(by Dave Hucker, "Hey, Mr. Music" column, The Beat magazine, Volume 17, Number 1, 1998)
THE FIRST WEEK IN SEPTEMBER:
The postman came bearing a large packet of new Latin stuff from my mail order connection, Salsa Pa'Ti. Immediately jumping out at me is Chichi Peralta's Pa Otro la'O (Caiman). First because I was interested to see what another release from this recently revived label would bring. (I mentioned a release by Lefty Perez on Caiman last issue which I erroneously called eponymous when it should have been Soy Tuyo). So I was doubly excited to find Chichi's mix of modern and trad bachata. In the absence of any new Juan Luis Guerra release, his bongo player has had to do us the service of providing the goods. I tried out "Ella Tiene" on my crowd at Cuba. Immediately I knew I was on a winner here, its flowing African guitar and gently galloping beat got the floor all steamed up.
Techno-son may sound derivative but it's a great bridge when you've been playing some big-bang beats and want to move things back to a more rhythmical music or vice-versa. But what it does certainly do is to continue to prove the existence of this current pan-Caribbean modern sound/beat that I keep rumbling on about. The reggae-ish "La Ciguapa" is shaping up as a nice little mover as well. This release is an essential listen--virtually every track is interesting, there's three banging dancers and a radical-yet-equally trad sound. [Salsa Pa'Ti, fax: 44 171 328-0910; e-mail: Salsapati @msn.com ]
Over in Merengueville Kinito Mendez is in town with a nice release El Decreto de Kinito Mendez (Sony). Raw pumping rootsical merengue with--gulp--nutty accordion charges through your pelvis.Track three, "Mi Muchacho," is the one that gets the dancers going.
Willie Chirino steps forward with another strong release, Baila Conmigo (Sony Tropical). Smooth, suave and muy sexy sounds and rhythms as ever from this well-seasoned star. "Bongo" is the best song and the big tune on the floor so far. Its mellow groove and unusual backing vocals give it real staying power, though the Caribbean mix-up of "Como Te Amo Nene" gives it run for the groove. The title track is best described as "Balearic," which can be either be seen as a term of abuse or praise. Personally I use it as a term of abuse. Europop is Europop is Worldpop, wherever it comes from. Willie is obviously going for the crossover pop market with a vengeance. "N Y C B" (New York City Blues) is sung in English, which does not make much of a difference--it's still very drippy.
But then after that he launches into a big sub-disco production number on "Menaleo," which is very enjoyable in a cheesy way, while "Fuera de Aqui" eventually breaks out to a good Cuban style workout after a very dodgy rappy intro. I'd say this release is about half good. Not a bad percentage, higher than average.
Puerto Rican priestess La India hits us with another scorcher. Sobre el Fuego (RMM) features a mesmerising duet with Celia Cruz. "La Voz de la Experienca" has them swapping compliments as the rhythms slip effortlessly between Puerto Rico and Cuba. La India's singing has matured in the last few years; she has gained more depth and control. The superb musicians help things along nicely, thank you.
Old PR and Fania star Roberto Roena y su Apollo has a cracking mambo on his Mi Musica, Mil Noveciento Noveinta y Siete. (MP). "Mi Mambo Pide Campana" leads in with conga, then it's all onward and upward from there as Tito Puente's "Ran Kan Kan" riff is segued into the groove. The rest is tough old-style salsa. Very nice.
I've been seeking aural refuge from all this hard fast new salsa with the gentler sounds of Bellita y Jazztumbata (Round World Music). Her jazzy vocal flow is exquisitely beautiful, her piano invigorating, the trio sweet and tight and simple. Another youngster from the same sceptered isle is Hanny, straight from the streets of Havana to a pair of speakers in front of you via his The Voice of Cuba (Mr. Bongo's). This recording was the result of a chance Havana street meeting between Mr. Bongo himself and Hanny, who was performing for passers-by. Mr. Bongo recognized straight away Hanny's special sound and talent; he is regarded by many as the hot young sonero. An immediate recording session was organized. "Ojos Que No Ven" is the popular floorfiller off this very strong release.
Papi Olviedo y sus Soneros were formed in 1995 when tres player Papi, a veteran of Elio Reve's band, trawled the island for the best musicians to do a swinging son trad-style combo. Encuentro Entre Soneros (Tumi) is the result. He is a really is a top tres player, the band true to the tradition, crisp and tight, but also loose. Great stuff.
