(by Dave Hucker, "Hey, Mr. Music" column, The Beat magazine, Volume 16, Number 5/6, 1997)
As a dj and also as a person, I operate on feelings and hunches. Premonitions, vibes, all that kind of stuff. Now, the one thing I have noticed over the 15 years I've been making a living as a dj and listening to countless other djs, I believe it is the ability to feel, divine, perceive, understand, and draw out the collective vibe of how a certain crowd wants to be musically entertained, and then exactly how you set up the rhythmical patterns and flow of grooves. Those are the qualities that make a good dj.
After all, deejaying is very easy--anyone can do it. It takes about two minutes to learn how to cue up music and how to shift it from one turntable to the other. It is what, how, and when you play that music that is the difficult bit to deal with.
I had a hunch that this year I would find some really good soca. As always I closely followed the Carnival reports Gene Scaramuzzo files in The Beat, talked to T&T friends, then waited for the tunes to come over here. And I've not been disappointed. There are some really banging tunes this year. Biggest for me from the wide-ranging selection available has to be Bally's "Pam Pa Lam." You can find it on Strictly Soca (Crosby's). Its pounding beat and hard-edged drum sound make it a real middle-ground jump-up winner. Next biggest is Colin Lucas' "Slam Bam Thank You Ma'am, Soca Jam," while Marvin Lewis' "The Urge" with its gentle guitar leading the rhythm is proving to be the late wining groove. It scores slightly over Arrow's effort in this area; "Dancehall Queen," because of its reggae-ish drops and breaks, though Arrow's "Don't Touch Me Tempo" is a stand-out tune with its northern Caribbean groove. Incidentally you can find "Don't Touch My Tempo" on a excellent cross-Caribbean collection on Putamayo, called Caribbean Party.
Here in England soca is always seen as a summer music, one of the ingredients to the soundtrack of the Carnival season. "Hot Hot Hot" was a summer hit way back in the mists of time, '84 I think it was. Last year's summer hit was unfortunately "Macarena," but this year's has not reared its ugly head yet. It should have been Sekouba Bambino's "Koumakan," but probably will not be.
But I have noticed what seems to be a common thread of a big thump rhythm running through a lot of very popular, but supposedly unrelated music these days. For example I have been cutting together the Spanish club mix of Reel 2 Reel and Projecto Uno's "Mueve La Cadera" (Strictly Rhythm 12") with Bally's "Pam Pa Lam." They both seem to have the same-ish beat, a pounding uptempo big one. Like also a new version of Celia Cruz's classic "Quimbara" off the new Dark Latin Groove release Swing On (Sony Tropical). This has a thumping bloco drum beat moving it along in a radical manner. This release I only got while finishing this col, so next time I will cover it more fully. In dhe meantime if you see it grab it.
I always liked Senegal's Super Diamono with their very hard fragmented mbalax rhythms, especially guitarist Lamine Faye's contributions to the fragmented rhythms. He left and formed a new group, Lemzo Diamono in 1991. Stern's have a compilation taken from their three releases since then. Called Marimbalax, the title track sums it all up, showing to perfection their radical freaked-out mbalax/jazz/funk. It features Lamine's incredible sharp, subtle, piercing, sometimes fuzzed up, guitar, with lots of squiddly bits flying around, plus a pounding nutty beat and great vocals.
When the Soul Brothers toured Europe in 95, they blew many people's minds, old and new fans together, with their latest pumping rhythms and swirling Hammond B3 sound. These old SA favorites showed us a band that was still progressing and actually getting better. There are not many groups in the world that you can say are still improving after 20 years in the biz. Earthwork/Stern's have a collection of tunes from two of their recent releases plus tracks recorded for Andy Kershaw's BBC Radio One program. Born to Jive is worth it just for the Kershaw sessions live, direct and deep.
Remember the last Africando release that featured Guinean singer Sekou Bambino Diabate? Well, Sterns has his last effort for Parisian producer Ibrahima Sylla's Syllart operation out now. Named Kassa, it is very nice. Described as a prodigy, Bambino's modern style is eclectic. For example as I mentioned earlier about summer hits. I would personally describe "Koumakan" as a Guinean "Hot Hot Hot." I mean it's got it all: a happy groove, blasts of horn, wonderful female backing vocals bouncing back and forth with Bambino's singing. Lovely. The title track, a seriously funked-up jumper with fabbo groove, continues the modern theme.
