Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Colombia 45 (Soundway Records, 2011)

I was all torn up when I found out that The Pinker Tones had canceled their California tour due to the sickness of one of their members. I was really excited to see them live. I haven't seen them since their 2006 show in LAMC and that's because they never came to the Bay Area (with the exception of the time they came with the Warped Tour in '08 which I wasn't gonna go, of course). And I was even more excited since I was supposed to open for them. We even did a short but funny interview last week in anticipation to the show. Good times!
But then, today, I got the news of  the cancellation and I was like what? Really? I wanted to cry, but that's when I checked the mail and I found this package and all of a sudden my smile came back and I completely forgot about those Spanish dudes.
I mean, just take a look at the beauty of the packaging, you don't even have to have a turntable to want this. It's three beautiful 7'' records packed in individual black sleeves and then into a cardboard larger sleeve with silkscreen printing and the records look like old school Discos Fuentes, but they are brand new and they sound great and I just wanna hang this on my wall. I should just buy a second copy to take to the DJ gigs.
Soundway has been reissuing classic Afro-Colombian cumbia (and beyond) for a while now and they had done a great job with their compilations, but now they are also releasing reissues in 45RPM and for a confessed fetishist of the format like myself, that's like a waking up from an erotic dream with a raging hard-on and finding out Rosario Dawson is laying down naked next to me.
This collection includes rare cuts, most of them instrumentals with major breaks, by Pedro Laza y sus Pelayeros, La Sonora Cordobesa and Banda 20 de Julio de Repelón. Considering how hard it's to find good classics Discos Fuentes 45's in this side of the world without having to sell the soul of your first born male to the devil to be able to afford them, this collection is a blessing and I'm really crossing my finger for more of these from the Soundway guys. I just wish more actual record stores around here carry this stuff, because shipping charges from the UK are a bitch.

Monday, March 21, 2011

DANAY SUAREZ-Polvo De La Humedad (Independent, 2011)

Right off the bat I'm gonna tell you: stop reading this, go and buy this album now! Done? OK, this has to be the like best thing I've heard in a long, long time. Scratch the like, this IS the best.
Some of you may remember Cuban femcee Danay Suárez from last year's Gilles Peterson's comp Havana Cultura, where she was like the new, unknown, unsigned talent who really stood out.
She has a beautiful voice and she can rap as good as she can sing, she's got lyrics, she's got flow, she's got street cred (hello, she's Cuban!) and she's gorgeous. So, of course Mr. Peterson developed a crush on her and right after the comp, made her record an EP in an improvised jam session. Cool jazzy stuff.
But now she dropped her official debut, an album with an odd title and a weak cover but also with some of the best rap in Spanish tracks I've ever heard in my life. And you know I've heard a lot, A LOT, of Spanish rap.
Granted, I have a thing for female rappers, I openly admit it, everybody knows it, but this goes way beyond any fetish of mine. Danay's talent is superlative and undeniable. And on top of that she's young, this is just her debut; how many rappers you know who have such a strong, serious, coherent, mature, first album? Nas? Do I dare compare this album to Illmatic? Sure, why not? Guess what, like young Nas, she also doesn't rely on guest appearances, it's pretty much all hers. And she may not have Pete Rock, Large Professor and Primo on the beats, but whoever did the production for this (especially considering the production limitations inherent to the blocked island) has very little to envy from those.
I know it's still too fresh to make predictions and I've heard this album only once (I only downloaded it minutes ago--a true case of love at first hear) but I'm pretty sure that right here I have a strong contender for 2011's Best Album. Watch this video and try not to get goosebumps.

Available on Itunes or Amazon.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

THE BINARY CUMBIA ORCHESTRA-Cuchifritos 1 (Chusma Records, 2011)

Just a few years ago all the cumbia that was available on 7'' vinyl was pre-1991. After the closing down of pretty much all vinyl pressing plants in Latin America, cumbia DJs across the continent were really fast in adopting the CD and vinyl (7'' in particular) became obsolete. Who would've thought back then, or even five years ago, that the format would experience a sudden rebirth in the XXI century? 
Now thanks to the interest in cumbia by European and US-based DJs (who have money to spend in records, unlike the Latin American DJ's who rely 99% of the times on piracy), we have indie record labels in places like New York, Oakland or Germany releasing singles in 45rpm all over again, and that, for a fetishist collector like myself, has been one of the most welcomed side-effects of the ñu-cumbia crossover phenomenon.
Just take this one for example. The Binary Cumbia Orchestra, from La Plata, Argentina, just dropped their debut single on Chusma, and it's announced as the first volume of a series titled Cuchifritos. I'm really crossing my fingers, hoping they keep their word and release more shit like this because this is so good I can't stop listening to it.
On one side we have "Bo D' Gh," I don't know what the fuck the name of the song means, and it's an abstract composition that could've easily been included on the ZZK comps. The b-side is a remix of a remix of a modern classic of Mexican cumbia. "La Inconformable," sometimes also known as "La Inconforme" or simply "Siempre La Misma Situación" (that's the title most likely to show up on file sharing) was a big hit in Mexico thanks to the Sonora Skandalo version. Here we have a TBCO remix of an earlier version of that song by Grupo G later re-remixed by Schlachthofbronx (it took me like a full minute to type that name).
The lyrics are about a guy taking this one girl out on a date and she takes forever to get ready because she never knows what to wear and her lack of decision power over all ultimately drives him crazy. What turned this otherwise silly song into a hit however was the intro with those trumpets that sound like car horns during a traffic jam. I have no idea who the original author is, as usual, but I'm really digging this remix right here and I can't wait to mix it in my next cumbia set. I'm predicting this will be one of the hottest tracks of 2011, at least for The Hard Data Awards. 