Her Majesty's Customs and Excise have been very busy recently with my post: another packet from America "opened and inspected." The cream of the crop in a recent slew of left-field releases on the M.E.L.T. 2000 label is from S.A.'s The Boyz, a group of young vocalists based at a boys' home in the township of Langa near Cape Town. Their Achisa cd is an uncompromising blast of radical experimentation. It was a recording organized by Amapondo's Simpiwe Matole. Radical lyrics spit out at you on tracks like "Say No to Guns" and "Stop Violence." Do not expect to find anything safe here: You will not.
Live, Ruben Gonzalez at the Queen Elizabeth Hall down on the South
Bank: Belying his 70-plus years he showed a real mischievous nature in his
playing, enjoying himself showing off the percussive nature of Cuban piano
playing. The band was great, tripping out the hits from his World Circuit
release. This is the third time I have seen him and he has shone in all.
First was with the Buena Vista Social Club at the Jazz Cafe, then he dropped
in for a descarga session at my Wednesday night club at Cuba, which was
a real treat, I can tell you.
MIDDLE OF SEPTEMBER:
No new tracks were in evidence but the word on the next release is it features a version of Khaled's "Aicha" and Edith Piaf's "La Vie en Rose." Obviously they are taking a page from Yuri Buenaventura's book of how to do classic French chansons Latin style, which he showed on his last release when he did Jacques Brel's "Ne Me Quitte Pas" to perfection. A very laid-back friendly atmosphere permeated this show, making it a treat to attend, apart from the music. If it had featured the NY musicians it would have been different, more hyped-up. This was just enjoyable, a fun time for everybody. Nothing radical or unexpected, they just delivered the goods.
Unlike the Colombian session that featured Fruko y sus Tesos and the Latin Brothers: The Discos Fuentes house band that makes up the common members of these two names are a bunch of top-quality musicians, but this night they were just lackluster, only firing on a couple of cylinders. The awful sound of the venue did not help. Doing three hour-long sets, they ran through the hits. On the second set things warmed up enough for Fruko to take off his jacket. The cynics among us crowded by the bar at the back, laying bets as to whether Fruko would get steamed up enough by the third set to take his wig off. He didn't, but the resulting betting pool was enough to buy another bottle of aguardiente.
Historically Khaled's "Didi" is a slice of very classic, mega-important music, if only judging by the number of different versions it has spawned from various parts of the world. There was the Greek version, the flamenco version and the Indian version. The star essential track on a new 12" and cd (Mango) of different cuts of "Didi" is the very rare and hard-to-get Indian version which strangely is also closest to the original. Be warned the cd and vinyl have different tracks, only on the cd is a chunky radio edit. An awful techno trash-out (sorry, Freudian slip, that should read "thrash-out") tops off this item. The vinyl has a extended vocal cut. In between everything on all formats is a hip-hopped-up new version of "Oran Marseille" from Marseilles-based rappers IAM. But in some way, every reworking seems to take this masterpiece away from its original source.
Got a nice Brazilian sampler compilation, Music From Brazil, from the Atraco label based in Sao Paulo. Culled from their comprehensive catalogue I found crackers like Muzenza's version of Jorge Ben's "Charles Anjo 45" done with a hipped-up bloco beat that works spot-on. Other standouts on my floor are Ze Paulo which hits us with a bouncing bundle tropical bloco in "Batom Vermelho" and Banda Nova's big jump-up "Negrita Baila."
Opened by Customs again was a package containing a single by Everton Blender. I promised anyone sending me vinyl is guaranteed a review, and I am more than happy to endorse Mr. Blender's offering on the Wild Life label. Defender of the Faith is the title and that is his role in life, that's why I like him. He is certainly one of the best back-to-the-righteous-lyric roots singers. Just like new-ish newcomer Sizzla: You cannot move for Sizzla these days. And with very good reason: the other night I was running "Hail Selassie" off his Praise Ye Jah (Jet Star). This bloke leaned over and asked "Is that Youssou N'Dour?" Such is the depth of the African beats in the riddim and the general all-round wailing quality of the singing. Praise indeed. "Hail Selassie" is one of those tunes you just have to rewind, constantly. The hooks and riffs are deep.
On pre-release Roundhead has been essential, his Forward Ever Backward Never (Mo Music) with its reversed backward/forward vocals and mutant psychobilly guitar groove is a total whacked-out aural killer. Joined by two other cuts on the same label with the same rhythm, Alley Cat extols the virtues of a good draw with "Gimmie the Weed fi-Smoke," while Lexxus brings us the catchy "Bong Bong." This is a great rhythm, certainly out there on the edge.
