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Malamanya are probably the only Cuban son band in Minneapolis, which—along with the growing scene of freak folkers and Tin Pan Alley-style beardo jug bands—shows how the city has embraced the need for tradition and the return to musical beginnings.
Cuban son gained popularity about a decade and a half ago from the film Buena Vista Social Club, and served as the nucleus for the renewed interest in old-school players like Potato, Mango Santamaria, and the ubiquitous Tito Puente. What Malamanya bring to the local scene these days is a similar roots-driven representation of the form.
We met up with singer Adriana Rimpel and bassist Tony Schreiner, two members of the six-piece group, at the Black Forest in Minneapolis to find out more about Malamanya.
"Everything in here is old wood and stone. That's what I love and what draws me to this place," says Schreiner, stepping into the outdoor garden area. "Everything now is automatic and immediate. What drew me to this music is how deep in its roots it is. I think there's a return to the old world that people are getting into."
"The need to have something that isn't powered by anything but your body," Rimpel vibrantly chimes in. "There's an openness to the music and it's welcoming."
A multi-instrumentalist, Schreiner started "La Malamanya" in late 2009. Through a roommate's recommendation he met Rimpel, and she immediately fit into the band.
"I asked her 'Where did you learn to sing?'" Schreiner remembers.
"I told him, 'In my car,'" she answers with a laugh.
Though they are a band of world citizens, Malamanya contains no actual Cubans. "Luis is Puerto Rican and Panamanian," Schreiner explains. "Jesse is Lithuanian Jew, Trevor is Norwegian something, Jason is from Virginia."
"I'm part Mexican and Haitian," concludes Rimpel, explaining how her command of the language and her versatile voice add to the band's authenticity and the homage to the music's origins. As a performer, Rimpel knows how to command the stage and the audience. "There is a benefit to not understanding the context or meaning of the music," she says.
"People are listening to the melody and the sound of her voice," Schreiner nods proudly. "Our contribution is our style. It's being less forceful with our intentions and a bit understated in working within our own limitations, and to not just be a carbon copy."
Exhibiting a radical simplicity, Malamanya have become a pillar of south Minneapolis this past year with their Tuesday night residency at the Driftwood Char Bar. Malamanya have built their own following in true DIY fashion, keeping the dance floor in a tizzy and sparking appreciation for the hits from Celia Cruz, Fania All-Stars, Willie Colón, and Guillermo Portabales.
"You see white, black, Puerto Rican, Cuban, drunk and sober, liberal and conservative," Schreiner says, describing their scene. "It appeals to every one of those people for a different reason."
"We feel welcome to try to perform this music and we try to welcome others to be with us—it sounds like a love fest," says Rimpel, finishing his sentence.
"It kinda is," he continues. "I mean I don't know, some of the weird dudes might just be there to see beautiful women dance."
The band is wrapping up Tuesday nights at the Driftwood this month, but will keep playing. With plans to take a break from the weekly gig and eventually add another member to the band as well as some original songs to their songbook, the band will also be working to formulate things in the studio, with some bigger appearances around town coming up in the fall.
With a tinge of strategy in his voice, Schreiner wraps up the interview. "For me, when people started larger societies, the music they created was rhythm and voice or a harmony of many voices," he says. "Cuban music presented that interplay at an archaic level, and different rhythms are ultimately spiritual."
With both the rebirth of Depression-era blues-folk taking over the Twin Cities and Malamanya's exploration of the Cuban classics of days past, there is a celebration of the timeless value of music's ability to bring people together. Malamanya have served to nourish the joys of life this summer, and it will be equally pleasureful to see where they will take us—and the rest of the world—next.
MALAMANYA play on TUESDAY, AUGUST 23, and TUESDAY, AUGUST 30, at the DRIFTWOOD CHAR BAR; 612.354.3402