Wayne Gorbea has been around on the Bronx salsa scene since the early '70s, getting and keeping a reputation as an uncompromising piano player with a jazzy Palmieri brothers' twinge, and also appreciated for always running a hard-edged purist band. His latest group Salsa Picante have a cracking new release, Cogele El Gusto on his own Wayne Go label. On the sleeve notes Wayne says his weekly stint at a SoHo dance club sharpened the music to make it more dancer-friendly. And it is, the title track is a thundering nine minutes of intense montuno groove. A tune that from personal experience I can honestly testify is a dancers' delight. Musical director, 'bone player Rick Davis shines on a tune called "Strut (Latin Jazz)." Wayne's percussive piano leads into a mellow bass line before the horn section kicks in and it all gets very jazzily nice.
Cuban charanga proponent Candido Fabre brings his swinging big-band violin-led sound to you with his new release Poquito Poco (Tumi Gold). A really good effort all together. His groove, track eight, "Bailando Con Otro" is the one that hits it on the floor. But all in all it's all good. Subtle beats and violins, sign me up please.
Can last year's clear and outright winner of Latin release of the year, Johnny Almendra and Los Jovenes del Barrio come up with a newie that can help them keep the title in face of stiff opposition? The general flow of opinion is that they have done it. The new album Reconfirmando (RMM) is definitely more well-rounded and fully fleshed out and also a mature, fully developed and executed idea. The populist favorite "Everybody Plays A Fool" is the natural follow up to "Telephone." But there is lots more in there. "Todo El Mundo Necesita" has a tremendous melody line which eventually drops into a engaging Jamaican style break and chat. This is a major release, do not ignore.
This year's effort from young salsa star Victor Manuelle, A Pesar de Todo (Sony Tropical) is really a very sophisticated slab of modern salsa. The cutting edge of the action today, it takes the rhythms from all over the time and place. Some of the tunes end up dropping with some very deep heavy pumping beats, while the subtle twists in the rhythms sidle up smoothly to rub shoulders and lock loins in a rhythmically engaging, sometimes modern, boogaloo-friendly way. I talk about boogaloo in this context and put it in its historical place as the result of the '60s mixing of Latin and non-Latin (in this case, r&b beats). Nowadays, due to the wider range and diversity of musical strands out there, the influences are wider. As usual the great Sergio George is responsible for the production, he seems to be everywhere these days. DLG is his responsibility as well.
Venezuela provides us with a brace of goodies, singer Erick's newie Sonando Contigo (Vedisco) is a smooth but equally impassioned groove. Top-quality stuff. Tracks to hit it on the floor include "Sonando," where vocalist Trina Medina's wonderful deep growl grabs at your soul. This is the modern kind of soulful growl that the garagey things aspire to, not the old La Lupe feral kind of growl.
Her release Entrega (Sony Tropical) is for the large part very interesting. On the floor uptempo stormers like "Vengo Con Todo" stand out with a slow groove populist fuzzy lead guitar-led workout titled "Duermete." But again there is lots in there to enjoy. The beats drop deeply, the arrangements swing. And her vocals, ohhh! half of the vocal nonentities posing as sexy singers out there in the middle ground would happily agree to having their legs surgically sewn together if they could have half her voice.
Finally, of course you can always rely on Oscar D'Leon, Venezuela's best known musical export. Oscar D'Leon en Nueva York (RMM) hits all the usual spots. "Mujer de Arena" is the hot tune off this one; no wonder it opens up the cd. His duet with La India on this is the pop hit, but not the best tune.
The phone rings; I get one of my regular calls, "'ello guvnor, Gerry at Bongo's" (The leading London Latin shop) "I've got a geezer here who is doing my brain in about a tune you played at your session on Sunday. He says it was Willie Chirino and had a blue cover, what was it, something off South Beach?" (a previous Willie C release).