A real socamixups curiosity that is very interesting musically can be found on a compilation called Ambakaila (London), subtitled "nu school dance music of the Caribbean." It features most of the big carnival hits this year, "Shelly Ann," "Ice Cream," "Big Truck," "Ent," etc. But the killer diller is a huge great big cut-and-paste operation on all the tunes titled "Various" (The Last Lap Mix). It starts out with Machel's "Big Truck" and ends with Chinese Laundry's "Ah Have It Like That." In between it is mixed, chopped, layered up, distended, reprised and sometimes beaten up with a big bass dropped in. But it is all very creatively done and a real stormer on the floor, the pumping beats just never letting up. Interesting to see what they do next year. Hopefully they will improve on the sound quality of the mixes.
From Vancouver, BC comes a new recording by veteran Yabby You, called Jah Will Be Done (Prophet Records). YY was always someone I always checked in the old days. This album is obviously a labor of love from another YY fan, but I'm afraid this release blends into the background compared with Blood and Fire's all-embracing Yabby You compilation Jesus Dread. Featuring a two-cd and four-disc vinyl boxed set, all the originals, all the versions, the dubs, the toasts, everything is there.
Johnny Polanco y su Conjunto Amistad's L.A. Amistad (Tonga):
This well-respected veteran NY/PR protagonist, located now in Southern California,
has produced a kicking new release. His tres playing leads such groovy tracks
as "La Receta" and "L.A. Amistad" which opens up with
a blast of horns and tres before settling down to a serious dance-floor
filler. This is a really great release. It features the great Ray Ramos
on vocals, another of my fave vocalists. I always play a tune Ray did in
the '80s on an lp called Salsa Tracks (Yuma). The track is called "Leal"
and features weird wolf-like howls. Newcomers to the club are startled to
see my regulars joining in with the howls while they are out there on the
Che Guevara is big these days. Not that he was ever a minor figure in
the fight against western imperialism and for world-wide socialism. The
Tumi label has a tribute cd Hasta Siempre Comandante. Features
tributes to him sung by Cuban groups and singers. It also has a recording
made on Oct. 3, 1965, of the great leader Fidel reading a letter from Che
to him. Viva la Revolution!
END OF OCTOBER:
Sans Papiers Act II (Syllart) is full on commercialism,
but do not let that detract you from appreciating this for what is, a very
sophisticated and firing mixup. It starts with Dominique Gengoul doing "Soca
Feeling," a soca-zouk jumper. Charlotte Mbango hits us with "Mumi,"
a stirring makossa workout that ends with her vocals breaking out into orgasmic
delight. Bibi Dens' classic "The Best Ambiance" gets a real good
reworking. As always you cannot fail musically with such a strong original
and bods like Lokassa, Dally Kimoko and Nyboma helping out on the rhythm.
I safely recommend that you can buy this release.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 8:
Got the new Fatal Mambo release from Tinder. Package opened by Customs again; I bet they had a good laugh with this one down at the office. I can imagine them saying, "Oh, what's that old anarchist Hucker got now? If it's anything interesting we can tip off M15 to add it to his file." "Oy, this is in French. Rupert you're the clever one, what's it all mean?" An hour later a very worried and concerned colleague returns with disturbing news. Rupert has been found laughing uncontrollably, slumped in a chair, headphone leads wrapped around him trussing his arms and legs, the result of trying to laugh and dance at the same time.
"What's the problem?" asked a colleague kindly. Rupert looked at him trying hard to hide the snigger twitching at the edge of his lips, but couldn't, bursting out laughing letting it all go in an ejaculatory rush. "Well," he struggled to continue after the emotion had finished emoting. "The first song is all about the boss and some kind of gangster cool, then there is the recipe for the garlic dressing with a joke at the end, there's the '70s disco groove about girls who talk politics. There's the angry argument between a mother and her son." "Hmm, I see," said the person.
Fatal Mambo is really a great album, more solid and thought-out
than their previous one and that one was good enough. The grooves and melodies
are all taken from the top drawer of Latin music. The words are original,
hilarious and deeply French. Every era and style of Latin music gets a good
going-over here, Eddie Palmieri's "Justica," the classic oldie
"Anacoboa." Tito Puente's "Ran Kan Kan," even the New
Swing Sextet's boogaloo hit "Monkey See Monkey Do" gets reworked
beautifully in the song about the garlic dressing. Main man J.F. "Oscar"
Hammel really knows his music.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 19:
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 5:
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 6:
Copyright 1998 Dave Hucker