Wednesday, July 27, 2011

DJ RAFF-Latino & Proud (Nacional Records, 2011)

If you've been reading The Hard Data for a while you already know very well how much I admire this Chilean musician who goes by the name of DJ Raff. I have mentioned him countless times on this blog (my review of Raffolution was one of the first posts here), I've used his music in pretty much all my mixtapes and I openly begged Nacional Records, more than once, to release his music in the US and bring him here to perform.
Needless to say, I was extremely excited when I found out he was coming out with a brand new album, Collage Binario, with his recent experiments in sonic architecture, a minimalist, abstract opus that tangentially deviates from his scratch DJ origins. Even more excited I became when I heard rumors of Nacional Records finally signing him and releasing this album outside of Chile. And then I saw the title change...
(Here comes the bitching.)
You know it, you had it coming, Nacional. You know I love you guys and I support most of your releases. You guys really know your shit and I'm nobody, my opinion barely counts and my knowledge of music marketing is close to zero. But it really pisses me off when still, in this day and age, we need to pull the "Latino" card out to try to sell music that stands finely by itself and can compete on the same level with the top international artists of its genre without any need of niche induction.
Because that's exactly what's going on here. You have a great album, with some dope ass beats that anybody who follows the avant-guard of post-hip-hop production (Flying Lotus, GonjasufiSa-Ra, for example) will undoubtedly enjoy. The album is almost all instrumental, lyrics and sampled vocals are just merely there to decorate the beat production where the focus is. And those beats have almost no evident references to Latin music. The artist does not identify himself as a Latin music artist, he might as well be French or Japanese. He just happens to be born in Chile, but that's just a side note in his resume. True, he once belonged to a hip-hop crew called La Pozze Latina, but that was in 1994 and since then I haven't seen him use the Latino card to introduce himself or his music ever again.
But you think Collage Binario (Binary Collage) is too sophisticated a title and/or rather pretentious and it will alienate the average US-based Latin consumer and record reviewers of Latin media will not pick it up. And you are right. But... do you need them? I mean, when they release a DJ Krush album in the US, are they aiming at the Japanese community as target market? When they release an Amon Tobin album are they targeting the Brazilian immigrant community? The answer is no. Then why bother trying to capture the attention of the Latino niche with a phony title if they are not gonna get it anyway because they're too behind to appreciate this kind of music?
Just look at the artsy cover, there're no calaveras or Virgen de Guadalupe or palm trees or low-riders or er... wrestling masks or any other Latin bullshit cliché and it perfectly represents the abstract sonic experimentation dominant in this album. You really think the type of Latinos who might be enticed by a title as Latino & Proud will pick up an album with that cover?
Latino & Proud was the title of a track included in DJ Raff's solo debut Raffolution, in 2008, and granted, it's a tight track. I still play it on my mixes and sets a lot, in fact I just played it last week at a gig. But when you take it out of Raffolution to include it in this release, it's more the exception than the rule amongst a collection of songs (some already released in the Traveling Partners series) that doesn't have any other reference to Latin culture, besides some words in Spanish here and there. So the people who'll pick up the album based on the title, because they like Latin stuff, will probably feel disappointed or  even ripped off (or maybe, who knows, they'll end up expanding their music palette and learning about new music, but I doubt it).
Market segmentation in the US drives me nuts. I get really frustrated when I see this type of things happening. Like when fellow Chilean DJ/producer Bitman of the Bitman & Roban duo went solo and changed his name to Latin Bitman (probably also by suggestion of Nacional Records) or when my old  friends Sindicato Argentino del Hip Hop had to resist pressure from Univeral Records trying to get them to change their name to Sindicato Latino del Hip Hop. Ridiculous.
Anyway, the whole labeling yourself as Latino and the minority pride associated with it only makes sense within the United States (where the vocal sample used for "Latino & Proud," the song, originated). Almost nobody in South America (specially not in Chile or Argentina) will go around claiming "I'm Latino" because it's an understatement. The same way you won't find an Italian or Finnish artist claiming "I'm European" while in their homeland. It's simply redundant.
That being said, if you still don't know DJ Raff (and again, if you've been following my blog you definitely know him by now) this is a great chance to catch up with one of the most interesting musicians coming out from the Southern half of this continent. Even though there're some tracks you might already have from previous releases, Latino & Proud has 80% of new never released material and if they ever press it on vinyl I'll make sure to buy not one but two copies of it because I love it. Regardless of the wacky title.

