Tuesday, April 27, 2010

SACASSAIA-Sampleando Deus E O Mundo (Independent, 2010)

One of the most fascinating things about Brazilian music is how it constantly evolves seemingly without much external input. I mean, of course mainstream Brazilians are very 'gringocentric' in the sense that they are always looking up to the US and its music trends, but other than that, from an outsider point of view, it seems like a very self-contained music market. They produce a lot of amazing music and they consume a lot of that amazing music in a very isolated manner.
That's obviously caused by their distinctive language; being the only Portuguese-speaking country in the continent, they don't have too many chances to trade musical inspiration with their neighbors. They do export a few cheesy summer hits to the Spanish-speaking South America every season, but that's a one way road, for the most part, Brazilians appear to be absolutely clueless about what's going on musically in the countries that surround them.
That's why I was not surprised to see Argentine artists Frikstailers fuck around with Brazilian baile funk a couple of years ago, but I was immensely surprised when I found this album online yesterday and the first thing I heard was a Fauna-style neo-cumbia done in Spanish (or shall I say Portuñol?) by a group hailing from Brasilia. (The  only other prior intent of playing cumbia by a Brazilian that I can think of was when Carlinhos Brown sung "Cumbiamoura" in his Spanish album Carlitos Marrón, and it wasn't very good).
Sacassaia is a producer-MC duo that bases their musical explorations around the sampling of sounds from heterogeneous sources. They have an eclectic, distinctive sound that encompasses production traditions borrowed from reggae dub as much as J Dilla's school of hip-hop. And new-school cumbia fits right in there. In other words, they are tailor made for my personal taste.
Their debut album contains 12 tracks of which five went straight to my DJing playlist after listening to their first twenty seconds, so you know you'll be getting some of this shit in my future mixtapes for sure. Aside from the cumbia "El Culebrón" and their experiments with the MPC on "Ululai," my overall favorite track was "Gem Jam" a cool take on the Tom Tom Club's classic "Genious of love" with a dancehall riddim that did not remind me at any moment during its listening of Mariah Carey (as it usually happens when I listen to other people sample that), and that's a great thing!
Best thing, you can download the album free from their website. Yup, they just give it away! God, I love Brazil!

Monday, April 19, 2010

DANTE SPINETTA-Pyramide (Sony Music, 2010)

Not too long ago, we were listening to my Verborragia mixtape with my girlfriend and right before the end, when I mixed in a Dante song (from his previous album, El Apagón) she (who doesn't understand Spanish) said "this guy sounds more mainstream than all the rest, he sounds like what you would listen on the radios." And it was true, in Latin America, where underground hip-hop is the norm, the few that can qualify as mainstream stand out. A lot.
In Argentina, there's not such a thing as mainstream rap as a genre or scene, mainstream rap is just one person: Dante Spinetta. He is the mainstream and he has virtually no competition.
Thing is, Dante was born into the mainstream. The son of one of the biggest 70's local rockstars, at the early age of 14 he entered the music industry as part of the duo Illya Kuryaki & The Valderramas (extensively quoted in almost all my cut-n-paste megamixes) then a home-made low-budget imitation of The Beastie Boys that debuted on prime-time national TV and opening for big-name arena-filling rockstars with no previous dues-paying in the underground. Hence, no street-cred.
Since his 1991 debut, Dante has gone through several transformations: he had his failed back-to-the-underground phase, his sappy ballads for alt-teens phase, his Chicano-gangsta-wigger phase, his new-born christian phase, his Prince-wannabe phase and then in 2007 he finally decided to please the b-boy audience with his most purist-hip-hopper intent and best album yet (reviewed on the first post of this blog).
Pyramide is his third album, since he decided to go solo at the change of the century, and unlike his previous one that was released independently, this one gets major label treatment and does not hide at any point its clear intentions of being radio-friendly, club-oriented and more obviously mainstream than ever. Unfortunately, those mainstream aspirations translate into an obnoxious abuse of auto-tune (still?!) and Pitbull-esque douchebagery in the weak lyrics, full of nightlife decadence, machismo and materialism. In other words, everything you hate about mainstream rap in the US, all in one album... from Argentina (?!).
On the bright side, Pyramide also marks Dante's first explicit approach at cumbia (after subtly insinuating some of this in his previous work), which at first would set the album apart from the average international mainstream rap sound but it makes complete sense in a country where pop-cumbia is the most commercially successful music genre. There are two cumbias in Pryramide: the horrible "Gisela," an auto-tunes-meets-cumbia-villera experiment that was totally unnecessary and that will probably spread the auto-tune disease though more cumbia villera (something that I announced/predicted in my end-of-the-decade wish-list); and the interesting "Cumpa-El Mero Mero" where he explores the psychedelic sounds of Peruvian cumbia's surf guitar with guest Babasónicos' frontman Adrián D'argelos in chorus.
There are two more guests on the album, fortunately none of them is Julieta Venegas. One is local rock dinosaur Fito Páez, in the instantly forgettable folksy-ballad "Aleli," the other one is Residente from Calle 13 who helps "Pa Tras" become one of the best tracks of this uneven album and probably the only one that will enter the high-rotation of my DJ sets. Now, side by side, rhyme by rhyme, Residente kills Dante in his own turf (yes, while playing as "visitante," lol) and shows him, and all of us, once again, that you can be successful in rap-in-Spanish mainstream while still spitting well-crafted lyrics full of wise-cracking punchlines, something that Dante was never able to fully achieve himself.
Pyramide delivers everything you'd expect from a mainstream-rap album, down to the club-banger, "Mostro," which will also probably make it into my sets; but as a whole, it's a mediocre album tailor-made for ring-tone sales that makes me nostalgic for the innocent fun of the early Illya Kuryaki's times when even though they were part of the mainstream, they weren't trying to sound explicitly like American mainstream rap.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

