(by Dave Hucker, "Hey, Mr. Music" column, The Beat magazine, Volume 21, Number 3, 2002)
I've been bumping into a lot of hustle recently.
No, I've not been the victim of slobbo dingbats trying to relieve me of my small change, chattels, sanity or life. No one has applied pressure on me to do something I did not really want to do. Neither have I been jolted out of my usual musical orbits and joined all the hustle heads down at the Hustle Beach Ballroom, as a member of the disco revival generation. But I do keep trip-slipping into hustle.
No, it's the hustle, that jive-and-salsa-influenced dance style from the days of very proto disco, as immortalized by Van McCoy's song and globalized by the Saturday Night Fever film. Just like all the other forms of classic dance styles, like jive, jitterbug or Western swing, hustle keeps on coming back. Musically, swingers live in the '40s, jivers the '50s, while hustlers are perpetually in 1978 doing the New York hustle, the Latin and Spanish hustle (the originals), the three-count hustle (the Cali version), the sling, the rope, the street and the double hustle.
The reason why I am so hustled at the moment is that the first track on Jaque Mate (Caribe), the long-awaited fourth album by top Cuban vocalist Manolin (El Medico de la Salsa), is one of the best pure hustle tunes I've heard since they buried Pop Healy. Usually modern hustle cuts are in the "classic disco" mold, but "Y Ahora Baila" grips you like a vice with a monstrous, globular, full, fat bass line, sparkly horns and a groove that thunders along, while it propels you out into a wonderful timba funkathon. On the dance floor this powertrain has the modern Cuban (casino) dancers in real spins.
Manolin's real name is Manuel Hernandez - he studied to be doctor, hence the "El Medico" moniker given to him originally by NG La Banda's Juan Luis Cortes, who spotted the musical talent of the youngster as songwriter, arranger and guest vocalist. By the mid-'90s Manolin's solo career blossomed: He was in demand as a songwriter for some of the biggest names in Cuban popular music, and his own releases included major hits like "La Bola," which was in the Cuban hit parade for 54 weeks.
Jaque Mate is so ram-jam packed full with a real variety of exceptionally strong songs. It is swimming with the swingingest of grooves, dripping with great melodies, with hooklines so huge you could haul a marlin in on 'em, all surfing together with fluid-idly sharp arrangements. It is a major release. Manolin's voice was always his weakest point, but he has matured since his early days, and his range and style have improved. He can schmooze you with a gentle start to the song; switching the feelings, he flips and trips you as the tune and groove builds when he pours out the feelings and emotion.
The band is certainly one of the hottest timba rhythm sections around. Conguero Tomasito Cruz came from Paulito FG. Angel Arces shows how a virtuoso plays the timbales, while youngster trap drummer Reiner Guerra batters out an incredible beat. The two keyboards of Eduardo "Chaka" Napoles and co-arranger Luis Bis float majestically through the mix, taking turns leading and filling. And that well-endowed bass pushes along and underpins everything.
The backing vocals are quite stunning as well. I do not know their names but the females are fabboroonie, especially on "Y Ahora Baila," which really does move seriously. At least the casino dancers are hip to this cut right now. To be quite honest it will take the hustlers marooned in 1978 another 25 years to catch up with the best new hustle tune in ages.
"Jaque Mate" is certainly worth naming the album after. It is a truly great song, an absolute stormer, it drops from the word go with a cracking drum, solid bass and upfront piano riffing it out. By the time the vocals about Los Van Van's Juan Formell get going it's full time into groove city, with chunky jazz piano and insistent vocals which scat and growl around. A masterpiece. I can see this release being a major contribution to our musical world this year. If you like your timba rough and radical, then Jaque Mate is for you.
It must have been two years ago when I first heard that ace Congolese guitarist Papa Noel was going off to Cuba to record with top son oldster Papi Oviedo. I could not wait to hear the results. It struck me as one of those really bonne ideas: Noel, whose exquisite playing has graced so many great recordings and bands, off to Havana to hook up with Oviedo, in my opinion, the top tres player in Cuba.
The results of these gargantuans of the guitars' collaboration are finally out. Bana Congo (Tumi) was worth the wait; it is one of those great mixups, a natural and organic melting together of music, exploring the common threads between Congolese rumba and Cuban son. The title track sets the high standards maintained throughout this cd - a flowing guitar and luscious female backing vocals come together for an eye-opening debut. I really rate Christina, vocalist with Papi Oviedo, who shines totally throughout this album with her earthy vocals. She really cleans up with her own composition "Limpia Mi Son," which is working out to be a fave on the dance floor. As is "Combination de Soneros," guest vocalist Andres Sosa Reve's impassioned roll call of the great soneros of Cuban music. That great Santiago son player Pedro "Nene" Lugo Martinez, who was in Los Jovenes del Classico Son, gives us a virtuoso performance and shows why he is so highly rated with his contribution "No Te Doy Na."
Wuta Mayi steps in front of the microphone to give us "Mbonge," a hip-swiveling stepper. "Oye Sabroso Son" is an old-school '70s salsa montuno- style tune, done the original trad son way. What has emerged from this totally engaging musical mixup is one of those rare combinations where everything is right. Well 99.9 percent - you got to give Nyboma's out-of-tune vocals on "Molimo" a good nixing. Bana Congo is a major achievement, it stands out like it should: clear and pure in its intentions and nearly faultless in its execution.