Please, ignore my rant and buy the album at any major digital vendor, including Itunes, Emusic, Amazon, etc. (CD available next month)

Read my interview with DJ Raff for Remezcla here, where I asked him about the album's title selection, among other interesting stuff.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

STRONGHOLD SOUND-The Audio Refuge Compilation (Stronghold Sound, 2011)

People wonder why I haven't been posting much lately and why I haven't yet released a new mixtape. Well, I was mainly busy working on this project right here, The Audio Refuge Compilation by a new Bay Area collective of artists and record label called Stronghold Sound
The label's debut album dropped officially today and it's available at all your usual digital music vendors. It was entirely recorded and produced by my buddy Dub Snakkr at his studio in San Francisco and it involves the talents of plenty of other artists with roots all over the world that converge in this cosmopolitan city. We have people from Syria, Guinea, Morocco, Palestine, Colombia, Mexico and of course myself (and my friend Tami) from Argentina collaborating in these culture-bending, border-crossing sonic experiments. 
For this compilation I decided to sign my work with my new collective moniker, Bondi Blaster, because I'm far from being the only creative force behind those tracks, which were all done in collaboration with several other people. Bondi is Argentine slang for bus and buses are arguably the main disseminators of cumbia music in Latin America, whenever you get on a public transportation bus in Buenos Aires, La Paz, Santiago or Mexico City, you'll most probably listen to the driver's own stereo blasting out the latest cumbias. But buses are also called colectivos (collective) in Argentina and other places, and I wanted to make it clear that those tracks are not DJ Juan Data productions but the result of a collective effort.
This is just the beginning. I'm currently working on Bondi Blaster's own release, to drop later this year, which will include new original tracks and many remexies of the ones included here (some done by international ñu-cumbia luminaries, I can't wait to tell you who!). At the same time, Stronghold Sound will also be releasing a lot more music from around the globe, including a double compilation of underground West-African artists that it's almost ready to drop, so make sure you follow us on facebook or whatever.
But that's the future. Right now, we have The Audio Refuge Compilation. A collection of 17 tracks representing different styles of music from reggae, to hip-hop, to dub, to cumbia, to a variety of traditional and innovative African and Middle Eastern styles. The digital release also includes as a bonus track a very special collaboration by Bay Area's underground hip-hop legend Gift Of Gab from the group Blackalicious

Sunday, July 3, 2011

DIGGING: Cumbia 45's For Y'all

Yes, after a two months long hiatus my favorite section of this blog is back, the section where I share with you, my followers, some of the odd finds I came through while digging for cumbia in my favorite format, 7 inch records. As usual, I try to provide the best quality accessible of rips and, unlike other lazy bloggers out there, I take the time to add the art and all the information available along with each file. Enjoy!
LOS CORRALEROS DE MAJAGUAL-"Mi Burrito/Merengue Bonito" (Discos Fuentes, date unknown): I don't think there's any other farm animal with more cumbia references than the donkey. How the fuck can people make so many fucking songs about donkeys without talking at any point about donkey cocks and bestiality (sorry, inter-species erotica!) I just don't really understand it. And we are not talking about the all in one Mexican wrapped lunch to go here either, it's the actual burro. I have at least ten other cumbia songs about donkeys by the likes of Riki Maravilla, Los Millonarios, Black Power, Grupo Ternura, Los Dinners, and yes, of course New York's Yerba Buena who scored a hit in 2005 with the single "El Burrito" (and that's just from doing a search on my Itunes, imagine if I went on google!). If that wasn't enough to prove that there's a trend here, Los Corraleros themselves had a previous hit with "La Burrita de Eliseo" penned by Lisandro Meza. I certainly do not understand the trans-national cumbia obsession with the donkey show, if it's just the results of cumbia coming from a rural background or there's some hidden double meaning that I don't get. Can anybody explain this to me?