CHICANO BATMAN (Unicornio Records 2010)

I had a great time last night. It was one of those parties that will be remembered for a long time. You know what I'm talking about, just about the perfect combination of great music, skillful DJ's, lots of friends, plenty of single girls, cool people open-minded enough to dance to music they've never ever heard before that sounds nothing like what they play on the radios and all this in a tiny, cozy, unpretentious new bar with affordable drinks and clean bathrooms. What else would you expect for a low-budget Oakland Friday night? Free vinyl? Check!
Yup, last night underground legend Sonido Franko hosted his monthly night "Carne Trémula" with guests DJ Lengua from LA and local sensation Roger Más. And a who-is-who of the Bay Area cumbia-DJ scene made it to this bar for the unofficial record release party of Chicano Batman, an 8-songs LP released in 12'' vinyl by Unicornio Records, the real local pioneers in the neo-cumbia.
Those who don't live in the Bay Area might still be familiar with Sonido Franko thanks to his incredible blog, Super Sonido, which has become the new mandatory-visit website for old-school cumbia and latin funk diggers. Pretty much anyone who claims to be a Latin vinyl digger must take his hat off in front of Franko and his impressive collection of LP's and 45's. But besides collecting, archiving and sharing his amazing finds with the internet, Franko has been releasing some records too under the Unicornio label. We already mentioned this label briefly last year for the release of Roger Más two 7'' singles.
This time however, instead of DJ remixes, Unicornio Records delivers an actual album by an actual band. Chicano Batman is a trio from Southern California and as you might already guessed by the cover art of the LP, they love everything old-school, from music, to graphic design, to ugly shirts.
I never quite understood the whole Chicano love for oldies. I mean, I understand immigrant's nostalgia and getting stuck in music you used to listen to in high-school back in your country, but the whole Chicano thing seems to be based on being nostalgic about melodramatic corny music your mother used to listen to while ironing shirts. OK, it does kinda make sense, I guess.
Anyway, even though I do not share that type of nostalgia for late sixties-early seventies mellow romantic pop (although it can be funny from the kitschy ironic p.o.v.), I was still able to enjoy this record from the beat-junkie perspective because it's full of ready-to-sample original breaks and some crazy spacey psychedelic sound effects. My only problem was getting pass the voice of the singer in those ballads that resemble a style of signing from that era that I particularly hate. That however doesn't happen in "La Manzanita" (I actually don't know if it's a different singer or the same one who just switches vocal styles), the only cumbia and the only dance-oriented track in an album that's more meant to be listened as background music under the influence of something. That cumbia is pretty dope and I'll totally be mixing it in my sets a.s.a.p., but my favorite track was the instrumental Brazilian-tropicalia-inspired "Um Dia Do Sol" that I'd love to sample and mix into one of my future mixes.
I don't know if the record is already available for online purchase but I've seen it announced at the Amoeba's site already and I guess soon you'll be able to purchase it from here.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

