Amid an ever-building media campaign, Mala’s album project comes to light with a healthy amount of expectation. The DMZ / Deep Medi Musik main man has always carried a reverence amongst the dubstep scene for his unfussy approach, staying true to the sound he helped forge in the nascent days of the genre while avoiding over-exposure or buckling to hype and trend where so many of his peers succumbed to change. As such Mala In Cuba represents a move well outside of his comfort zone as he works with Gilles Peterson on an adventure in Cuba working with local musicians.
The faith of Mala’s following will be rewarded in full with the end results though, as the producer keeps his sonic identity and integrity intact. There’s a breathless moment on the opening strains of the intro track as the first piano comes in, sounding startling in its smooth, jazzy tone in the midst of a more recognisable Mala swagger of bongos and half-step kick. For a short time you wonder if this is going to have a noodly nu-jazz flavour, but those concerns get quickly laid to rest as the flow of the album takes hold.
This is most definitely Mala’s music, and the spiritual, tribal nature of his productions to date only gets enhanced by the influx of Cuban folk sounds. This is no simple case of ripping samples and dropping them for token effect though; the percussive patterns and licks of piano, guitar, horns and voice are completely interwoven into the South London pressure as if they were always meant to be. It’s testament to the pure approach Mala takes in the studio that he manages to balance these unlikely bedfellows to such fluid effect.
There are plenty of surprise moments, as on the low-slung thud of “Como Como” which comes on like dislodged deep house while the enchanting vocals of Dresier and Sexto Sentido croon out. It’s a kind of mellow not readily associated with Mala, but he handles it with poise and still manages to feed some hypnotising sub bass into the mix. What’s more noticeable is how out of place the wobble bass of “The Tunnel” sounds in the midst of all the organic niceties to be found elsewhere on the album.
Undoubtedly there will be naysayers who will argue that in doing an album of this nature Mala is diluting his purist vision for dubstep, but in truth the approach and end results he has managed to conjure up bring a revitalising, fresh angle to the genre, which is what it needs in abundance. There’s maybe a lack of the “shock of the new” factor as Cubano music is not exactly a stranger to UK dance music forms, and Mala isn’t exactly switching his own stance too drastically, but ultimately that doesn’t matter. The whole album is direct and immensely satisfying to listen to, capturing the alluring spirit of Central American folk tradition and empowering it with the transcendental nature of dubstep.
6. Como Como feat. Dreiser & Sexto Sentido
7. Cuba Electronic
8. The Tunnel
11. The Tourist
13. Calle F
14. Noches Sueños feat. Danay Suarez