EL VIOLENTO (Vampisoul VAMPI 287)

Quite distinct from the New York variety, Colombian salsa dura (hard salsa) is one of the delights of the evolution of popular music in the last half century. Fruko, the bassist and arranger, sets up a steamy groove for his highly accomplished singers to deliver the goods. The original singer Piper Díaz has moved on to the Latin Brothers, but has been replaced by the even-more legendary Joe Arroyo and also Wilson "Saoko" Manyoma. Sometimes bombastic, at other times laid back, there is never a slack moment for Julio "Fruko" Estrada Rincón’s band, this time out billed as Los Tesos. It's a Spanish word and in Colombia means experts. This early 70s Discos Fuentes album is obscure because it did not have a smash hit on it, but nevertheless it's fantastic. Lush horns straddle pulsating rhythms, driven by bongos and congas, played by the Villegas brothers (Jesús on the bongos and Fernando on congas), and an irresistible piano played by Hernán Gutiérrez. The timbales (Rafa Benítez, presumably not the football manager) and cuatro take over the solos in the second track, which is also the title cut, "the Violent one." In this context it just means a dance floor slammer, calling out to their compatriots in Nueva York that we have hard-ass music down here also. The bright trumpets have a nice counterpoint in the twin trombones. Obviously the brash bronx horns of Willie Colón (not the aftershave) were a major influence, but there is something really lyrical in the way Fruko's horns respond to the vocalists. And then the pride of Barranquilla works his magic on the keyboard. It's a tight set, which obviously could expand to a whole night in performance. In addition to straight-forward salsa, there are Puerto Rican rhythms like bomba, also a "Mozambique," and a new genre called "Mercy" which blends pop, soul and cumbia! It's heard on "Nadando (Swimming)" sung by Joe Arroyo. "Salsa na' ma'": Nothing more, nor less, than salsa, is the opener of side B and it introduces the band as they give it their all. It's so loud and hot that the keyboard has to go electric.


These two groups from Colombia (which I strongly suspect had overlapping members) promoted African rhythms through covers in the late 70s. Reissued on vinyl for the first time, this varied collection of tracks spans styles from Africa and the Caribbean. While it is largely enjoyable, you have to get beyond the truly wretched belchy synth that eructates in all tracks. It is really irritating on the otherwise fine "La trompeta loca" — perhaps in future someone will devise a way to strip one instrument off a track and then another can be superimposed in its place, like a real trumpet, would that be too much to wish for? But then, along with the silly singing in "Chao Amor" the warped synth becomes appealing in a manic way. It's also nice to hear Ikenga Super Stars of Nigeria remixed with Fruko's blend of percussion and Afro-Caribbean guitars and horns. This is according to my friend Ken. You can also hear the Prince Nico Mbarga sound nicely recreated in here. A great example of the early cross-pollination of African music in Colombia.


When I tire of synths and drum machines it's time to return to their collateral ancestors, the accordion backed by hand-held percussion such as metal guiro and cowbell. This 2LP compilation of cumbia is just the ticket, unless that is you already have one of the excellent cumbia retrospectives on the market. All the big hits are here: "Cumbia Sampuesana" which has been adapted and remixed; there's even a glittering dub version out there. "La Pollera Color," "La Negra Celina," "La Colegiala," all of them ridiculously catchy and bomp-along-able. There's simple two-note bass, raspy guiro, and usually a maniac on drums, timbales or congas soloing the whole time. Now and then horns join in, to give the accordionist a break. And there's fabulous electric piano leading off "El Pescador," which I guarantee you cannot resist!

