Somehow deciding that metal, folk, flamenco, classical guitar and jazz are one and the same thing, Rodrigo Y Gabriela (or “Rodrigo and Gabriela” as they’re known by the more tea-and-crumpet members of my family) are head-over-heels in love with music of every kind and every culture. Armed with just two acoustic guitars, they’ve made music as complex and rewarding as it is outwardly pretty. Their passion seeps through every note and spills over into their sleevenotes and packaging: their album ’11:11’ fully details their influences and recommends which albums you should start with (some of which just say “All of them!!!”). Part of the appeal of this fearsome twosome is how much they can create with so little, so it’s hard to know what to expect when they delivered this album of songs recorded with the Cuban music collective C.U.B.A.
There’s pretty much no new material on here per se, but Area 52 is by no means a waste of their time; instead it just serves to show the versatility of their compositions. ‘Hanuman’ was initially dedicated to Carlos Santana, but the frenzied version found on Area 52 would have their hero himself gasping for air. ‘Master Maqui’ starts off bordering on token-Casino-night Latin until it gradually explodes layering more and more ideas on top before stripping it all back again. Every culture is lovingly pillaged: ‘Ixtapa’ features Anoushka Shankar (the daughter of the legendary Ravi Shankar, George Harrison’s mentor) playing the sitar as if it were a Spanish guitar. The music rarely slows down, but when it does, it’s a beautiful effect. ‘Logos’ changes from strutting tangos to reflective, rain-washed guitars so smoothly you barely notice, before ‘Juan Loco’ kicks you back into reality with its sunny cinematic chase-suite rhythms.
You could say that this kind of music has been done before, but I have rarely heard it played with such fervour and joy. You just want to move every available joint (even me, who hasn’t danced since 1999). It really feels like a universal joy as well. It’s the kind of record you want to jump into; the kind of record you want to put on loud with your speakers facing out your window like so many idiots do; the kind of record where you can’t even be bothered to feel bitter about the fact that Rodrigo Y Gabriela are probably five times more interesting, talented or better looking than you. That’s rare, surely. Joe Hill