Friday, July 24, 2009

SANTERO - El Hijo De Obatala (City Hall Records, 09)

I finally met this guy last week, he was DJ'ing at a club near my house and he did an impressive job, he was really cool and all, and gave me a free CD, so I'll try to be kind.
Santero is a Guatemalan DJ/MC who lives in the Bay Area but seems to be deep into Afrocuban religion, or Santería. Hence, it's hard for me to relate to what the fuck he's talking about because I happen to consider any type of religious belief or spirituality to be absolute bullshit. There, I said it.
However, I did listen to his whole debut album twice and it's definitely not bad. And I don't mean it in the sense of "it's not bad... if you are into this type of shit". I mean it in the sense of "it's not bad because it's actually good," regardless of what you are into. It has some amazing Latin beats, lots good percussion, very sampler-friendly original breaks (there're also some hip-hop and reggaetón beats but not as remarkable as the cumbia and latin-fusion counterparts). You can definitely tell there's a DJ's brain behind it and I like that.
So just for those beats (which I'll be mixing soon), the CD is worth checking out, nevertheless it'd be so much better if it was available on vinyl 12'' with the instrumental tracks. The vocals... well, I can't get pass the fact that he basically talks for 11 songs almost exclusively about ancient gods and folk traditions of the African slaves brought to the Caribbean. I know some sandal-wearing new-age freaks in Berkeley probably swallow all that crap and they somehow manage to find it "progressive," but honestly, for me, there's not too much of a difference between that and Christian music, which I consistently bash on this blog.
Fortunately for my buddy Santero, most people don't pay too much attention to the lyrics and if they like the beat they'll dance to it regardless. Unfortunately for all of us, most of those people don't read music reviews on blogs, they just listen to whatever the radio plays.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

DIGGING: Cuarteto Imperial - 1976

Because I was born in Argentina and I happen to play a lot of cumbia and write about it, people have asked me many times about this mystery: how did cumbia, a traditional Colombian rhythm, became so immensely popular in Argentina? I usually say, I don't know, I wasn't born at the times cumbia started migrating south in the 60's. But I was there, coming of age in 1989, when it suddenly crossed over to the mainstream. Before 1989 all my memories of cumbia music are extremely vague, usually related to bizarre TV shows and conversations with the Paraguayan maid who cleaned my house during my childhood.
Yesterday I was digging at a local record store, something I don't do much often anymore but I tell myself that I should. Since I moved my set to all digital, I barely buy vinyl records but I still fetichize them. I guess it's a generational thing.
Anyway, I ran into this gem by Cuarteto Imperial, I guess the album is called Sigan Haciendo El Pasito Con El Cuarteto Imperial (something like "keep on doing the dance-step with the Imperial Cuartet") and it was published in the US by CBS in 1976.
These guys are probably one of the most influential factors in the exportation of cumbia from Colombia to Argentina (along with Los Wawancó), so many of the characteristics embraced by all Argentinean cumbia can probably be traced back to their music. Cuarteto Imperial is one of those old-school type groups that lasts for many decades and change members generation after generation, this was quite common in most successful tropical music orchestras. According to their website, in 1964 they moved from Colombia to Argentina and from there, they helped spread the cumbia gospel through neighbor countries like Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia. In Argentina they sold over 30 million records during the 60's and 70's and some of their classic songs still remain until today in the popular folklore. One example is "La Fiesta De Blas" included in this album I found yesterday, which is a song that mutated into a soccer hooligans chant and is still sung in every soccer field every Sunday. Of course most of these hooligans have no idea where the melody came from (the lyrics were changed to insult the mothers of the adversaries). I know I didn't until I put the record on the turntable today and said "so that's where they got it from!"
I think this phenomenon of cumbia songs chanted by soccer hooligans had to be an instrumental factor in the spreading and mainstrimization of cumbia in Argentina, and of course "La Fiesta De Blas" wasn't the only case. I was never a soccer fan, so I don't know many of those songs, but I remember in the early 90's cumbia crossover hits like Los Fantasmas del Caribe's "Muchacha Triste" and Los Mirlos' "Pídeme La Luna" received a big push from the soccer stadiums thanks to the hooligans' versions and there were probably hundreds of others that I never heard of.
I couldn't find the MP3 version of that particular track to share with you, but eventually I'll rip it from the LP. Instead, I leave you here a funny recent hit from Cuarteto Imperial called "La Cumbia del Mosntruo" which we could label under the sub-genre horror-cumbia (?!) and reminds me a lot of what Fantasma is doing.

