Album Review: Mista Savona – Havana Meets Kingston [Baco Records; 3rd November 2017]

Australian beatmaker and DJ, Jake Savona’s latest album Havana Meets Kingston seeks to unite two powerful and distinct musical islands with a wealth of Cuban and Jamaican guests and collaborators.

Don’t expect a seamless hybrid of styles – the tracks fall roughly into either Latin or reggae – it’s not quite the collection of melded styles that the title may suggest.

That being the case, it’s still an accomplished album, showing Savona at the top of his production game. Kicking things off, ‘Chan Chan’ deploys plucked Latin guitar, percussion, trumpet and vocals. The reggae bass anchors the tune on a solid “Buena Vista”-style tip.

Lead single, ‘Carnival’, has a strong upbeat Jamaican vibe, with offbeat rhythm guitar and vocal duties shared by Solis and Randy Valentine.

Moving through the collection, ‘El Cuarto De Tula’ is a straight-up Latino song given a modern twist, with some heavyweight dancehall vocals injecting raw energy into the track, before iconic Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin steals the show on the instrumental ‘410 San Miguel’, as his beautiful guitar playing glides along atop the more downbeat rhythms.

Recorded at the Egrem Studios in Cuba, it’s hard to believe that this is hailed as the first collaboration between Cuban and Jamaican musician. Two islands rich in musical heritage and culture – although geographically small, their musical output has had a profound and far-reaching impact on popular music.

The final third of the album deploys more of a reggae vibe. The vibrant ‘In the Ghetto (Where We’re From)’ featuring Aza Lineage and Birdz-I is an album highlight, detailing the struggles of the poor and powerless – but also speaks of the pride and resilience found in adversity.

Vibracion Positive’ comes with a roots reggae flavour and ushers in a trio of tracks with an overtly more Jamaican sound. ‘Heart of a Lion’ exudes a strident, militant feel with stony, rough-hewn vocals, while album closer ‘Row Fisherman Row’ shows a deep, spiritual, and rootsy vibe.

Setting aside any expectations for a fully-fledged Latin-reggae hybrid, it’s an accomplished collection displaying a deep understanding of both islands’ musical heritage.