Interactivo, an artists collective which has created a totally new Cuban pop sound, mixing up all kinds of traditional and modern genres. It's timba rap, tumbao hip hop, jazz poetry, calle powerpop, or whatever you wanna call it. Other members of Interactivo are Descemer Bueno, founder of famous mestizo fusion band Yerba Buena, and Roberto Carcassés, Cuba's hottest producer of the moment, and winner of 3 Premios Cubadisco in 2006.

The first thing you'll notice is Telmary's distinct voice: soulful, deep, sometimes fast and aggressive, sometimes soft and soothing. Bonus track "Sola" shows how strong her voice can be; even without instruments, she manages to captivate. On downbeat love songs — like "Pa'Que Vuelva" — she's pure poetry, sexy poetry that is.

She can be dead serious, praying to Santería gods — opening track "Rezo" — but most of A Diario is very joyful and positive, even the ballads. Lyrically this album is on a totally other level than 'just rap'. Street experience, love, religion, life wisdom and tradition are all processed into poetical rhymes, brought with a positive attitude and tons of conviction.

The party gets started with "Fiesta", guest rapper Athanai does a great job on the explosive chorus. I guarantee you won't get it out of your head. On "Ves", producer Carcassés layers exotic breakbeats and a cool bass riff to the super fast raps of Telmary and Kumar — Interactivo member, of course — and he uses the same recipe on "Sin Control".

A Cuban album wouldn't be complete without some timba.  "Qu'Equivocao" has salsa-style backing vocals and piano tunes. "You're so wrong about life, my love", she sings; any man leaving this woman must be wrong indeed. "Marilú" is an old Los Van Van song, with fist-in-the-air lyrics and a lovely bolero intermezzo.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear the Barcelona-based flamenco combo Ojos de Brujo on "Sueño Brujo". Both strong female voices wonderfully combine on this dreamy track. (Ojos de Brujo is about to release their album Techarí in the US by the way, be sure to check that one out!)

The second half of the album shows Telmary's soulful, more personal side: "Espiritual Sin Egoïsmo", "Libre", "Pa'Que Vuelva". I especially like "Espiritual Sin Egoïsmo", a jazzy trumpet makes place for a fast drum & bass climax, and Telmary delivers her always-positive message with conviction.

On a less positive note: the two English songs, "Mr. God" and "Rastafashion". Stick to Spanish girl, you just don't sound natural rapping in English! And maybe some other songs could use more structure. But those minor faults don't bother.  A Diario is one of the most exciting projects to come out of Cuba lately.

Of course, the album is hard to get outside of Cuba and Canada, but a lot of songs can be found online: on my blog La Onda Tropical, on Telmarys MySpace, on the record label website, and on YouTube. Enjoy

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