QUIMICA PERFECTA with DJ BILLY BRYANS at the Bamboo (312 Queen West), Friday (January 25). $10. 416-593-5771.
When the kids in Havana want to go out dancing, it isn't the throwback tunes of the Buena Vista Social Club pensioners that get the floor shaking.
Besides the rapidly burgeoning Cuban hiphop scene, the current sound of Havana is timba. Rooted in contemporary salsa but also encompassing both current and traditional acoustic Cuban rhythms, the volatile dance music played by groups like Charanga Habanera and NG La Banda is as modern as the Buena Vista stars are retro.
So far, the only group to bring the timba sound to Toronto is chipotle-hot ensemble Quimica Perfecta. Led by one-time Irakere singer Alberto Alberto and featuring a crew of musicians from the famed Instituto Nacional de Arte de Habana, Quimica Perfecta claim to be as pure a reflection of 21st-century Cuban club culture as you can get without travelling to the island.
"Timba is the new step of Latin music," Alberto explains. "It's a kind of fusion of jazz, reggae and pop. It's more fun than salsa, which is just a pattern that always sounds the same. Timba is different because you can change it as you play it and shift the sound from one thing to another.
"People have played timba here before, but not exclusively. Bands play one song of timba, another bit of merengue and maybe some cumbia. That's good, but my vision is to play only one thing."
Nearly two years after they formed, Quimica Perfecta are getting their vision in focus. Alberto and crew have been able to get notoriously reserved Toronto audiences dancing from the first note. And they also bring together different sections of the Latin music community who otherwise might be spending their time squabbling about whether it was Cuba, Puerto Rico or Colombia that created salsa.
"When I first began to travel to Toronto, nobody knew anything about timba," Alberto stresses. "It's getting a bit better now because people are getting used to the rhythm. It's an aggressive kind of music, and people automatically get involved in it.
"Even Puerto Rican salsa bands are trying to change their way a little bit toward timba. That's how powerful this music is."
Of course, the true test of Quimica Perfecta's rhythms would be a trip back to the flashy nightclubs of Havana. Understandably, though, Alberto is happy for now to be the music's representative in Toronto.
"There is a lot of competition between bands in Havana, especially timba bands," Alberto laughs. "There are the pioneers of the music, Los Van Van, Irakere and NG La Banda, as well as up-and-comers like Carlos Manuel and Bamboleo. Everyone is fighting to be king of timba.
"You have to be on your toes or crowds eat you up. It's tough. I'd prefer to stay here and avoid the battle for now."MATT GALLOWAY