LOS DESTELLOS-"Ronda Tropical/El Baile De La Coja" (Odeon, date unknown): I always wonder how these guys came up with the names of the songs, considering they're all guitar-driven instrumentals and don't really have a theme. Some, like "Ronda Tropical," are titles generic enough to suit pretty much any song, but "El Baile De la Coja" (the crippled girl's dance) probably has some hilarious anecdote behind the seemingly random title selection. Who knows? Anyway, two lesser known Destellos up-tempo tracks to drive all you chichadelicos crazy. 

EMIR BOSCAN Y LOS TOMASINOS-"Soy Parrandero" (Top Hits 1977): I already gave you a vinyl rip by Emir Boscan last year, he's the Venezuelan guy who got really big in Mexico with some down-tempo cumbias like the memorable "Carmenza" where the basis for the Up, Bustle & Out's "Cumbion Mountain" rhythm came from. This time we have him doing "Soy Parrandero" a little more upbeat track with some misogynist un-PC lyrics of a guy who wants to drink and party and expects his wife to wait for him with the dinner ready at home. Only one track was ripped, the B side was a boring ass bolero.

GRUPO LOS PIRAS-"Yolanda" (Arriba Records, date unknown): Talking about Emir Boscan, remember the B-side of "Carmenza" was a song titled "Yolanda," well this is basically another version of that same song. The same one that Mexican Institute of Sound used for their opus maximum "Para No Vivir Desesperado." I don't know which version was used by M.I.S., probably neither. The thing is, the female name Yolanda is almost as popular amongst cumbia recurring titles as the donkeys. And this trend is equally strange, considering many different cumbias have been dedicated to women of such names in countries like Mexico, Argentina and Colombia, which leads me to think that Yolanda must be the most popular name amongst the female cumbia crowd, regardless of nationality. (Some examples of cumbia odes to different Yolandas come signed by La Integración, Roberto Torres & Su Charanga Vallenata, Orlando Fortich & Su Orquesta, and again, that's only from doing a search in my own hard drive).

ANIBAL VELAZQUEZ-"Alicia La Flaca" (Gema, date unknown): A prolific artist like accordion master Aníbal Velázquez is expected to have quite many flops along his immense succession of hits. In this case, the B-side was so horrible that I couldn't even finish listening to it. I just ripped the above mentioned track a super fast tempo accordion-driven guaracha that will cause carpal tunnel if you wanna play it along on the güiro. Anyway, a cool dance track to pack the dancefloor.

CESAR CASTRO-"Mucho He Sufrido/Yo Se Perder" (Discos Fuentes, date unknown): This guy came out of the lines of Los Corraleros De Majagual and the influence is evident. Accordion-driven cumbia/paseo/merengue with a distinguishable rural feel. Both sides are post-break-up songs that talk about being a loser, having suffered rejection and dumping and all that stuff. This is the type of music you play at the parties when you want people to go to the bar and order more drinks.

GRUPO MERCURIO-"El Velero" (Fonodiaz, 1992): I used to think that the cutting point for the production of cumbia 45s was 1991 but this one here proved me wrong, apparently in 1992, with the CD already completely established as the dominant music format, some people were still pressing 7'' vinyl with Latin music on them. However this particular one was released in the US, where as we know, the pressing of vinyl never completely ceased, unlike the southern part of the continent where vinyl pressing plants disappeared like the dinosaurs. It's funny because most of the cumbia available in this format (before the renaissance of the last couple of years) was from the '70s and '80s and it was produced with 100% live instrumentation, but in the '90s synths and keyboards became standard in commercial cumbia production and you almost never hear that on 45s, so this is a nice exception.