Keep vinyl alive. Get it here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

DJ STILL LIFE-Try Otra Vez (Bstrd Boots, 2011)

This is exactly the type of shit that makes me happy. Last year I wrote on Remezcla a review for DJ Still Life's cumbia tribute to Aaliyah when it came out for the anniversary of her death. It was distributed as a free download, like most bootleg MP3s out there and this song in particular became an instant hit, for me at least. That same night I played it at my weekly gig and since then I can't remember doing a single digital cumbia set without it.
It has a great beat to please the hardcore cumbia fans and it makes the mainstream gringos come out and join the dance craze because they recognize the vocals. So I usually play it during the first quarter of the night and it always gets a great response.
I liked it so much that I selected it as the best mash-up of 2010 on the annual Hard Data Awards. Unfortunately the track was only available on digital format so I couldn't play it when I did my all-vinyl nights. Well, guess what, somebody in Brooklyn just made my dream come true and released that very same song on a beautiful 7'' single. To make things even better, the b-side comes with the instrumental track and it's one of those instrumentals that you don't really appreciate how great it is until you actually listen to it without the vocals. I've just got it and in a few minutes playing around with Torq I put together this rough mash-up with an acapella by Control Machete. Check it out.

Do yourself a favor, buy this here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Digging: Even more cumbia 45's for y'all!

Here's another bunch of 45 rips I just did, specially to share with you my digging readers. Following the cumbia diaspora, this time away from Colombia and into Mexico and El Salvador, with plenty of classics and standards to play at your next quinceañera and maybe some rarities to sample and remix.

CONJUNTO AFRICA-La Cadenita/Lindo Veracruz (Peerless, 1979): I give eternal props to Conjunto Africa (even though they're Mexican, not African) because they are the authors of the classic masked-wrestling anthem "La Cumbia de los Luchadores." Here we have them doing a cover of a classic popularized by La Sonora Dinamita. "La Cadenita" is a Colombian "religious" cumbia (in their own definition) about a guy who loses a necklace with a Jesus Christ pendant. Now the poor guy is lamenting the lost of both the necklace and the girl, Carmen, who gave it to him. Needless to say, I hate religious cumbia because I hate religious everything, but this is a huge classic among old school cumbia fans and it even started some sort of a thematic sub-genre of lost and found religious paraphernalia.

LOS HERMANOS FLORES-La Medallita/El Carbón (Boni Discos, 1986): Remember that one guy who lost the necklace? Well, this cumbia is about a kid who said he found one while walking down the street. Coincidence? Not really, in this case the pendant has the Virgin Mary instead of Jesus. Another classic, this time covered by the biggest name in Salvadorean cumbia, or at least the only ones who managed to gain some international recognition. Last week, Chilean cumbia-punk icons Chico Trujillo performed here in San Francisco and did their version of this song and it was one of the wildest moments of the night. The b-side is another cover of a Colombian classic, "El Carbón" also known as "Leña para el Carbón" or "El Carbonero" depending on who you ask. I don't know who the original's from because these people were not very good at giving credit to the authors when they recorded versions.

LOS HERMANOS FLORES-La Medallita #2 (Boni Discos, date unknown): You thought the saga of the necklace was over? Think again! Apparently the Flores Bros did so good in El Salvador with their cover of "La Medallita" that, following the tradition of Hollywood studios, they soon came up with a sequel. This time around the alleged owner of the pendant tracked down the kid who found it and persuaded the kid's mother to give it back. Yes, this is like a The Lord of The Rings in telenovela version... only instead of the precious ring to rule them all it's a fucking piece of cheap metal shaped like a saint, or something. Can you believe people used to write songs about stupid shit like this and actually score hits? I wonder if there are more sequels, what if the guy after recovering his medallita lost it again on his way home when he picked up a hooker and took her to a motel room? What if he was mugged? I need to know. I'm hooked!

 LOS HERMANOS FLORES-La Turista En Apulo (Boni Discos, 1984): Ok, just one more by the Salvadorean Flores Bros. This one is also about finding stuff, but nothing sacred in this case. The singer says last night he went out dancing and found a female tourist who, to the singer's amazement, wanted to dance cumbia with him. After a whole night of dancing the woman with the strange accent asked him to spend the night together and he came up to the sudden realization that he was going to marry her! Now if I'm correct, in 1984 El Salvador was deep into their long civil war, right? And El Salvador is not necessarily a hot tourism destination, particularly not for single female travelers looking for random sexual encounters, those go to Brazil, Cuba, Jamaica, you know, Italy, definitely not El Salvador in the middle of a bloody guerrilla war. Hence I call bullshit on your story, Mr Flores! I wanna see some hard proof, the girl's panties, some Polaroids?

