As our government’s absurd and ineffective embargo on Cuba continues in the name of democracy, that country’s rich culture remains an elusive entity in the U.S., which is why the Chicago debut of Los Van Van is such a momentous occasion. Formed in 1969 by bassist Juan Formell, who cut his teeth playing with the legendary Orquesta Reve, Los Van Van has remained one of Cuba’s most popular and innovative salsa bands for nearly three decades. The band bases its songs primarily on songo, a blend of rumba, rock, and son (Cuba’s most popular song form); its instrumentation updates the classic charanga band format, which revolves around flute, violin, piano, double bass, and percussion. Formell dared to incorporate electric bass, synthesizers, and a rich three-member trombone section to balance the sweet three-member violin section. Yet for all of the band’s modernistic touches, its connection with Cuban tradition is never compromised. On the group’s most recent American release, Azucar (Xenophile/Green Linnet), sumptuous, propulsive rhythms, beautiful, lilting melodies, and intensely soulful vocals blend seamlessly on songs imparting Cuban folk wisdom, bemoaning the travails of love, and championing la fiesta. While there’s plenty of decent Latin music made in Chicago, it’s not very often that we get to hear such masters. This concert is copresented by HotHouse. Saturday, 8 and 11 PM, Martyrs’, 3855 N. Lincoln; 773-235-2334 or 312-559-1212. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Cynthia Carris.