VERY BE CAREFUL-Escape Room (Barbés Records, 2010)

Despite its name, album title and even-more-misleading cover art, Very Be Careful is a band of Latinos living in LA that plays exclusively old-school Colombian vallenato. You might ask, do they have a sick sense of humor? Are they fucking with us? What were they smoking? I mean, why the hell would you do that? Was it "opposite day" when they attended marketing class?
I have no answers for any of these questions, but judging by their music, these guys seem pretty serious about what they play and I don't sense a  hint of irony in their lyrics or interpretation. They basically just play plain cumbia vallenata, an accordion-and-percussion driven style of cumbia that's quite different from the pop cumbia that crossed over worldwide.
In fact, I'd argue that if cumbia started as a Colombian music genre to end up becoming the Panamerican music genre of choice, cumbia's cousin vallenato on the other hand managed to remain strictly a Colombian phenomenon and (outside of the pop/rock influenced vallenato of Carlos Vives) the style hasn't crossed over to the rest of the Spanish-speaking continent (whenever I'm DJing and I get a request for vallenato, 100% chances it's a Colombian doing the request, but when they ask for cumbia, they can be from anywhere).
So, when you're first confronted with this LA-based band of vallenato players with a cult following and on top of that you add an English name and and English title for an album where all the songs are in Spanish... it's like WTF dude? Are you for reals? And, even though I've never met them, my guess is that yes, they are.
Very Be Careful had been around for a while now, and they have like seven albums out, they even released some vinyl LP's and 7'' in the past but recently they signed with Barbés records, the guys who put out all that amazing Peruvian psychedelic cumbia, and released this, their newest album, Escape  Room, that comes with a 3D cover and 3D glasses if you buy the physical version. There are eleven tracks, all original compositions, all of them in the same style that remains loyal to the roots of vallenato (no neo-cumbia electronic experiments here), all of them very dance-floor friendly, with catchy melodies and OK lyrics. The singer's voice is the only thing I didn't like too much, but then again, I don't really like the singers of that period they're sort of recreating and as a DJ I'd like longer instrumental breaks with less emphasis on the ever-present accordion (it does get a little annoying after a while) and more emphasis on the percussion.

Listen to Very Be Careful's "La Furgoneta" here. Buy "Escape Room" at your usual digital outlets and/or record store.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Latino Resiste Vol. 1 (Free Download)

My colleague Caballo, a Colombian living in Canada, better known as one of the recurrent contributors to the Generation Bass blog, just sent me this one. He actually put together this amazing compilation of knew rebellious Latin music from across the continent and beyond, mixing all music styles but with a clear aesthetic unity pointing in the thirdworldist mestizo direction.
First I was shocked by the captivating artwork, done by the Colombian graphic artists Afromestiza of whom I've been a big fan for a long time (and I bluntly stole some ideas from them in a few of my own design works), these are the guys who did Sergent García's Cumbia Muffin EP's art, so you know we're talking some pro-looking shit here. That, from the get go, sets this comp apart from most of the other free-download-blogger comps out there.
While I was downloading it, I crossed my fingers, hoping the music and the sound quality would match the expectations set by the art and let me tell you, I was not disappointed at all. At least half of the tracks went directly to my selective DJ set play-list after listening the first 20 seconds of each and maybe some of the rest will make it there after further examination. I barely got this minutes ago so I can't pass full judgment yet, but I guess, since it's free and you have nothing to lose, you might as well go ahead and download it too and experience it by yourself without being misguided by my totally biased opinions.