LUIS CARLOS MEYER/LUCHO BERMUDEZ-Cumbia Cienaguera (RCA, date unknown): This song right here is widely considered one of the main anthems of international cumbia. I'm not a historian in these matters, but according to Wikipedia, this was most probably the first cumbia ever, recorded by a Colombian artist in Mexico and kick-started, back in the '50s the cumbia diaspora throughout the Americas and later the world. There are probably hundreds of covers of this track, maybe the best known by those who entered the cumbia field in the last couple of years is Samim's "Heater." This one is part of a four song 7'' EP and even though the word cumbia is all prominent on the cover, only two of the songs could be actually labeled as such. I didn't include them all in the rips because the record had some scratches and too many pops.

CARMEN RIVERO-La Comezón (Discos Columbia, date unknown): Another pioneer of Mexican cumbia. Legend says that Mexicans were obsessed with Cuban music until this woman came out and started playing the cumbias she learned in Colombia, but to make them more accessible to the Mexican mainstream, her band played them with Cuban orchestra-style arrangements. This EP is probably from the 60's and includes two cumbias plus one chachacha and one guaracha, both Cuban genres. That's how cumbia started to permeate into Mexico, under the all-encompassing label of "tropical music." Even though it's her name on heading the band, there are two male singers in these tracks, one of those guys sings my personal favorite, "La Muerte" with it terrifying intro it's probably one of the earliest examples of another curious cumbia thematic sub-genre: the horror cumbia. More coming up soon.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

CARTAGENA!-Curro Fuentes and The Big Band... (Soundway Records, 2011)

Quantic keeps digging Colombia, and he seems to be sitting on top of an infinite uncharted pile of gold. 
If there's someone in the world I envy right now that is Quantic. Living in Colombia while making well deserved Euros in the Northern Hemisphere is a good formula to get by, combine this with the proper knowledge, contacts and experience and that's it, you're the Pablo Escobar of music. 
From an international perspective, Quantic is doing more for Colombian traditional music than any Colombian musician or music historian could've dreamt of doing. I mean, he's got the attention of the first world taste-makers, the DJ's and the beat diggers, who otherwise wouldn't probably be listening to this type of music. 
Just a few months ago I was happy to find out the Quantic Presents Tropical Funk Experience on Nascente Records and while I was still exploring that one now I'm shocked to find yet another comp of reissues co-signed by the acclaimed British producer/digger: Cartagena!
Cartagena! Is a very peculiar comp of reissues because it focuses on the career of one artist, Curro Fuentes, youngest of the Discos Fuentes' dynasty. Curro did not transcend to popular notoriety as other cumbia big names did, but was influential in spreading this particular sound of big band cumbia where the accordion was replaced by brass arrangements emulating cuban music, particularly the descargas (jams). This is the style of cumbia that was later popularized (particularly in Mexico) by Discos Fuentes' flagship band La Sonora Dinamita, with a much cheesier, radio-friendly approach. But thanks to this compilation we can find the actual roots of that fusion of styles from several bands where Curro contributed. 
Thanks to Soundway, this amazing music is also available on double LP vinyl. It's probably gonna cost me an arm and a leg, but if I see one around no doubt I'll get it. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

GRC Bailables Vol. 2-Colombia/Puerto Rico (NYCT, 2011)

Greenwood Rhythm Coalition (a.k.a. GRC) is rapidly turning into my new favorite band and Names You Can Turst into my favorite label. One of the reasons for this is that they keep printing 7'', like this beauty right here, the other is that they adapt to DJ needs a lot of great classic tunes that otherwise it'd be too hard to mix.
I had these MP3s already, they give them out for free on their website (presumably because they don't own the rights to any of these songs), but the very same day they vinyl version was out for sale I felt compelled to snatch a copy right away.
The record comes with tiny hole and minimum information on the label (presumably for the same reasons exposed above) but it's a release as dope as any of their "legit" ones. Side A is called Puerto Rico and it's a remix of José Mangual "Bomba a Puerto Rico;" on the flip side the label reads only Colombia and it's, of course, a cumbia: "La Botellita" by César Castro. I mentioned the second one already on my previous post because it has the exact same intro of "Suéltala pa' que se defienda" and probably many other cumbias, since as we all know, they all used to rip each others off.
GRC plays along the classic, adding some tight funky beats and then they even go into a dubbed-out break down in the third half, solving the problem that many original old-school cumbias share, of leaving very little room for the DJ's to work with. GRC versions, remixes or re-edits, whatever you wanna call 'em, bring out the best of the originals with respectful minimum adjustments making the songs DJ and dancefloor friendly.
Man, how I wish I had these guys jamming in my garage, I'd come down with every old-school cumbia record I have that's hard to play because the tempo is not constant or it has a very short intro or outro and no breaks and say, "hey guys, make me a DJ-friendly version of this one here" and I know it'll be tight and I'll be able to play it that same night experiencing no trouble at all.