Friday, November 11, 2011

Juan Lennon Presents: 213 Cumbia Vol. 1 (Triumphant Records, 2011)

When I think of Los Angeles a nightmare of traffic jams and extensive parking lots is the first thing that comes to mind. For others, however, Los Angeles means many different things and for some it means cumbia. 
The Southern California megalopolis is home to a large underground scene of cumbia artists and DJs; diverse people from diverse backgrounds that approach cumbia from all sorts of angles. In 213 Cumbia Volume 1, compiler Juan Lennon tries to encompass all these variety of cumbia-related expressions in a collection that aims to define the LA sound of cumbia, if there's such a thing.
Some of the artists included are very well known by the global fans of the ñu-cumbia movement, starting with my buddies DJ Lengua and Mexican Dubwiser on the edgier side of the comp. But there's also examples of people who fall more into the revisionist, rootsy approach like Buyepongo and Chicano Batman. And a lot of new names, new for me at least, with interesting proposals worth checking out (Black Guiro comes to mind).
I have no fucking idea who this Juan Lennon mythical figure is and how he managed to conjure all these cumbia lovers in a city where meeting with people is so hard because most of the times you're stuck on traffic. But he did a pretty good job, if you are willing to disregard the ghettoness/amateurism of the cover art. The comp is only released on CD, so far, no digital downloads but I've been told they'll be pressing a limited run in red vinyl. If this prophecy materializes this instantly will become one of my favorite records of the year, but note, some of the tracks on this comp are already available on vinyl on Unicornio Records (DJ Lengua and Chicano Batman, both reviewed on this blog before). 

Listen/Purchase here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

CANDELARIA (Self Released, 2011)

The SF-Bay Area scene has been ahead of the game since the beginnings of the ñu-cumbia movement and many artists and record labels (Bersa, Unicornio) from here had been fundamental in the establishment and development of this global scene.
But there's also been a whole local parallel underground scene that's been widely ignored in the blogosphere maybe because they tend to aim more towards the roots and traditional cumbia, rather than the cutting-edge experimental and/or DJ-oriented stuff. 
Candelaria somehow dwells in between these two scenes and appeals almost equally to both crowds. I have big respect for them because I've seen these guys around in the scene a lot, at every remotely cumbia-related event and they seem to know what's up. Still, me being an active DJ in the scene and them a live band, our conflicting schedules didn't allow for a chance for me to ever see them live. So I had a lot of expectations for this release, but at the same time I didn't really know what I was gonna find. 
The concept behind Candelaria was to create a some eclectic, rootsy, transnational approach to cumbia with a reggae-dub twist and I'm all for these kind of experiments. However with a premise like that, I was hoping for something more in the lines of Frente Cumbiero's last year release with Mad Professor. And if that's what you expected too, you'll be disappointed because the dubby side of the project is too watered down and leans heavily towards the old school rural Northern Colombian cumbia. 
But that's no reason to dismiss this self-titled debut album at all. There're some really good tunes here, a couple of interesting covers of standards ("La Curura," "No, No, No") and remarkable original numbers (like the album opener, "Las Cruces," my personal favorite). The voice of the front woman (her last name is Candelaria) is impeccable and the band sounds tight. 
I'd like them to lose a bit of that respect for the cumbia roots and be more playful with it, more experimental with the dub soundscapes and way more innovative with the lyrics. As you know I am a lot more attracted toward the kitsch and out-of-context irony of ñu-cumbia than the old rural songs that talk about fishermen, mountains and donkeys.
I like cumbia to be fun, even if I respect those roots and I like those old cumbias from a digger point of view, I can't personally relate to them because they have nothing to do with my very urban upbringing or my current situation. What I'm trying to say is, whenever I see one of those early Discos Fuentes 7'' records I dive head first to snatch it, but that doesn't mean that's the type of cumbia I wanna listen to--I wanna learn from that, I wanna sample break beats from that, I wanna laugh at its naivety, sure,  but I don't know if I'd wanna go see those artists live if they performed in my town. That's just my point of view though, and I'm not trying to imply that's the right way to relate to cumbia at all, lots of people from all walks of life have been lately approaching cumbia from so many different angles and it's all interesting, it all adds up. 
Candelaria have my full support and I'm looking forward to catch them live soon (I've been told the singer is quite pretty too, unfortunately the photos in the CD's booklet are too out of focus to appreciate that), maybe we'll get to share stage too, who knows. One last suggestion, let some DJ remix the opening track and the last one, "Pendejita," something dope could definitely come out from those.

Purchase it here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

OS MAGRELOS-Luz Negra +more (Electric Cowbell, 2011)

I've recently received a pile of 7'' singles from my friends at Electric Cowbell, this awesome NY-based record label that prioritizes this specific format -my personal favorite- for releasing their music. A bunch of crazy stuff, some of them even defy description, but I love them all and I already incorporated three of them to my vinyl set rotation.
This is one of the seven records simultaneously released and it was the first obvious choice to enter my DJ set, simply because it's the only one that has any obvious Latin elements. Os Magrelos is, in fact, a side project by Bio Ritmo's keyboardist Marlysse Simmons where she steps away from the salsa to focus on Brazilian samba and bossa nova, but keeping that same kind of archeological approach for old-school sound.
As you all know I have some profound love for Brazilian music in almost all its forms but to be honest I've gotten sick of bossa nova (maybe after the overdose I experienced during the bossa nova revival of the early '00s) and being a DJ whose main goal is to make people dance instead of cuddle I obviously lean more towards the percussion-heavy side of Brazilian samba and funk. Still, this 45 by Os Magrelos didn't disappoint me at all. It has one original bossa nova track (with guest vocals by Laura Ann) that I skipped and two instrumental tracks that I instantly loved (even though they're on the downtempo end of the spectrum) because of their inner funkiness and the hypnotic retro-sound of the vintage keyboard. I played both those tracks at my warm-up set last week and they sound great, so I'll most probably be keeping this 7 inch beauty permanently in my record-case to go.
Now I gotta make a worthy exception and mention a couple more of these releases even though they do not particularly fall into the Latin But Cool category that strictly limits the contents of this blog. The first one is by The Sway Machinery in an odd collaboration between American musicians and a Malian singer  resulting in the funkiest record of this memorable set. Particularly their track "Youba" that actually flows seamlessly into Os Magrelos' "Luz Negra" if you ever wanted to make an Electric Cowbell mixtape. The second one is a total oddity, a kind of novelty track that works wonders on the dancefloor. NO BS! Brass Band does an instrumental cover of the epitome one-hit-wonder of the whole '80s synth-pop era: A-Ha's "Take On Me." First I thought the idea was stupid and it'd be hella cheesy but after a second listen I realized that I HAD to drop this as a peak-of-the-night track to set the dancefloor on fire and when we reached that moment I did and oh my god, the whole club went bonkers. The fact that's instrumental works out great because people love to sing-along to this classic greasy cheeseball. I'm definitely keeping this one in that special section of my crate designated for party-rescuing: you know when you fucked up and accidentally cleared the dancefloor and you need a heavy hitter to bring it back up? This is all you need.
Thanks Electric Cowbell for the presents and for helping to keep 7'' vinyl alive.

Buy these amazing releases HERE.