CARRUSELES (Vampisoul VAMPI 282)

Another project of Fruko, bassist, producer and arranger at Discos Fuentes. Despite the band name this is not in the least Afrobeat, though that was a factor in some of his other bands; this seems to be a catch-all for anything bizarre to hand: cheap early synths blarting away, odd instruments like glockenspiel and percussion that sounds like drum programming. There are real drums on here too or I would have trashed it from the get-go. The weird opener "Chinito's rhapsody" is followed by something more salsa-ish, however the lead is a fuzz-tone guitar pursued by a synth keyboard. The purpose was to recapture the attention from the Chicha bands of Peru who had taken cumbia and added surf guitar and hippie keyboards, so Fruko was attempting the same. Experiment is great but this is very dated now. "Salsa con Tabaco" and the title track "Carruseles" already appeared on the AfroSound of Colombia 2-volume set. "Zaire Pop" should never have been released: more fuzz-tone and busy percussion with mumbled vocals, I guess supposed to evoke the jungle? Swirly organ adds to the tropical miasma. This is what is meant by "Exotica," right up there with Morton Gould's Jungle Drums. A crappy cumbia, "Me voy de la vida," is up next. The lead guitar has turned off the fuzz tone pedal, the electronic keyboard tries to encourage him. Finally we get to "Salsa con Tabaco" to close side A — phew — the best track on this side by far. It's actually decent salsa. Side two starts out better: no malarkey, just a straight ahead cumbia, "La negra Saramuya," with the guitar and keyboard now just part of the sound with the bass and percussion higher in the mix. The irritation factor returns though on "Ponchito do colores" with some silly effects that sound like your neighbors' cell phone ring tone. — Someone answer that, fer pete's sake!! Overall this is a curiosity, mainly of interest to Fruko or Disco Fuentes collectors, but not for the unwary. Vampi previously reissued another Discos Fuentes album by Afrosound La Danza de los Mirlos (1973), which is far more engaging, though it still has goofball sound effects over the cumbia underpinnings.

FRUKO POWER VOL 1 (Vampisoul VAMPI 281)

Subtitled "Rarities and Deep Album Cuts 1970-4" this 2LP set lays down the law of Salsa Dura, the sound of Colombia in the early 1970s. Compiled by DJ Bongohead, we get twenty slamming tracks from the bassist and his band "Los Tesos" encompassing cumbia, funk, salsa and soul music. Fruko went on to become the chief arranger for the label and was behind many of their smash hits. His raw power hits you from the outset, with brash horns on a blasting "Pasillaneando," a rare 45 of which there is a copy for €45 on discogs, so you've already saved a bundle! Formed in 1970, Fruko consciously modeled his band after New York's diverse and accomplished Fania All Stars (most evidently here on the guaguanco "Bang Bang"). The singer on these short punchy numbers is Huango. By the end of the first disc, track A5, we are introduced to one of my favorite salsa singers anywhere, Piper "Pimienta" Diaz and his hit "Todo es todo," which just reaches a new level of intensity.
It doesn't let up as side 2 kicks off with the not-so-rare "Oriza," one of the most jamming tracks I know. And it may amuse you to learn that a triangle is the most prominent instrument in the mix!! (plus there's a "Manicero" quote in the bridge to make everyone happy, especially the horns). As that was originally a single, the B side "La Chica del barrio obrero (The Girl from the working class neighborhood)," a fine guaguanco by Raul Marrero, is included. You know that bustling triangle I mentioned as lead instrument in the hit "Oriza"? It's back for "Perlas Negras," which also has its flipside "El Día que Nací Yo (The Day I was born)." There was Fruko compilation in mono that included five of the cuts assembled at the heart of this here collection, that I found on discogs for $75 (not including shipping from Colombia); the covers are held together with scotch tape. I am not seriously shopping, only trying to see if there is any information on dates, personnel or those other useful things, which of course are not in evidence on the old LPs. Even in shout-outs, whenever Fruko announces (in Spanish), "Here he is ... the master of the black and whites...," he lowers his voice or mumbles the name! No point in turning up the volume, it's still drowned out. But no matter, whoever is on piano, he is banging away on the ivories with all his strength, competing with the timbales and the baby bass. Another of the gems on that rare LP (included here) is called "Dame un break," which is Spanglish for "Gimme a break"! The entire third and fourth sides feature Piper Diaz, who also fronted the Latin Brothers. This makes me a campista feliz. The mood does not change but the singer does, as Piper makes way for the legendary Joe Arroyo on Side D. "Caifaz" is a true gem with one of those bridges that hangs in the air, beating its wings patiently, while the trumpeter goes off. Overall this is a great collection of rare Fruko and confirms his importance to Colombian music.


