(by Dave Hucker, from The Beat, Vol. 25, No. 2, 2006)
Abrading your ears with a gritty salsa garage sound does exactly the same job that any number of proprietary treatments or professional ear wax removal gizmos do. Lost Classics of Salsa Vol. II (Libertad) follows on in the grand tradition of volume one, bringing us a selection of roughly hewn, stripped-down trebly salsa garage tracks which frequently are just this side of crazy, generally featuring a rampant clavé or cowbell while the horns are always red raw.
The term "garage" as applied to music transcends all musical styles, be it rock or punk or salsa or buga-up. Whatever bands come under the nebulous category of this term, it is usually because the combos conformed to the norm of the style -- they were radical, they never sold many (if any) copies of their music, the bass player got life for stealing a car. Or the band got marooned on tour in Iowa and was forced to turn to cannibalism. (It's a safe bet it was the drummer who got eaten first.)
Whatever happened, what these groups did then and how they are considered now makes them important. Some people see them as significant because they are very obscure. But everyone agrees they are highly regarded because of they are very pure. Purity is an important ingredient here in the ears of the fans of this music. These tracks cone out wholesale volumes of purity with an over-modulated distortion to create triple condensed waveforms and some great unalloyed music. The undistilled nature of the rhythms is also most important; here you will find liberal use of the guaguanco rhythm.
This follow-up to the very highly regarded volume one again keeps the vinyl scratches and crackle, so you can actually hear the real vinyl, none of that ultra-digital-cleanup rubbish. My view is that you've got to feel the traction of the needle in the groove otherwise you lose the adhesion of the sound.
Opening up proceedings is Willie Melendez and "El Hippie." "Mi dice hippie, mi llame hippie," Willie says. "Soy hippie" the coro intones. Burning hotter than a first-time reefer, this is a scorcher to set the tone and style. The horns are particularly fiery. Piro Mantilla's "El Buen Borincano" has a fit horn riff running up and down in a heartfelt ode to PR. "Ritmo Sabroson" from Hermanos Fernandez is a lovely little mover with clattering percussion where the horns seem to have a highlife tinge, very tasty indeed.
Orquesta Sensacional contributes "Guardia," a potent groove with multilayered rhythms that move backwards and forwards like a cakewalk, coming together in a rhythmical wholeness with the horns and vocals.
Orquesta Ritmo Swing with "La Competencia" brings us funky chunky guaguanco with super guitar. Throughout this selection, the guaguanco rhythm is never far from the surface. As one of the original rhythms that was used to create the ingredients of salsa it therefore has major historical meanings in the purity department.
Orquesta La Solucion, another highly revered obscure band, was featured on the first volume and brings "Pensamiento" to the arena. It is another guaguanco: The vocalist sings "Solo vengo yo canto guaguanco." This serious mover breaks down into a superdupa bass 'n' bongo solo. This is purity from another time, age and place. Joe Cotto provides us "Mania" where the hornled feeding frenzy gives it everything that can be possibly be crammed into 2 minutes 45 seconds, and has expert friends of mine digging through their uncles' and fathers' collections for Joe Cotto lps. Topping off this labor-of-love compilation is "Positivo" from Andy Suarez y su Orquesta which bigs up everyone in the barrio as it looks for the truth. The clave crashes the riddim party with a vengeance.
Volume two of Lost Classics is a worthy successor to volume one which had djs, hardcore salsa fans and lovers of obscure music salivating in unison. The only fly in the ointment is that the sleeve notes from the first compilation have been recycled without updating. They talk about artists who are on number one but not number two. But then you could say that's par for the course for a garage compilation. For your aural health I strongly suggest a weekly cleaning with Lost Classics of Salsa Vol. II.
I am very glad that the producers of the Soundway label have taken the trip over to Central America and begun exploring the much-neglected and underrated country of Panama with their latest release: Panama! Latin, Calypso and Funk on the Isthmus 1965-75. Not only does it contain some superb examples of garage salsa for all of the reasons laid out earlier, but Soundway is certainly guilty of contravening the NSUSMC JIPIC Act (that's the "Nanny State, Ultra-Safe, Mega-Cautious, Just Possibly in Case" Act). Producer Miles Cleret and the Soundway posse really should legally cover their backsides and warn that exciting music like the examples contained on their cd could possibly be a direct threat to our grandparents, our parents, to us, our children and even our pets.
Have you ever seen the damage that a guinea pig inflamed by music can do? Warnings aside, this is a superb compilation with some rampant killer cuts like the opener Los Exagerados' "Panama Esta Bueno y Mas." Raw, rough and extruding a wild off-the-wall groove this gordo sax extravaganza is dense craziness, very very tuff 'n' ruff. One of the standout salsa tracks is the clattering, clave-laden "Nana Nina." It comes from one of the early stars of Panamanian salsa, Francisco "Bush" Buckley, who formed Bush y sus Magnificos in 1967. In the '70s the name evolved to Bush y Nuevo Sonido. Bush is a true giant of Panamanian music: the sleeve to this release shows a cinema marquee advertising a show with Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe and Bush y Los Magnificos.
