Six Degrees, 2002
657036 1076-2
label website
Cuban-born, now Oakland resident, still bona fide Yoruban priestess; Mickey Hart Planet Drum collaborator and vocalist with Conjunto Céspedes - the wait's been worthwhile. Bobi Céspedes' first solo effort Rezos on the always-adventurous Bay Area Six Degrees label is a text-book fusion example for how to bridge Cuban Lucumi spirituality with rumba, son, bolero and -- si, caliente, aye -- Oaktown Funkateers hip hop drumming and electric bass lines. Except text books of course can't tell you how to pull it off and make it work - unless they were cooked up in a Santeria trance drum session, a sacred place accessible only to the initiates.

Arranged by fiery keyboardist Oriente Lopéz, fidelity to authentic rhythms is also guaranteed by Yoruba bata drummer Nengue Hérnandez and fellow beat-nicks Octavio Rodriguez and David Pimienta. The home turf advantage's represented by One Drop Scott on drum programming, the rock-solid bass foundation under the plumb square rule of Rahsaan Fredericks. Searing trumpet riffs by Julius Meléndez and plenty of traditional question-and-answer chorus all follow the impassioned Afro-Cuban fire of Bobi, herself guided by her personal orisha deity Obatala, he of the white cloth, syncretized with Our Lady of Mercy. His invocation chants "Obatala, ancient king of the Orishas. Male and female, wise and profound, Obatala, who walks on cool, white points. Friend of snails and invalids. Obatala of the sky. I see you in the clouds. I call you from the mountains. Accept our offerings. Enter into our hearts, our arms, our legs. Enter, and dance with us." [from "Vodou Visions" by ordained Manbo priestess Sally Ann Glassman of New Orleans]

The opening "Rezos" (prayers) rolls out a rockin', perfectly dry house groove with subterranean break beats to firmly ground the introductory Brazilian-flavored invocation offering to the primordial godhead of the Yoruba pantheon before it slowly unfurls its Latin soul. With Bobi's throaty vocals at the helm of rollicking piano and shaker syncopations in parallel to Rahsaan's growling bass lines, Oriente Lopéz throws a tight-lipped flute solo into the mix, Greg Landau allows himself some overdrive guitar distortion and a solid chorus sets up the canvas for the vocal embellishments of the soloist. The juxtaposition of Bobi's at times coquettishly seductive intonations, slow-grind Latin percussion and slammin' groove loops hits the perfect balance of modern and ancient. This theme continues with the dissonant descending piano motif on "Obatala" where hammered chords are used like percussion to augment the bata pulse of Nengue synchronizing with Rahsaan's walking bass lines.

"California" is a happy-go-lucky paean to Bobi's chosen new home on 'tierra india' that stylistically connects the Mexican and Brazilian Bahias while "Como Te Extraño" is a slow bolero that reminisces over a lost loved one. Funky R&B rhythms are at the heart of "Lenu" while the intricate Yambú pattern -- the slowest of the three traditional rumbas comprised also of the faster Guaguanco and the uptempo Columbia -- shapes "Yambu Rock" whose lyrics elucidate the sacrament of Yoruba divination.
Obatala, from "Vodou Visions", page 124

The "Nuevo Milenio'" intermission heats up to some serious hip swaying while the closing "Ogun" is a traditional chant with authentic bata toques compliments of Regino Jimenez on Iyá and students Michael Spiuro and Jésus Diáz on the smaller Itotele and Icóncolo. It's fitting tribute both to a deeply spiritual album filled with the vibrant, life-affirming, sensual spirit of the tropics, and a courageous black woman passing on her indigenous beliefs and customs in ways the hydraulic boom-car generation of our inner cities can relate to. A small masterpiece!