The (second time around) hits keep coming from VampiSoul. The latest in their Colombian reissue series is of accordionist Alfredo Gutiérrez with singer Lucho Pérez (from Sonora Dinamita) on a jamming set called ¡Así es ... Con salsa! (That's it... with hot sauce). It's unusual to have accordéon in a salsa band but Gutiérrez (from the cumbia coast) is no slouch and he handles his part as if he were horn section as well as pianist. (Even so there is also a piano player and horns.) When he first comes in on a piercing high note, you might think it's a flute. But within seconds they go to a break with the whole 14-piece band vamping and the guiro racketing in one channel while the timbales player goes off. Oh boy, it's getting hotter. They also stop on a dime, which I learned from experience is hard to do with more than a couple of instruments. Then the horn section comes back, then piano, and the coro, full steam ahead. This opener, "Guadeloupe no va" fades at 4'36 and you just wish it had gone twice as long. There is a welcome looseness to the soloing that comes from ample practice. Gutiérrez's band Los Caporales were set up to rival Discos Fuentes' Los Corraleros de Majagual and they certainly give them a run for their money. In fact Pérez, the singer/songwriter, also sang with their rivals Los Corraleros, among others. It's a unique kind of Latin fusion with the New York line-up of trombones, electric bass, etc, but added on is the tropical vibe of the accordéon which is not out of place. This was their fourth album, and there are three bonus singles thrown in to really ice the cake. Definitely a keeper.

CALLEJERA (Mambo Negro Records)

The three ladies who comprise the band La Perla, Diana Sanmiguel, Karen Forero and Giovanna Mogollón, hail from Bogotá, Colombia. They have been performing for 8 years and this is their second album. It's a beautiful production: they move from deep rootsy conga drumming with cowbell to rap with tasty studio effects. "Palalma," which starts as rap, resolves in heavenly harmonies. The power of their drumming invokes dense jungles, while "tropical" sound effects add an air of mystical Amazonian landscapes. Brazil, Peru and Ecuador are invoked musically on "Florion." At first "Ojos brillantes (Bright eyes)" sounds like Cuban rumba but it is actually Bullerengue. Samba is served up on "Selva (Jungle)," which was their debut release in October 2021. They contrast the lush landscape with the grey cement of cities like Bogotá on "Tabogo," which they describe as punk merengue. With strong roots in traditional music La Perla have created an assured well-rounded set.

EL PICOTERO (Vampisoul VAMPI270)

"El Picotero," as we all know, refers to the sound systems that keep the barrios of Colombia hot and hopping. But the literal meaning is chatty or gossip — in short a gasbag! — and it is one of the titles on this stellar disc. The Latin Brothers' anthology, Homage to Piper "Pimienta" Diaz, is on my top ten of all-time great Latin discs and I play it often as a quick pick-up. It's a non-stop party and this reissue of their first album from 1974 shows they were born fully fledged as a riotous salsa band guaranteed to fill a dance floor. Backed by Fruko y su Tesos, the Latin Brothers were fronted by Piper Diaz and made Medellín into an important center for Latin music, to rival New York, San Juan, Cali and other hot spots. This group also quickly established Discos Fuentes as a major purveyor of party music and Vampisoul has generously added another track to the vinyl reissue, squeezing in "Echa pa' lante camará" which only previously appeared on a 1975 compilation album called Fuentes All Stars. Two of the tracks on here are familiar from the Homage disc, "A la loma de la Cruz" and "Que no muero la rumba," but that is not to imply the rest are substandard. That slice of cake was only a sample of the riches found over all their two dozen discs. Hernán Guitérrez gets a shout-out on piano (he was also an arranger); the blasting duo on trombone are uncredited, and some other sleuth will have to figure out flautist and even backing vocalists. Joe Arroyo got his start here and some of the other members joined Wganda Kenya, but as usual the LP cover only has song titles. Of the tracks that are new to me, "La Loma" is outstanding, but of course the pair that were anthologized on the "best of" are really sensational. And this group has issued SEVEN "Greatest Hits" compilations! If you buy only one Latin album this week, make sure it is this one!