Download "La Cumbia del Monstruo" Here

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sargento García & Curumin @ Stern Grove Festival

Hey you! Are you an ugly, fat, undereducated asshole who hates music, youth and gets laid once every five years? I have the perfect summer job for you: become a security motherfucker at Stern Grove Festival!
Stern Grove is a pretty nice park located in "the other side" of the city, where nobody ever goes because it's always winter while on our side we enjoy the warm summer sun. Every summer, in an effort to remind us that the foggy side of the city actually exists, they put this great concert series with top international stars... all free!
So us, smiling, nice, bicycle-riding people from the sunny side take a journey into the scary fog for a nice Sunday pick-nick with music just to be welcomed by an army of cavemen in yellow Polo shirts whose main purpose in life is to make our stay the most uncomfortable possible.
You can't stand here, you have to move, go that way, no sitting over there, back off, stay behind the yellow line, there's already a lot of people so there's no more room for you, stay out, etc.
How the fuck are we supposed to enjoy music in the park with this assholes interrupting us every two minutes to remind us that smoking and taking pictures is strictly forbidden? Jeez! Is this what happens to people when they're not exposed to the sunlight more than twice a year?
Anyway, rants aside, Curumin was really good, he brought Ceu and Lateef The Truthspeaker as guests and a whole lotta hot Brazilian girls as audience. Most of the crowd, however, was waiting for the Sergent.
I was amazed at how crowded the park was, there was people everywhere you looked and I couldn't walk two steps in any direction without running into somebody I know. The only time in my life this ever happened outside of my neighborhood was at Manu Chao's first Bay Area concert in 2006. Every-fucking-body and their mothers was there!
And then I wondered, is Sergent García's music so popular? Because when I try to play his music at the parties, from the most underground to the very mainstream Latino parties, I never get that type of response from the dancers.
My theory is that 60% of the crowd probably sort of knew one or two songs from Mr. García from a Putumayo compilation. 39% only went to the concert because it was free and because they followed their friends when they told them "come, some latino dude named something García who sounds like Manu Chao is playing at the park". 1% actually had a CD and could sing-along with the band. Anyway, 100% had a great time, or would've had a great time if it wasn't for the security assholes.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

YO, I WANT TO LISTEN TO FANTASMA'S WHOLE ALBUM!

This could be the review of Fantasma's new album Ciudad Fantasma, and I'd probably be saying that I love this shit because it's exactly what neo-cumbia from Argentina should be more: kistchy, tacky, unpretentious, dancy, fun, gritty, hip-hoppy and very original.
I prefer listening to these guys over any of the artsy cut-and-paste minimalists out there, because they do embody the real spirit of cumbia, as in music from the slums for the slums. They even do some social work in the slums, and they've been doing new-school cumbia since way before it was cool for hipsters and foreigners.
So, why aren't they getting all the hype they deserve? Maybe because their CD's are impossible to find and when I asked them for a copy to review it they only sent me two songs! And I would totally buy their complete discography if it was available for legal downloads but when you search for a cumbia band named Fantasma you come accross Grupo Fantasma, from Texas, who are pretty amazing in their own way, but it's not the same. So here you go, listen to these two tracks and you two will be wishing you could get your hands on the whole album.

FANTASMA - Encantador de Serpientes
FANTASMA - Muévelo que sube

Monday, July 13, 2009

DOÑA MARIA - Doña María (Independent-2009)

