The sounds of Mundo Nuevo inspired women and men alike to get up from their seats and dance through Carmen’s Cafe in Troy, while steaming-hot plates of Cuban fare graced the tables Friday night. Carmen’s may be just a few blocks south of Russell Sage College in Troy, but it is the region’s only Cuban restaurant, and both the food and the music coalesced to create a vibe that made you forget that you were in upstate New York in December.
Mundo Nuevo is an example of a Cuban conjunto, with an instrumentation of vocals, cuatro (a traditional stringed instrument with four sets of two strings, somewhat like a mandolin), nylon- and steel-stringed guitars, conga, clave, flute, and bongos. Vocalist-percussionist Jose Cruz mentioned that the only traditional piece they were really missing was the trumpet. Later that night, local trumpeter Kevin Hendrick just happened to be there checking out the music and, one thing led to another, and there was that trumpet they were missing.
Most of the music was based on the tumbao conga pattern (as well as one of the ever present five-beat clave patterns), which comprises much of the guaracha and cha-cha styles that were performed. You could tell it was a particularly hip audience because at certain points of the night everyone was either clapping, banging on a table, or slapping on their thigh in the rhythm of the clave.
Classics like Tito Puente’s “Oye Come Va” and standards like “All of Me” and “Blue Moon” (albeit with the Latin tinge), were performed alongside originals like congero-flautist-vocalist Walter Ramos’ “Un Jibarito Cantando Son,” which just so happens to be recorded on Latin group Sensemaya’s most recent album Havana Before Dawn.
Late in the first set, someone called out for a traditional Puerto Rican Christmas tune, and the group launched into a “Seis Chorreao.” This is an improvised stream-of-consciousness song in the folkloric style of Puerto Rico.
It is nice to know that despite the bitter cold of winter in this region, there is a place and a sound that can transport you to the tropics on demand.