AFRICA 5.000 (Vampisoul 267)

This is the first reissue of an LP from 1975, featuring one of the most sought-after albums from Colombia, showcasing the Afro-funk style of Wganda Kenya. The picóteros loved this disc to bits back in the day as it has a wide variety of sounds. Opening up is "La Torta" which riffs off of Haitian compas and takes us on a wild carousel ride. Your head will spin. The maestro who led so many sessions in the day, Fruko, directs from his bass and he and singer Joe Arroyo were clearly having too much fun in the studio when they cut "Fiebre de Lepra (Leprosy fever)" which is loosely in a Makossa style. Blues and Latin merge in "Tifit Hayed," another dance-floor crasher with Farfisa, piano and assorted jungle noises. The counterpoint is held down brilliantly on cowbell, for those craving more of that dissonant clank. A Brasilian cover (apparently) kicks off the B-side (the blistering "El Caterete" which sounds like a descarga to me), but it's the Afro-funk that made this album a keeper and it was a trend-setter for the time. Why the album was ahead of its time may be because of the looseness and the free-for-all quality of the recording which seems like one jam after another. There's only one slip: a limp ballad, "Entre tu y yo," but it is soon washed away with more goofy organ and quirky vocals. To round things out there's a bonus track, "Mira para Arriba, Mira para Abajo (Look up, look down)," with now fuzz tone added to the organ. It's a pleasant enough ditty, but I think the diehard fans will want the A side material to keep their party jumping.


One of the top big bands from Colombia, founded in 1962 and still going strong, Los Corraleros have made hundreds of accordéon-driven Cumbia albums, selling millions, receiving 30 gold records, etc. They even received a dedicated Rough Guide, ten years ago, which includes "Ocho dias" from this disc. This reissue from their Discos Fuentes catalog is mostly generic salsa, to my ears, until the middle of side two when they cut loose on "El Mondongo" a ten-minute jam that is quite outrageous. If you will buy an album for one track, then you may need this. I can think of Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks" as one example, I am sure there are others. If only the rest of the album were like this! Unusual in this context, of bristling timbales, congas, and blarting trumpets is the accordéon. Julio Estrada keeps the bottom solid with a thudding bass. Juancho Vargas (who also played on Fruko's classic Tesura) is on the ivories, according to a fan on Youtube. Put this one on repeat.


I had to make sure I put the right disc on, as this started out like South African mbaqanga, complete with punchy drums and peppy organ, even the chorus sounded Zulu. But back in the 80s, singer Viviano Torres, the versatile Champeta pioneer from San Basilio de Palenque in Colombia was already pushing a new musical vision for his country that countered the prevailing trends of salsa and vallenato. Lucas Silva has gone through the catalog of Torres and his group Ane Swing to select a nice array of adapted African tunes that showcase their versatility. The Soul Brothers' "La Canasta de Jordan" is anthemic and segues into a Soca crasher, "Happy Embarrassed," which is a cover of "We havin' a party" by Baron. But the focus is South Africa where dance music was pouring out of the Shebeens in the turbulent years leading up to the election of Mandela in 1994. If you listen to contemporaneous Malagassy music you can hear the sea shanty origins, but there on the island with squeezebox up front, it's less stomping and more jigging. One of the great tracks on here "Mini Ku Suto" was redone in 2016 with Bopol Mansiamina on the essential Voodoo Love Inna Champetaland album. Soukous guitar by Alvaro Cuellar, does crop up on the last track, "Kumbe," which still retains the Soul Bros-style organ. Champeta Criolla, pushed by the demand from the Picotero sound systems, moved increasingly towards soukous, re-adapting it for the Colombian audience and creating a strong new hybrid which is wonderful to hear, but these other approaches, from 30 years ago, show the plethora of African music styles under consideration for adventurous bands in Colombia.