I was stumped for a second, I had not played any Willie Chirino for ages, especially the previous Sunday. What was it?
"Ask him whether I played it at about 9:30 after a couple of merengues and did it start off with a percussion thump then drop into salsa but keep the bump?" I queried. The answer came back in the affirmative. "Lefty Perez," I said. "Thanks."
The person attempting to buy this could be forgiven for thinking that Lefty Perez was Willie Chirino. This tune from maverick Puerto Rican singer Lefty's self-titled cd certainly sounds like Willie C. Lefty is making his debut recording for the mega-legendary Caiman label, who put out so much real good stuff in the '80s, but have been quiet recently. The tune causing aggravation out on the floor is called "Diario de Una Amiga."
The Buena Vista Social Club (World Circuit) is the last release from WC's three-week recording bash in Havana. (Afro Cuban All Stars and Ruben Gonzalez were the other two releases recorded within a matter of days.) This is one of the things I find appealing as someone who grew up on Motown, Stax and Hi, Studio One, Treasure Isle etc.
I think I understand how the great studios and artists of our time create their magic. I believe immediacy is the name of the game, it's down to just bang it out. However only top-quality musicians can just bang it out effortlessly. You are going to be bombarded with stuff about how BVSC is the real thing, how Ry Cooder says it is mega. How it is going to be an award-winning release where Cuban oldsters get their just respect and desserts. But I say one thing: Just listen, it is all true. This release is genius level.
Anyone who sends me vinyl of a release in my area(s) of music will get a review. Guaranteed (almost). So I feel no guilt whatsoever in plugging Jesus Alemany again, since his record label Rykodisc sent me a promo vinyl six-track sampler from his current release Malembe. Apart from being a major ex-pat Cuban, moving on from learning his chops as Sierra Maestra's trumpet player, Jesus recently brought together a multicultural band for a supa dupa session at the Royal Festival Hall. It was so great, the band was so tight. The band crossed the divides, U.K. percussion master Dave Pattnam beat it out alongside old Cuban master conga player Carlos "Patato" Valdez. It was hard radical music.
Jesus is part of the wave of U.K. salsa getting serious attention. The salsa scene in England and Scotland is just getting bigger and bigger. In London alone there are in excess of 40 clubs a week playing salsa, merengue and all the other forms of Latin music. A larger number than I know exists in Paris and possibly a number that equals the number in NY. At the cutting edge of U.K. salsa comes Tumbaito led by Cuban conga and percussion master Williams Cumberbace. Otros Tiempos (Deep South) is pretty radical music."Descarga Cachao" is the biggie on the floor; taking its starting point as a bass line from Cachao, it goes into deep percussive bloco sound with rap. An impressive debut.
I failed completely in my role as a curious searcher of a country's indigenous music on my trip to Namibia in May. My feet never actually crossed the threshold of a record shop. In fact I never even saw one in the time I was there. Maybe it was because I was on holiday, therefore switched off. I don't know. We all have to shut off sometimes. In the end most of the music I heard was from somewhere else than Namibia. Even my usual last resort, the duty-free shop at the airport, couldn't help me, as it was closed. Great country though, fantastic deserts, incredible sandstorms.
Big Noise 2, A Mambo Inn Compilation (Rykodisc). If you missed part one, then you do not know about the Mambo Inn's incredible and fantastic mix and selection of music (of the world) compiled from tunes that filled the two dance floors of the now-legendary London club which closed down at the end of last year to mutate into something else to take clubbing into the next millennium. But its groundbreaking activities continue. I always carry the original with me. All over the world, when I pull out volume one, the other djs' response is always familiar, "Oh yes! We know this. 'Sgreatinnit?" With this new release you get all sort of stuff including exclusive remixes. Carlinhos Brown redoes Timbalada's "Beija-Flor" in a dancehall stylee. Then you can find floor-filling classics like Wagadugu's "Sweet Mother," Africando, Jephte Guillaume's "Lakou-a" and more. Much much more.
Finally, full respects to Fela Kuti. He introduced me to African music. I shall always thank him for that. Even his death was controversial. Was he gone?, wasn't he? Myth and fact collided and everything got a bit mixed up.