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Review: Orquesta Akokán at Sydney Festival

By Hamish Stening

There is no experience quite like going to a Havana Mambo club. The quintessence of Cuban music, nobody can resist the high-energy, invigorating music. On Wednesday night, Orquesta Akokán brought a little bit of that magic to the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent in the Sydney Festival Village. Orquesta Akokán are a Mambo band comprised of some of the finest players from Cuba and North America. With 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, 3 saxes, 2 percussionists, a bass, a guitar, a piano, and a stunning front-man vocalist, they are definitely a full Mambo band. For the evening, the Spigeltent was converted into a 1940s Havana club, complete with a dance floor and disco balls aplenty. The band played hits from their self-titled debut album released last year. The self-composed songs were varied, ranging from sambas, to mambos, to rumbas, but all had flair and were incredibly well executed. Special mention must go to the trumpets whose tone, power and stamina were unbelievable. All night they screamed and screeched playing louder and higher than one ever thought possible, and yet they never cracked; never lost control. The percussionists were less immediately noticeable but certainly no less impressive or important. Their rythms were the heart of the music and their passion and happiness onstage were infexious. The real star of the night, however, was vocalist José "Pepito" Gómez. He brought the flair and energy that is synonymous with and a key appeal of Latin music. Amazingly, despite his dancing and smiling, his tone and intonation never waivered and his energy never dropped. He was a true showman and definitely had the vocals to back it up. Unfortunately some of the improvised solos fell a little flat and dragged on, and there were a few sound-balancing issues as Pepito struggled to sing over the over-amplified band at times. There were other sound issues too as the vocal mics used to mic the trumpets could not handle the power, and as a result, their added reverb sounded more 80s strings synth than pinging trumpet. That being said, all of these issues were mostly irrelevant to the enjoyment of the music. Everybody in the tent had a great time and I will definitely be adding Orquesta Akokán to my Spotify playlist.

Photo Credit: Prudence Upton

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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