LIVE IN DUBLIN (Nacional Records)

I noticed it was record store day last week and duly made my way to Amoeba in Berkeley, where I used to regularly drop $200 a month on records, CDs and DVDs. Now I hardly ever go there: their world music buyers are clueless, though the Haight Street branch in San Francisco sometimes turns up a nice item. I strolled around the packed store and my eyes lighted on this album. It was expensive, apparently because it was a) a special "record store day" release, and b) it promised to be on swirly colored vinyl. I suppose I picked it up from nostalgia since I loved their first few albums, up until they signed with Sony and began watering down their sound and becoming less and less interesting. They had a grueling tour schedule but I figured they would have chosen a good show to release (It did come out digitally at the time). I then noticed the line of buyers went all the way round the store. I browsed new arrivals while I contemplated the desirability of a $28 (with tax) LP, waiting to see how fast the line was moving: it was not, so I ditched the disk and came home to find the concert on YouTube, at full length and I pressed a few mice to preserve it. It is a good set (in a different sequence on YouTube from the LP) with "Feelin'," "Pa' Respirar" and their big hit "Fuego" twice (once abridged). There's two tracks from their first album Vol 1 (2006), half of Blow Up (2008), nothing from Elegancia Tropical (2012) and a few titles so far not on disc. I realized the tour was 2009. So there's no "Que Bonito," and no "Pure Love," but they are in good form in the Irish capital, well miked and so on. (The night I saw them in San Francisco on this tour everything was far too loud and Li Saumet was shrieking into the mic.) Back then when I was smitten with them I downloaded the Red Bull sessions which were wildly rocking, and a more moderately rocking set from KEXP radio, both of which are superb. This falls in the middle: you don't hear the subtler effects of Simon Mejía but the percussion is hot in the mix as befits a dance concert. Another reason to get the digital version is the LP is missing "Caminito," "Juana," and the great track "Pa' Respirar."

LA REBAJADA DE LOS SONIDEROS 1962-83 (Analog Africa No 34)

