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Vocal Sampling: Musical Magic Using No Instruments

A joker might suggest that Cuba’s Vocal Sampling decided to form a group in which all the sounds are created and performed using solely the human voice simply because it lacked the resources to buy musical instruments. But the punch line--delivered emphatically by the band Sunday at the Conga Room--makes the wisecrack fall flat. The sextet’s memorable performance was a sobering lesson in the power of talent to create magical moments out of nothing.

No matter how well you describe what Vocal Sampling does, it won’t sound as good on paper as it did on the glittery stage of the intimate new club. Suffice it to say that the sextet manages to reproduce the sound of an entire salsa orchestra complete with congas, timbales, bass, piano and a horn section, using only their hands and mouths.

The results are highly cinematic, as in the classic “La Negra Tomasa,” which made you think of a 14-piece salsa combo giving it all away. All that mayhem was manufactured by six young men with mind-boggling imaginations and senses of humor to boot.

The upbeat rhythms of the Afro-Caribbean aren’t the only things that make Vocal Sampling tick. Being native Cubans, they share a reverence for the nueva trova (new song) movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and their main exponent, troubadour Silvio Rodriguez. Not surprisingly, one of the evening’s finest moments was a tuneful interpretation of Rodriguez’s “El Escaramujo.”

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Yes, the act is based on a gimmick. But its members are clever enough to bring constant new variations to the form. The eclectic references Sunday included tributes to jazz con salsa band Irakere, the Cuban doo-wop group Los Zafiros and even rap. And the group’s warmth and inventiveness made this the year’s most memorable Latin show so far.


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