If you grow up in the capital of the most euro-centric country in Latin America, you assimilate from a very young age this mainstream idea that all Latin folklore sucks, by definition, and you should exclusively listen to whatever is the current trend in the London and New York clubs. Traditional Latin sounds are for country hicks and immigrant maids.
At least that's how it used to be for my generation. Nowadays things are changing. Post-devaluation, young, hip Argentinians have learned to look inward, at least some of them, and rediscover the richness of the forgotten musical traditions of the past, reformulating them through the use of modern technologies. The guys of Doña María are a good example of this trend.
They share this serious, respectful, artsy, third-worldist approach to Latin folk sounds with artist like Axel Krygier, Gaby Kerpel, or -the recently reviewed in this blog- Lulacruza. And like them, they include classic Colombian cumbia as part of their repertoire, but don't focus exclusively in this genre. Hence, their version of neo-cumbia is quite different from what we're used to, because it's very irony-free; maybe a little too much.
I can totally understand their preference of Colombian "real" cumbia over its Argentinian bastard offspring. But being from Morón City (in the wild wild west of Buenos Aires), it's hard to imagine that somebody can be so immune to the influence of local cumbia and its inner tackiness and grittiness, which if you ask me, it's there all the fun resides.
Anyway, their cumbias might be a lil' too clean, but they are still very fun to listen and dance to. I particularly enjoyed the dubby cover of "Perdí Las Abarcas" and their version of "El Pescador" which reminds a lot me of Bomba Estéreo, and that's a compliment.
Doña María released their first self-produced album earlier this year and sold out so they're re-releasing it now with a couple of remixed bonus tracks and new artwork. Unfortunately you can only buy it in Argentina so far, but hopefully that will change soon.
Here you have a couple of free downloads:

Doña María - Malanga (Shino Remix)
Doña María - Doña María (Santi Capriglione remix)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

CHICO SONIDO - Chico Sonido (Kin Kon Records, '09)

Dude, I'm so fucking happy today! And it's not because minutes ago I was having a threesome right here on my bed, next to the desk where I'm typing this shit. No, it's because I have in my hands Chico Sonido's first CD, the physical CD I mean (and by the way, isn't it crazy that we already got so used to downloads that having an actual CD in your hands is something worth mentioning during a review?).
Anyway, last night I ran into Chico at an after-hours club and that was already quite amazing in itself, considering he lives in LA and he didn't know he was coming to San Francisco until yesterday morning. The CD came out the day before yesterday and he posted it on Facebook and I was like "Damn, I'm gonna have to go all the way down to LA to get one of those!", and then I ran into this guy right around the block from my house, literally, and he gives me one.
So I got home really late, actually early in the morning, and I wasn't gonna start listening to it then so I went to sleep. I pushed play first thing in the morning and listened to it while I was having breakfast and wow, it blew my mind from the get go. This guy is a fucking genius! I love this shit!
Chico Sonido, if you still don't know him, is the Mexican DJ who produced that awesome track with Up, Bustle & Out that was in everybody's playlists two years ago and pretty much put neo-cumbia on the map for all you motherfuckers in the non-Spanish-speaking world. So yeah, we can definitely regard him as one of the pioneers of this hybrid genre. In fact the first cumbia mash-up ever released on vinyl was that classic Sistema Local EP that came out around 2005 and had the "Milkshake" mash-up by Chico Sonido. Back then, I didn't know him personally but I knew his cousin Chachin, who I was hanging out with one afternoon in downtown LA and he gave me a copy of that record. So in formal aspects, that was my actual introduction to new school cumbia.
Now this is the much awaited Chico Sonido's debut and it has little to do with neo-cumbia and mash-ups. It's all pure record-diggers gold and if you are a DJ or love DJ culture or love collecting old vinyl, this is what you need to get. It's some serious DJ Shadow-esque shit with a very raw vinyl feel to it and lots of incredibly obscure samples of old Latin music. Unlike his friend and colleague Toy Selectah, Chico's production style is very much stripped down to the basics, no over-saturation of layers, no fancy electronic effects, even if it's a studio work, it still feels like it's been recorded with not much more than just two turntables, a mixer and a shoebox of dusty 45's. Just the type of shit that I love to listen to because it inspires me to get on the ones-and-twos and waste the whole rest of the day spinning.
But the thing is, this morning I wasn't able to waste the rest of the day spinning, I couldn't even finish listening to the whole CD because this couple of girls came and pick me up to take me to a Sunday barbecue at somebody's house and then we came back home, a lil' smashed and half-baked, and we started fooling around. And by "we" I mean the three of us. And all of a sudden I found myself in my room with these two girls taking turns to suck me off and instead of thinking "Dude, I'm such a lucky motherfucker!" I was looking at my desk where Chico Sonido's CD was sitting and thinking "I hope they leave soon so I can finish listening to that CD". Yeah, that's how much I loved it.