Samy ben Redjeb of Analog Africa continues to knock them out of the park like the Babe Ruth of turntables. Now he brings us something we felt we needed but didn't fully realize it yet. After I saw the 2019 Mexican film Ya no estoy aquí (I'm no longer here), I became fascinated with the slowed-down music movement called "Rebajada." The Mexican kids who heard Colombian cumbia found it was too fast to dance to, unlike the tempo of Danzón etc they had grown up with, and someone had the idea of putting the brakes on. This allows you to keep up with it and hear a lot more sounds, and of course, since it lasts longer, you get more music for your peso. Taking a cue from the movie, I got a copy of Los Picapiedra's reissued Kabwlu (Vampisoul 217) & tried it (via time-stretching in Audacity) with "La Hossa" — it was great! But not all songs work, Samy warns, "I quickly realised that most songs sounded awful in rebajada and could only be tolerated if one is high as fuck." Not only is this a good warning but I can attest to having seen Deadheads dancing like they were drowning slowly in Jello. That is a fate to be avoided. So Samy brought Mexican DJ Lengua aboard and soon had a playlist of Mexican, Peruvian, Ecuadorian and Colombian slow jams. Rival DJs in Mexico City and Monterrey claim to have invented it: the latter nearly electrocuted himself, blew out his system at a party (a gruesomely familiar scenario) and from then on the turntables only went in slow motion, but the kids loved it. He was appalled when they begged him to make cassettes "in slow." "Cumbia has to be played at its original speed," he told them. His wife argued they could use the money and soon she was hawking the original Rebajada tapes. As the fad grew, sound systems became territorial, some scouting other countries for música tropical records and then furiously erasing labels on the best ones (as in Jamaica). Nevertheless such imported records from Colombia and Peru were quickly bootlegged and repackaged as "Hits" often with no information as to the original artist. The Garrard turntables (which you can switch between 78, 45, and 33 — and do I recall 16 rpm on my dad's Garrard?) had an auxiliary pitch control, and with some fiddling could be made to play 33 rpm records at 20 rpm. The 15 cuts here all work well, there is some singing and speech which sounds very gravelly but mostly they are instrumentals, like the elegant "Caprichio Egipcio" by Conjunto Tipico Contreras (the Duchess also thought it sounded "Egyptian") or the sprightly "Alegrate" by Junior y su Equipo, originally from Ecuador, 1979. The celebrated "Cumbia Sampuesana" of J.J. Bettín Martínez is the lead cut (I know of at least a dozen other versions); the other tracks are largely unknown to me. The title cut "Saturno 2000" by Los Santos from Peru was on Cumbia Beat vol 2 from Vampisoul (Vampi 143). There you can hear the original and compare it to the slowed-down version here which I personally prefer. This is loads of fun and, stoned or not, you will find yourself grooving to it.


The self-titled debut album from Wganda Kenya came out from Colombia's biggest label Discos Fuentes in 1976. They were a studio band assembled to appeal to the growing Costeño market which was increasingly interested in Zouk, Afrobeat and other "exotic" sounds — hence the Kenya part of the name, though I never did figure out why they used Wganda, which is the Welsh spelling of Uganda. Bassist Fruko was the band leader and members came from the Latin Brothers and included vocalist Joe Arroyo. There are many great hits on this wonderful disc. Unsurprisingly, three or four of the tracks were reissued on the 1984 Afromania Caribe album, then again on the 2003 CD Afrocaribe Dance comp. Common to all three releases are the first two tracks, "El Evangelio" and "Pim Pom," which are sure-fire dancefloor groovers. The stellar "El Evangelio" is a cover of "l'Evangile" by Les Shleu Shleu from Haiti while the rootsier "Pim Pom" is a cover of "Ping Pong" by Guy Conquette, a Martiniquan drummer who produced Gwoka music with his Groupe Ka. Another of the Wganda Kenya hits included here, "Yoro," is a cover of "Bonne Année" by Trio African los Makueson's, a Senegalese group from the 1960s whom, I just discovered, originated the Laba Sosseh song "Diamoule Mawo," later a hit in Colombia for Joe Arroyo as "Yamulemao." To the original 7 track LP, Vampisoul have considerately added two 45 rpm singles, "Bayesa" and "Fayab Fayab." The latter is a cover of "Faya Faya Mamam," another percussion-driven track by Guy Conquette. "An nous dansé Tumbelé" is yet another cover, this time of another composition by Jean Lacroix performed by the Antillean Combo Moderno. "Bayesa" is Afrobeat with loud asymmetric clave (played on the rim of the snare), and rival choruses on echo. The Wganda Kenya version of "El Yoyo" is highly produced with good organ and sax solos (Carlos Piña on sax) over a prominent bass. Great to hear one of the classics of Discos Fuentes restored.