A major player in Panamanian music, Bush recently wrote a book on its history, La Musica en Panama y Algo Mas (only in Spanish so far). Keeping us in the mood Freddy y su Afro Latinos give us another roots salsa with lovely vocals and trombone. A cumbia groove gets a major outing with Papi Brandao y sus Ejecutivos with "Viva Panama" which contains an accordion and some nutty female coro. Bolita y su Tentacion Latina redlines it with "Descarga Tentacion," a banging, popping percussion storm with over-inflated horns, while Los Caballeros de Colon's "Con Los Caballeros" is totally madness on wheels. Careful, you gotta watch the back does not overtake you and spin you out. They manage to make the corners -- just.
"Viva Tirado" gets a summertime makeover from Los Mozambiques, while Maximo Rodriguez y sus Estrellas Panamenas go down the mambo road with "Mambologia," the piano giving it a hard metaling.
The calypso cuts are provided by Los Silvertones who give us a sort of reggae/calypso with "Old Buzzard," and Lord Cobra and Pana-Afro Sounds regale us with a voodoo tale in "Rocombey." A group obviously committed to putting the fun back into funk, the Exciters give us three tracks. "Exciters Theme" is a sub-JB groove with trumpet and a Hammond organ galaxy of sound, while "New Bag" is spunky guitar with enthusiastic use of the wah-wah pedal intertwined with insistent riddim. "Let Me Do My Thing" featuring Ralph Weeks is another cut that reaches out and grabs your ears.
Soundway continues to be a purveyor of topclass compilations to the cognoscenti. Panama! Latin, Calypso and Funk on the Isthmus 1965-75 is a very high standard release which happy sits next to and adds to their quality catalogue. [www.soundwayrecords.com ] I know that in this issue of The Beat it will be wall-to-wall Kékélé. But their new album deserves the coverage because for once everyone agrees that this is one of those fantastic releases, a rare moment where a great idea and great music by great players come together and cross all boundaries. So let me join in the praise to give Kinavana (Stern's) the position it deserves. It is so beautifully put together with ultra-silky smoothness.
Personal favorites include the opening track "Mace" with its spiky lead guitar and sweet vocals from Bumba Massa and Manu Dibango's beautiful soprano sax; also "Tokobuka Mikuwa" with sweet-voiced Nyboma and slow guitar. My total fave track is the reworking of "El Carretero." It is one of those songs where it does not matter how many times it is recycled even if it's just the melody line and this version is a major journey. I had given up on Mbilia Bel recently but here she shows she has still got the voice as she floats in from the left while from the right comes the superb voice of NY vocalist Isabel Martinez.
Arranger Nelson Hernandez along with Syran Mbenza and Papa Noel do a fantastic job building the melodies and the new words, weaving a new tapestry with the music, or looking at it another way, building a dry stone wall, everything locking into each other perfectly naturally. Everybody shines on this serious contender for album of the year. A sure-fire hit because the music is stunning quality. How often can you say that? Volume three of London Is the Place For Me (Honest Jons) is devoted to Ambrose Campbell, the Nigerian artist who was crucial to whole mixup of West African, Caribbean and English jazz music that was happening in the 1950s. The 23 tracks on the cd and double vinyl range from trad Nigerian and highlife to jazz and beyond. There's some pretty interesting, important music featured here. Without it you would not have got great swathes of English jazz. It also points at the African club scene in London during this period, which was thriving with quite a few clubs and bars dotted throughout Soho. It's all changed now -- the African clubs are in East and North London or that South London suburb of Lagos known as Peckham.
Last issue I wondered about what game David Calzado was playing and inquired about his view of a greater pan-Caribbean sound with his production for Haila Mompe and her Differente cd.
It is clear now that was just a job for him, an attempt to sprinkle a bit of his magic over a project. Listening to his new cd El Ciclon de la Habana (Unicornio) it is obvious that Calzado kept the best ideas for his own Charanga Habanera release which is 100 percent pure deep funkiness for most of the time. He has been at the top of the tree of popular Cuban music for the last 15 years and naturally he always has had the best prettyboy vocalists on the island, before they go off and join other groups, that is. Current holders of the mantle are Leoni Torres, Noel Diaz and Aned Mota and they do a top job. Thunderstorms and announcements calling "Attencion bailadores" lead the title track into a muscular direction. There really are only a few thin moments on this cd, and much variety in the songs, like the pop "Esta Es Mi Charanga," which is obviously a showcase for Leonardo Torres. It could be a good pop hit anywhere. "Ninita" starts off with one of those pretty dull r&b-style intros then to its credit does build and create something else. On "Soy Yo" a kit-drum-led extravaganza bangs away and crashes through the riddim. It does make sense rhythmically. "Fanatica" has a storming pace with choppedup horns and as always the fluid and fragmented bass is completely way up front in of your face. Good progress and momentum is achieved with the inclusion of classic triple tipico vocals. "Chera Mia" is another story entirely where a cumbia groove builds into a major Cuban rhythm with great vocals with bounce, crisp arrangements tighter than a Roman road agger, lovely. "Pintate Los Labios Maria" is a chunky son with exquisite horns and vocals as the bass creates liquefaction and everything just merges and surges forward with gusto.
