Growing up, I remember my grandparents' massive vinyl collection of records from Cuba. Anything from old school big band music like Orquesta Concha de Oro to more modern music like Celia Cruz. Sometimes, when I spent the night, If I was lucky, they'd play some of them for me. One night I chose a record by "Benny More". My grandfather told me he met him when he was in his twenties working as a bartender in one of Cuba's most refined hotels. Only rich people got to stay there. Big bands would come in and play all the time, and he met a lot of different musicians. One of them was Benny More! He claims that people liked him because he loved music and really loved to dance. I would hear other stories from my grandmother about the big band dance parties she would go to in Cuba, the dresses she would wear, and how she would always get stuck dancing with this one guy who liked her way more than she liked him. Hearing my grandparents talk about their youth in Cuba while playing their antique records made me feel like a "traveler of both time and space". It made these two adults in my life seem, somehow more human. It made me wish that music would once again be taken over by big bands.
My lifelong dream, now at twenty-one, may have just come true. Orquesta Akokan, is bringing back old school mambo and they are going to take the music scene by storm. Orquesta Akokan is a large sixteen-piece brass band with members from both Cuban and the U.S. The singer and composer Jose "Pepitio" Gomez assembled the band. He grew up singing and playing trumpet locally, in Havana. Later, he professionally studied music in New York. It was there, he discovered mambo in a technical sense. He came to the realization that if white dude studies mambo, the melody, the rhythm, and the history, then he too can play mambo. The band is diverse and extremely talented. They came out with their first self-titled album/record this year (2018)! I have never thoroughly enjoyed an album all the way through (not even an "all-time favorite"). This would be the first! If my grandfather were alive today he would be trying to get tickets to see them live! For those of us living in Miami, it is our duty to make sure these guys thrive! Orquesta Akokan is truly offering us a gift "from the heart" (the Yoruban meaning of the word "Akokan"). This is a chance to experience the music that moved the people who brought us into existence! Even if you don’t have Cuban heritage, who can resist a badass brass band? No. one. ever.