This album was recorded live in 2013 in the village of San Basilio de Palenque, where this traditional music has been kept alive by African-Americans in the Pacific coastal jungles of Colombia. New songs are constantly written and performed in the traditional manner, incorporating hand percussion on congas (or more accurately timba and bongó), claves, maracas and the marimbula, which is like a giant thumb piano you sit on. There is a lead voice, veteran Rafael Cassiani, a second voice, and a call-&-response chorus. According to the histories, sugar plantation owners began to import Cuban workers in the 1930s and they brought this musical form with them. In Cuba it quickly developed into the son with two guitars, then tres and bass, but in Colombia it remained in this older form. San Basilio was a slave refuge since the 17th century where escaped slaves would escape into the forest and practice lumbalú, a Bantu religion from Africa. They absorbed porro, bullerengue and other musical forms also. Sexteto Tabalá is an important bridge to Caribbean music of the 40s but is very much alive in Colombia today.


Our man in Washington, Ken A, alerted me to the latest from Tribu Baharú, which has been out since the end of 2020. It's electric champeta from Colombia with a lot of soukous guitar riffs, racy double-time drum programming, synth squawks and all the things I usually complain about, except here it's pure hedonistic dancefloor ambiance. Shouted encouragement from the animators, includes some old familiar Viva la Musica comments ("go away, go away") with a soukous-like seben (reminiscent of Zaiko), abetted by trumpets too. I guess I am feeling sentimental about the old days of wild soukous dancing all night (in my 40s) in packed clubs. This Spanish-language second childhood of soukous is a bit surreal, but enjoyable nonetheless. I say this as someone who was deeply into the music from early Zaiko and Viva la Musica through the death of Wemba, I listened to it constantly, danced to Arlus Mabele and Loketo, Empire Bakuba, Quatre Etoiles, then finally burned out on it. But there is a nostalgic glow to this new wave, as well as the infusion of some new rhythms and instrumentation from the Colombian side. It features a guest appearance from Kanda Bongo Man on "Avancé"; another guest is Alfredo de la Fé, the great salsa violinist and arranger. His style is not really suited to the sparkly guitar riffs of soukous, but I am sure he is happy for another gig and I am glad to hear he is still playing.

VOY PA ALLA (Llorona Records)

This could be called Limpid Marimbas in the Bush. It's traditional Afro-Colombian xylophones with bass drums, guasás (wooden stick with drilled holes) and cununo (conical skin-covered drum). There's call and response vocals and a gentle susurration of percussion like wind in palm trees. But I first heard them with a blasting single off this album "Los Guasangú," which has an insistent marimba two-note base, but then after the vocals come in, torrents of percussion (wooden shakers, aka rainsticks), contrapunctal voices, and more marimbas pile on. The percussion and second layer of marimbas are in a different tempo to the original beat, which continues determinedly throughout. At three and a half minutes this is far too short and you can imagine it going on for hours, maybe there's even dancing! Some of the songs (like "Cuando yo me muera") are folk stories told in song (which I gather with my limited "restaurant" Spanish), some are more religious and consequently more formulaic sounding. There's a short 3-minute documentary about them here and a nice video of the title cut here. The rhythms are varied and the marimba players are virtuosic, so it keeps you engaged.

SPIRALIS (El Clan Records)

This album is a tour of Latin-American styles. It starts off all Paul Simony with pan pipes and an Andean number that is bright and jolly. Then suddenly we are in Paris with les gitanes. Pao Barreto is Colombian and her voice is the redeeming factor when the band goes into a noodly dubby groove on "Nouveau sol." I wonder what I am doing in this movie, as Grace Jones' ghost appears for "¿A donde vas?" Wait, Grace Jones is still alive, but there is a shout-out to Alfredo Linares who appears in a dream with a wash of layered sound over his tinkling piano. Is it live or memorex®? Must be a sample. Rain, police sirens, plangent keyboards (three of them), Asturian bagpipes... no, wait, really? ... all float by. No time for that, here's a cumbia with echoey guitars, again her voice keeps it all together, but "On adore la cumbia" is really reggae only they didn't tell the percussionists. The title cut has good electric guitar and effects, but then we get to the heart of the matter with a straight-ahead rocking cumbia, "Buscando el sol," which also has a goofy video. It's good clean pop that reminds me at times of Carlos Vives. Sebastian Villanueva on guitars and programmation seems to have a major hand in it. Then there's a nod to Toto la Momposina's "Ohana" on the final track "Dounya," which also has a guest vocalist, Makhou, singing in Wolof. With all the influences contributing to her mix, it's a winning combination.