I even forgive him for the r&b-style tracks -- some become interesting grooves like "Apiadate De Mi," an example of the slow lovey thing that often gets very yukky and sticky, but this has got some soul. "El Contrato" is another r&b intro which gains a minor groove, but "Dejame Entrar" is severely urgh urgh urgh.
Generally on El Ciclon de la Habana there is lotso density of the songs, the vocals, playing and arrangements. Way back at the beginning of the popular timba movement David Calzado was a major player. As last man standing he still is. Cypriot wordsmith Haji Mike has a new cd, The Storyman (Olive Tree Music), his best release so far. Recorded in Nicosia, London, Athens and San Francisco, it is a collaboration with various talented bods from the West Coast: Stand Out Selector, Tony Matthew, CES One and appearances from Mediterraneanos Greekie Lion, Imiskoubria, Rocker T, Zeki Ali, Cutmaster G and Mike Cherry. The Storyman in all its 17 tracks is a well-thought-out, intelligent and articulate roam through reggae and hip-hop from Haji's own social- commentary perspective on life. Tunes like "Bling Bling Bling Pt. 2" and "Greek Wedding" display a wicked sense of humor. Like the griots, the soneros, the MCs and the Cypriot chastista raconteurs trading insults and wisecracks at a traditional wedding, Haji Mike is reflecting life back to us. [www.hajimike.com ]
The Rough Guide to Bhangra Dance (World Music Network) is a great selection from DJ Ritu that takes the best from the hits of recent bhangra club music. Standouts include Four of A Kind with the drum-heavy "Rail Gaddi," and Partners in Rhyme with "Gal Sun," while the dhol-laden "Chal Hun" from Malkit Singh is a thundering powerful cut. Indy Sagu and Manak-E's "Lakh Hilda" is mutant reggae, very mutant. It's certainly worth seeking this cd out.
Talking about reggae, African Rebel Music (OutHere) is a real interesting collection of African roots reggae and dancehall. An acute snapshot, it touches down in all the African reggae hotspots. Mauritania (994 Crew), Gambia (Rebellion the Recaller), Senegal (Baay Sooley, Alif), Nigeria/Senegal (Bantu and PBS), Nigeria (Mad Melon and Mountain Black), Ghana (Batman), Ivory Coast, (Tiken Jah Fakoly), Kenya/Uganda (East African Reggae Bashment Crew), Uganda (Small Axe), Tanzania (Prince Dully Sykes), Zambia (Leo Muntu), South Africa (Teba,H2O), U.S./ Ethiopia (Sydney Salmon).
I am happy to report that the music here is firing on most cylinders and is an excellent roundup on what is currently happening in the African variations on reggae and dancehall. OutHere is a new Munich-based label; head honcho Jay Routledge previously compiled the Africa Raps and Mzani Music: Young Urban South Africa comps for the Trikont label.
Grupo X is a Latin band based in Manchester. Their latest release Food For Your Latin Soul (Loft Recordings) is a well-conceived jazzy, Latin soul and salsa effort. Occupying a unique space in the English Latin bands, Grupo X is worth investigating if you like your Latin with soul and funk. Currently we are seeing major population shifts in Europe that equal some of the biggest moves of people around Europe for a long time. Equivalent to the Russian pogroms, the Irish potato famines, or the Scottish clearances, half of Eastern Europe seems to be on the move to where the work and better conditions are.
One example of people movement in the end of the 15th century was the outflow of people from Spain after the ethnic and philosophical cleansing during the Spanish Inquisition. One family that fled to Algeria were the ancestors of grandmaster rai pianist Maurice El Medioni. He has produced a fantastic cd with Cuban exile and percussionist Roberto Rodriguez. Titled Descarga Oriental (Piranha), this release has been garnering mucho respect here in various parts of the old and new Europe. The mix of Cuba and the Maghreb makes perfect sense musically as it fits together perfectly -- raison? There have been rai-Latin mixes before like the pop salsa rai of Reina Rai a few years ago. But this is deeper and more creative, it is a quite fantastic mixup of the old world in a new world stylee. For example, "Ana Ouana" has stunning horns and whacked-out piano in the Eddie/Charlie Palmieri style of using the piano as a percussive instrument. On "Comme Tu As Changé," the piano leads you on a journey, and the music layers up over lightly clattering clave percussion.
"C'etait Il y A Longtemps" has a rai structure over pure Cuban riddims, they flux so well together by the heat of Maurice's piano. The vocals are in French: Spanish or French sounds equally as good with son and Cuban rhythms. But English does not seem work and always seems to jar when trying to do the same as the Romanic linguas with their flowing words and patterns. A wonderful release, Descarga Oriental is one of those totally off-the wall concepts that works and links together people, music and places.
Talking about patterns of language, the traditional Cockney accent in London is in a terminal decline. A new inner-city language has been developed by the "yute." It is a mixture of ethnic influences. In some ways similar to Jamaican patois, it takes in elements of West Africa, Bangladesh, South America and India. The result is all kids end up sounding like English is their second or third lan- guage. This lingua even has a name: Jafaikan.