Writing this as we seemingly teeter on the brink of World War III, a nice, gentle release from Guinea Bissau via Oakland, CA, Maron Di Mar (Cobiana) by Zé Manel has been soothing my frayed nerve ends. It is a collection of sweet songs that tenderly reach out to you - not only the beautiful slow ones but soulful swingers as well: "Tchico Te" is a powerful example. Manel has a very nice voice and the songs are well crafted. I can see tracks off this appearing on one of those "chilled" compilation cds. If there are such things as "chilled" compilations after the world goes pear-shaped.
Africa Raps (Trikont) is a mega-solid collection of some of the best of recent Senegalese, Malian and Gambian roots rap tracks. I would say the track-success rate is well over 75 percent. Standouts include Senegalese stars Bibson and Xuman's "Kav Jel Ma" which starts out looping an old salsa mbalax, then drops into a Youssou sample, while the Gokh-Bi System give us a terrific roots-based construction titled "Xaesal." Positive Black Soul tops out this compilation with "Boul Ma Mine" with its creative chopping of drum beats and sweet flowing guitar sampled from Orchestre Baobab. The comprehensive multilingual sleeve notes to this German compilation are very informative and interesting.
Regular peepers to this column know I like to be very liberal with the English language. Bend it, shape any way you want to is my philosophy. In the last issue of this august magazine, Ted Boothroyd in his review of Lloyd Bradley's excellent book Bass Culture, complained about the use of slang, such as "smoove" in Lloyd's writing which he described as "peculiar Britishisms" and suggested we should "forgive them." I understand Mr. Boothroyd lives in Canada. Now, I do not know the Canadian slang for those old English homilies "those who live in glass houses should not throw stones" or "the pot calling the kettle black." But Ted, I am confuzzled, have you been at too many Two-Fours? Why have you got a grassy ass about black English slang? The shizzit is the same everywhere, even for skids. So please don't be a hoser. Hope you hop on a trolley with me.
You cannot beat the sound of a really good reggae-style sound system playing out in the open. Stacks of boxes are piled up, specifically designed to shift vast volumes of air in different ways. All those scoops, just to compress air and pump it out so that the bass hits you in that innards-reorienting way, the vibrations giving you an internal and external massage as your shorts flap in the displaced air. Around Cartagena and Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast of Colombia they have some real great open-air sound systems. Not only do they shift air but the speakers and dj stand are decorated with elaborate, beautifully executed fluorescent-colored paintings. The music played on these systems is champeta.
Champeta is basically a blend of most, if not all, of the various Caribbean and African musics of the last 30 or so years. Highlife, rumba, soukous, kwasa kwasa and South African music have been fused together with everything from soca and Jamaican music to Haitian compas and zouk. Like reggae, champeta is the music of the ghetto and it is a very black music.
As always, ports are the gateway for the music to flow between peoples. In this case the modern African musical influence came through Cartagena. In the very early '80s sailors from West Africa brought lps to Colombia, and African music found a very appreciative and willing audience in an area that had always held on to its Africanism. Where else in the world can you go clutching a rare vinyl pressing of Nyboma's Double Double lp and be hailed as a god?
There are quite a few champeta collections out at the moment, but the French label Palenque was ahead of the game in 1998 with Champeta Criolla. This was a good collection of what had been happening with the movers and shakers and emerging stars of the style, people like Luis Towers from Grupo Kerube and original Afrofreak-out band Wganda Kenya and the classic Fela-esque "Shaloade."
But the recently released Champeta Criolla Vol. 2 is much more radical stuff. Manu Chao probably has this release playing all the time at home. Volume two is the product of MC IBA, an African musical guru in France, and Lucas Silva, a Colombian film maker, AKA "Super Champeta-Man," and is the soundtrack to a film about champeta called Los Hijos de Benkos. Volume two is done as if you are experiencing a Pico sound system, live, with madcap cutups, rewinds, MC-ing, scratchy old records and stuttering samples from some of the top sounds there. And it all works so superbly well, all parts and elements fit together perfectly. The choice of the hot tunes is spot on and the selection is totally crisp.
As a musical tourist to this cd you might think you had stumbled into some whacked out Afrocentricaribbean state. Correcto, your GPS (GroovePositionStation) is lined up exactly on the right spot. Lee Perry and George Clinton are indeed getting down kwasa kwasa style in the Yoruba Prankster Republic. Absolutely fantastic. This is one of the most off-the-wall madshit things I have come across in many a moon. Every track is a stormer. And for you djs out there who can play this stuff, then it is a fund of guaranteed floor fillers. Whole rafts of 'em. From superstar Luis Towers comes "Mama Africa," which name-checks highlife kings the Oriental Brothers in its gentle melodies, stunning vocals, grooves and killer breaks, while his "El Rico Cuji" is a solid mover that subtly swings with his plaintive vocals and is described as as a "Funana de Cap Vert," and "El Poeta" has "tengo swing."
Or the indomitable King Elio Boom with "El Fulo," a soukous freak-out described in the sleevenotes as highlife ragga, while his "El Tren" snorts and builds up steam ready for the uphill slog to the sebene break. "El Akien" is a Prince Nico Mbarga tune done fearlessly by Mister Black. Here obviously the Mahotella Queens are rightly considered goddesses with their pumping mbaqanga groove, and the Soul Brothers' swirling organ funk is a popular template, given their frequent occurrence in the champeta sound. [palenque firstname.lastname@example.org]
Champeta has finally come of age: It is repetitive, rough and tuff, and it might seem cheesy to some puritans. But I like it very much. It has sabor. When the world music police discover champeta, they will not like it. It is too raggamuffin dirty for them and the dancing makes a speciality of very personal contact. In fact a local council in Barranquilla has banned champeta dancing in public because it is "too sexy." But I don't care what the WMP or a local council may think. Nurse, please wipe my forehead.
Copyright 2002 Dave Hucker