BATEA (Discos Pacifico)

My musical buddy Ken A turned me on to this debut from a 10-piece Colombian folkloric group, Bejuco, from the Pacific Coast. They are a marimba group created in 2015, well versed in local rhythms such as bambuco and nariño, who also engage with the Afrobeat rhythms popularized in Colombia via imported Fela records. They are Tumacans and have added a drum kit, piano and guitar to the traditional drums and marimba. To capture their sound the group were brought to the studio for the first time and asked to perform the set without overdubs or effects. No retakes but no mistakes either as everyone knew their part perfectly. The polyrhythms and multi-part singing (chureo) evoke the jungle of mangrove swamps, and tidal pull of the the ocean in equal parts. Colombian music is one of the richest veins of the African diaspora and these newly emerging sounds continue to prove the strength in ancestral traditions. Their road here was paved by success in a contest run by the producers of Discos Pacificos, looking for the best new talent. Before recording they had intensive preparation with the producers, Diego Gomez and Ivan Benavides, trying to get to the heart of their sound. At that point the realized that playing salsa covers (with a brass section) was not a good way forward for them and they needed to retrench and listen to the marimba at the heart of their sound. There is a touch of rap in the title track but it actually works well in the flow of the music, with all the voices and rhythms equally layered.


The heatwave from Colombia continues unabated in the Discos Fuentes reissue series from Vampisoul. As the psychedelic sounds of Peru and Ecuador's jungle bands began to sweep across Latin-America in the late 60s and early 70s the locals were up to the challenge and added their own hippie vibe to the wiry guitar sound imbued with wah-wah, fuzz tone and embellished with synth flourishes, drum machines and odd vocal interjections. It was after all cumbia, an indigenous Colombian rhythm, that the Peruvians had appropriated for their electronic explorations so it was just coming home with a new funky beat. (There's a cover of the title track on Roots of Chicha.) Rock and son montuno also appear in the guise of these hot peppery spice merchants. Fruko shows up with a bomba, "El Chorillo," and there's even a cumbia ballad "Esperando por ti," all wrapped up in a dose of the musical magic of the hippie era. There are a dozen remastered tracks on the album which restores the artwork from the 1974 Peruvian issue (the Colombian version had a generic "cute chick ass shot" which may be politically incorrect nowadays, though I noticed the Grammys have started celebrating huge butts since they're run out of musical categories).

LA PESADA (Vampisoul VAMPI233)

A much sought-after 1978 dancefloor smash from Colombia, which originally came out on the obscure Codiscos label. This was the product of a one-off salsa session featuring many professional musicians, some of whom had played with the top Medellín band Fruko y sus Tesos. It's a remastered set of glittering salsa, including numbers in bolero, son montuno, even calypso, written by the band members. Hugo Alandette sings (alongside Mike Char); I am guessing Tomate plays piano. In the best descarga tradition, there are two trombones, Gilberto Hernandez and Gustavo Garcia, also flute (by Azula), Luis Montoya on violin, plus bass, conga, bongos and timbales. And let's not forget maracas, and I also hear trumpet. There are a couple of covers: Juan Gabriel's "Lagrimas y Lluvia" and "El Paso de Encarnación," a huge hit for Orchestre Aragon in the early 60s. Sadly it's only 3 minutes here as it has the potential to throw down endlessly. They give a little more room to "Pa'Cali" the final four-minute jam. Wheel and turn, caracole and dip, there's not a wrong step on this vinyl gem.