Available on emusic, itunes, amazon, etc.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

MONTENEGRO - Fugitives of Pleasure and Pasajeros (Feed The Hungry Records, '09)

Everytime I remember Los Angeles' "rock en español" scene I get depressed. I lived down there for a couple of years and I was actively involved in that scene, in fact, that's where I started DJ'ing eight years ago. But all those bands, ugh! I'm sorry but nine point nine out of ten times, they suck.
It's like, half of them are stuck in time; you can tell from their influences that all they listen to is the cassettes they brought with them when they crossed the border fifteen years ago. Depressing.
The other half are a little more "Americanized" and they try to do modern cool stuff, but they are mediocre musicians, they can't make it into the mainstream Anglo market, so they settle with singing in Spanish, targeting a niche market that arguably demands less quality. Like if just for playing in the "rock en español" scene you could suddenly get away with sucking, only because your lyrics are in Spanish. Way more depressing!
I've only met a handful of good artists among that scene who were doing innovative stuff and playing with skills that could compete in the Anglo mainstream scene. This guy Kinski is one of them. He had different bands at the time, Idle, Madrepore, whatever, now they're called Monte Negro and they still play bilingual rock (and sound equally good in both languages) that you might like if you like Gustavo Cerati's latest opus. At least that's what they sound like to me, but what do I know? I don't really listen to rock music. Maybe they just reminds me of Cerati because I was hanging out with Kinski during Cerati's concert in NY back in '06.
Anyway, if you like radio-friendly rock music you should check out these guys, they are about to release this five-song EP that you can actually buy in CD format with a free t-shirt and stickers and autographs and all that junk record labels come up with nowadays so people don't just download illegally.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

ELECTROTRIBAL - Electro Cumbia (Roraima Records, 2009)

As I mentioned here before, nowadays you can expect to hear new electronic cumbia coming out from pretty much any corner of the world (Australia, Netherlands, Italy...). However, my big surprise came when I found neo-cumbia in Venezuela.
I have not been fair to Venezuela in my recent posts, the reason being that I was never able to understand how come being right next to Colombia, Venezuela is the only Spanish-speaking country in South America where cumbia is not popular. This is all ignorance of mine, because I've never been to Mr. Chávez country, but I met many Venezuelans living abroad (and dated a few) and all they dance to is salsa and corny-ass merengue-hip-hop.
So I'm calling out to any Venezuelan reading this blog to come out and explain this strange phenomenon to me.
Maybe these guys will, their name is Electrotribal and they are from Carabobo, they play housy dance music and they have a song called "Electro cumbia" and a EP available for sale here with remixes of that one track; which is an interesting approach to the classic vallenato that Samim sampled for his crossover hit of last year, "Heater". In fact, I like this version even more because it has the vocals.
Anyway, Electroribal are not exclusively about cumbia but they have more than one track where they use this contagious colombian sound as sampling source. They have recently finished one called "Con Cuatro y Maraca" in collaboration with another cool Venezuelan (and one that has been deeply involved in the new school of cumbia when working with Sonidero Nacional) Blankito Man.
So my point here is, are these guys the exeption to the rule or are there more Venezuelan cumbiancheros hiding in the underground?

Free Download: Electrotribal - Electro Cumbia

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

PEDRO INFAME - Latinchrist Superstar LP (Free Download)

In case you were wondering where did I get that amazing remix of El General's "Mamita Apretadita" that plays at the end of Linyerismo Episode II, well here is your mystery revealed. Venezuelan mash-up artist Pedro Infame has just released for free online distribution his first official compilation of remixes aptly titled Latinchrist Superstar. It includes the aforementioned mash-up, which he had shared with me while ago, as well as other gems worth checking out. It also comes with a cover picture of a transvestite Hugo Chavez. So you get the idea, this guy doesn't respect any son of God or political figure, so don't expect him to pay respect to MC Hammer, Lenny Kravitz or the Beastie Boys. He just doesn't give a fuck and destroy their songs with results that... well they might not be all that awesome, but they definitely are all quite interesting. Not bad for a guy coming from the telenovelas country that only exports cheesy-ass music.

Download HERE