review by Art Menius for Music Boulevard 1998
Forty-one years after its formation and a quarter-century since taking its current name, Grupo AfroCuba de Matanzas finally has released its debut full-length album, Raices Africanas (African Roots). This is hardly to suggest that the ensemble has been wasting its time for four decades. They have mastered the entire range of AfroCuban folkloric styles, developed their own Batarumba form – heard here on “Caridad” and “Baila Mi Guaguanco,” and pioneered the theatrical use of traditional Cuban music.
Alan Lomax once asserted that African dance centers on the midsection, the belly, not the feet. The rolling rhythms of Raices Africanas deeply underscore the point, powering right to that area. Grupo AfroCuba boldly attempts to sample seemingly all the AfroCuban dance music forms, or at least ten of them. Since AfroCuban music and dance derive so predominately from the Yoruba culture, the differences between the styles often sound extremely subtle to untrained American ears. Those listeners expecting the more recent and more commercialized exported Cuban music will likely be disappointed by the precise, understated approach of Grupo AfroCuba. Ultimately, their music remains grounded in the cultures which produced it, deeply connected to the spiritual needs it serves. For those devoted to the “real thing,” this will prove a record to treasure