ZZ Top wows crowds in Havana with a Latin jam session

Posted: 22-Dec-15 09:05

He might be well-known for being the leading vocalist and guitarist from veteran US blues and rock band, ZZ Top but last Thursday Billy Gibbons introduced an enthusiastic Cuban audience to his latest album production, performing jazzy tunes inspired on Latin sounds, and most prominently, Cuban music. It might not have been the smashing rock performance everyone was expecting from ZZ Top (and the rest of the band members didn't accompany him either but he still managed to dazzle the crowds. During a solo concert held at Factoria de Arte Cubano as part of the 31st edition of Havana's Jazz Plaza Festival 2015, Mr Gibbons certainly delivered on his promise, even if his second concert planned for last Saturday, which was supposed to take place at Havana's Maxim Rock (the capital's official temple of rock) couldn't take place in the end due to it being closed down for repairs.

ZZ Top wows crowds in Havana with a Latin jam session

A promise delivered – or almost. But at least it was mission accomplished for Billy Gibbons when he performed for a crowd of eager fans that could hardly contain their joy at seeing ZZ Top’s leading man paying tribute to Cuban culture by playing tunes from his latest albums, which heavily feature a fusion of jazzy blues with clear Latin sounds inspired, according to himself, by Cuban music.

Before he made it to Cuba he had explained what had inspired his new Latin fusion album:

"We thought it appropriate to work up a set to make contextual sense in the midst of Havana, which catalysed thinking about Afro-Cuban beats and breaks, and how that relates to what we could do: a little bit blues, a little bit hard rock, and a lot of Straits of Florida feeling. One beat led to another and Perfectamundo started shaping up."

Fabrica de Arte Cubano (F.A.C) was his stage last Thursday now and it filled to the brim with an enthusiastic audience keen to see the rock legend. Many were probably expecting to see the full band perform some of their greatest rock hits, but when instead they got only Billy Gibbons giving an amazing jam session consisting partly of fusion jazz with electronic music, as well as some of his own new tracks, they still went into a clapping frenzy.

These new tunes (unheard by most of the Cuban audience) are all part of his latest album, "Perfectamundo", which was released last October and which includes a variety of songs that mix Cuban and other Latin styles with the kind of bluesy/rocky rhythms that most fans would be likely to expect from Gibbons, or ZZ Top for that matter.

But why would a blues and rock legend release a Latin album now? Well, according to Gibbons it all goes back to his early musical roots and the kind of music he was exposed to during his childhood:

"I admit the ‘stewing’ came from exposure to Latin rhythm through Tito Puente, thanks to my dad, which made jumping into the sessions like riding a bicycle."

It seems right then that Cuba was chosen as the perfect place to present his latest creation. And what kicked off the album’s production was an invitation he had gotten to attend Havana’s Jazz Plaza Festival 2014. He didn’t make it to Cuba then but it got the wheels turning in his head and inspiration came right through for a new album.

Much speculation had surrounded the visit of Billy Gibbons to Cuba. To start with, it was the arrival of ZZ Top in its entirety that was announced and publicised with a promise for two rock concerts – one at the Factoria de Arte Cubano and the second at Maxim Rock – the capital’s temple of rock and heavy metal. But it wasn’t to be, only Billy Gibbons attended Havana’s Jazz Plaza Festival 2015 and the second concert at Maxim Rock had to be cancelled due to it being under maintenance repairs (maybe that’s why the full band didn’t come in the end?).

But, even when the rest of ZZ Top didn’t tag along, Billy Gibbons didn’t perform alone either. During his concert at F.A.C. he was accompanied by the “reverend Willie G” on his guitar (yet another US rock star that has made it to the island recently) and a group of other talented musicians.

In any case, Cuba bowed to Billy Gibbons’ musical talent and Latin crossover – he certainly didn’t disappoint anyone there. And to give the audience a little bit of what they had actually come to see, at the end he performed ZZ Top’s hit song “La Grange”, from the group's third album which came out in 1973. Before the night drew to an end they also improvised a peculiar version of a Whole Lotta Love, a Led Zeppelin original.


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