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After being compelled to penalize him for his jazzier inclinations on the flip side of this single despite some decent playing, here we have a different issue to contend with… namely the fact that this song seems to belong to no legitimate musical genre.

More novelty than rock or jazz, though with elements of both, it’s a curious release that shows how Dave Bartholomew was struggling to find a niche best suited for his abilities and aspirations.

This wasn’t the direction that he should’ve been focusing on but that doesn’t mean it’s not somewhat interesting all the same.


Dime A Dozen
Though obviously this is a full history of rock music, not other genres, that doesn’t mean other genres don’t get touched upon here from time to time – though never with reviews of records that fall completely outside rock’s borders.

Jazz has been the most frequent interloper because so man early rock musicians had backgrounds in jazz and so it was only natural for that style to bleed into what they were now pursuing. Dave Bartholomew was somebody who loosely fell into that category, a trumpeter with Dixieland instincts that found the post-War environment moving away from those sounds, even in New Orleans, and towards something called rock ‘n’ roll.

He joined in that movement and was now really beginning to shape its entire image with his writing and production work for Imperial Records, but his own records, which had been popular as rock was first getting its footing, were now taking a back seat to his work with others who were more suited stylistically to rock’s evolving sounds.

So Bartholomew was now seemingly unsure of which direction to head and with Ah Cubanas he tried his hand – loosely let’s hope – with yet another outside style which he attempted more or less to incorporate into a basic rock framework.

The style was known less by a genre label and more by a regional one which incorporated various sounds into a geographical whole.

In the late 1940’s and through the mid-1950’s the influence of music from Cuba was substantial, primarily getting a foothold in the United States through the popularization of various dance rhythms – the rumba and mambo most notably. New Orleans was in fairly close proximity to the island, just across the Gulf Of Mexico, which gave it a more direct line of musical communication with those influences.

But how those sounds would be filtered, adapted and in some cases perverted by those here on the mainland was something it’d always have to contend with.

You No Good
Outsiders to any culture are always at risk for demeaning it due to their lack of sensitivity over the images they see and hear. People have an unfortunate habit of making light of what they don’t understand to mask their own insecurity over that lack of knowledge and the more aggressive they are in these actions the more demeaning and vitriolic it becomes.

Dave Bartholomew is not quite guilty of that here, but this record does have some unfortunate images it conjures up that highlight his lack of empathy to a degree.

Wanting to draw attention to the source of his inspiration he gave this song the name Ah Cubanas, a simple term referring to the music itself, as if said by someone who’d just inquired what it was he was playing. After telling him this would presumably be their response – “Ah! Cuban (music)!”

Had that been all he’d done it’d be perfectly okay but wanting a rhyme he came up with the first word he could think of that fit a preconceived notion of “the islands”. So the story, such as it is, finds a Cuban complaining about someone stealing their bananas.

To be fair Cuba WAS known for their banana production so it’s not as if this was just a easily contrived stereotype but anything delivered by a non-native appropriating the dialect of those he’s even genially making fun of is automatically going to be risking offense.

Since there’s no plot beyond that basic precept, just a phrase repeated a few times in a mock Cuban accent, this becomes even more egregious. Considering that “Cubanas” is close enough in sound to the nation’s capitol of Havana, you had an obvious alternative option to draw from, one that would even allow you to expand on the story in a myriad of ways that might’ve been interesting in its own right.

Or he could’ve just discarded any lyrics and kept focusing on the musical aspect of this, which is where it redeems itself even if at the same time it distances itself from much of the rock principles we’ve come to expect from Dave Bartholomew.

Come And Swim
The record starts off with a dramatic lurching horn-based groove with some interlocking percussive touches from the rest of the band. It’s got almost a cinematic quality to it in the way it seems to emphasize the drama of the arrangement as if something startling is about to take place in some shadowy black and white film noir.

Unfortunately it doesn’t resolve itself in a satisfying way. There’s no dynamic transition, no flourish of drums or scintillating guitar solo to take it in another direction. Instead we get the first brief Ah Cubanas vocal interlude before it reverts back to that same opening salvo turning what might’ve been a really interesting landscape into more of an impressionistic painting.

It’s still played well though. I’m not sure how close to Cuban rhythms of the time they came – studying Ricky Ricardo’s band on I Love Lucy re-runs provides something less than a full education on the subject – but it’s definitely got a quasi-exotic vibe to it that suggests somebody’s loose interpretation of the style.

The arrangement itself stands out as he carves out room for each component, the ensemble playing that familiar pattern with judicious use of pauses and even a few timely drum rolls from Thomas Moore that stand out nicely.

The solos however are all taken by Bartholomew’s trumpet and while they naturally sound somewhat alien to rock ears, they sound pretty good and because it’s not something that is often heard by this audience it makes them even more intriguing if nothing else. But part of evaluating rock history is determining which records contribute to the advancement of rock as a musical genre and this naturally falls short in that regard.


If the name on the label was say Bart David instead of Dave Bartholomew this wouldn’t be here among the rock releases, wouldn’t be remembered in any field of music and thus, outside of a handful of people who’d have bought it way back when, wouldn’t be remembered.

But because it WAS Dave Bartholomew, someone with a track record a hundred miles long, Ah Cubanas remained in circulation in one form or another over the years, even getting re-issued on the Imperial knockoff Mambo label decades later showing there was some lingering interest and appeal in the record.

I can see why, for even though it’s largely out of place here – and quite possibly equally out of place in the annals of Cuban music as well – it’s got a quirkiness to it that is hard to deny.

So while this is hardly indicative of rock ‘n’ roll circa 1950, or of Bartholomew’s own best ideas, and thus has to be graded accordingly, this IS something that I like a little better than the flip side with the same score.

Everything though has to be viewed in context of the musical genre it’s being housed in and because of that this record remains little more than a curiosity… but at least that curiosity allowed it to not be entirely forgotten which is all any artist can ask for when trying something outside of their usual fare.


(Visit the Artist page of Dave Bartholomew for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)