If Irakere is Cuba's greatest jazz combo and if Silvio Rodriguez is the island's greatest singer-songwriter, then Los Van Van is Cuba's greatest dance band. When the latter group first formed in 1969, co-founders Juan Formell and Cesar Pedroso updated the older forms of Cuban pop music (the son still played by Buena Vista Social Club) with muscular rock-funk rhythms in much the same way Sly Stone was updating R&B at the same time.
Los Van Van is marking its 30th anniversary with a new album, "Llego . . . Van Van," that celebrates its continuing vitality as much as its illustrious past. Bassist Formell and pianist Pedroso are still on hand, but the ranks have been refreshed by such young talents as singer Mario Rivera, keyboardist Boris Luna and Formell's drummer-son Sam.
On the opening track, "Permiso que Llego Van Van," lead singer Roberto Hernandez proclaims that Los Van Van was knocking them out in 1969 and will continue to do so for years to come. Even the Gods of Cuba's Santeria religion, Chango and Lucumi, love the band, he insists. Pedro Calvo takes the lead vocal on "El Cheque," a bouncy, satirical look at a Cuban family waiting for a check from their relatives in the United States. But the band also delivers a sincere salute its hometown, "Havana City," with sweet vocal harmonies over a catchy horn riff.
Appearing Tuesday at the Birchmere with Barbarito Torres. To hear a free Sound Bite from Los Van Van, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8109. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)