CD reviews (March/April 2008)

Reviews of new and recent CD releases of Caribbean interest


Voodoo Love Inna Champeta-Land

Colombiafrica and The Mystic Orchestra
(Riverboat Records/World Music Network)

Some albums are produced for consumption in the supine position, preferably swinging in a hammock. Others, like the playfully titled Voodoo Love Inna
Champeta-Land, can only be totally experienced on the visceral plane, two feet to the ground, hips swinging, arms wide to the skies, rolling with the rhythms.

Champeta Criolla (a spiralling, joyous fusion of Colombian folk styles: cumbia, bullerengue, chalupa, with Congolese soukous (itself inspired by Cuban son), Nigerian Afro-beat, Ghanaian high life and South African mbaqanga, with sprinklings of Haitian konpas, Dominican bachata, Antillean zouk and Eastern Caribbean soca) has been, up until this superb release, a largely unknown entity outside a small enclave on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

Hopefully this album will do for Champeta what the Buena Vista Social Club album, a classic of traditional Afro-Cuban standards, did for Cuban music.

Like most popular Creole dance music, champeta’s rhythms are rooted in Africa, played by Cimarrons (descendants of runaway slaves). The three featured vocalists on the album (Justo Valdez, Viviano Torres and Luis Towers) all hail from San Basilio de Palenque, the Colombian town which rebelled against Spanish conquistadores in the 17th century and founded the first “free village of America.” In this tight-knit African community, mother-lode rhythms survived, mixing with Colombian folk forms and, in the 1960s, popular African music shipped in on vinyl to the nearby port of Cartagena.

Lucas Silva, “Champeta-Man Original,” a pioneer of the Afro-Colombian music scene, succeeded where Ry Cooder didn’t with Buena Vista Social Club. Cooder’s original intention had been to record a joint session between Cubans and Africans, but the Africans never showed.

Lucas, however, succeeded in hooking some of the principal African influences on champeta into this album, a true collaborative effort. From Congo there are the veteran soukous guitarists Bopol Mansiamina, Diblo Dibala, Rigo Star, Dally Kimoko and Sekou “Diamond Fingers” Diabate; Cameroonian drummer Guy Bilong and Congolese vocalist Nyboma give extra punch and were joined in the final Paris recording sessions by musicians from Guinea and Angola.

The result of this transatlantic collaboration is a quintessential dance album, which takes us on a tour of some of the best entrepots of Creole music. From track one we catch the blare of tropical brass overlaid with what begins as a trickle of soukous guitar, soon to break into a flood. Mama Africa, a tribute to roots, features the unmistakable phrasing of Bajan soca, which swept the greater Caribbean in the mid-1990s.

Jaloux Jaloux swings and slides effortlessly between Congolese rumba and Colombian salsa, with French and Spanish lyrics highlighting the mix. On Mini Kusoto we can hear soca blending with cumbia; on El Liso En Olyaya, Diblo Dibala’s guitar recalls the lachrymose melodies of bachata and Tus Huellas combines bullerengue (a Colombian cousin of merengue ) with African salsa. Zarandia Champeta features the accordion beloved by both Congolese rumba and Colombian cumbia.

If you’re looking to get fit, forget the Pilates and treat yourself to some Palenquero. This album is exclusivo.

SL

Watina

Andy Palacio and The Garifuna Collective
(Cumbancha)

This album has already won a Womex award and topped the European World Music charts. Besides the accolades, it’s probably the most significant album to have been produced in the region over the past decade.

Very little remains of the Caribbean’s Amerindian musical heritage: the fabled Arieto dances of the Siboney remain a mystery, and it’s only the sound of organic percussion instruments like the shac shac which recall the pre-Columbian past.

Watina presents us with the treasure of a living indigenous musical tradition: that of the Garifuna, the Black Caribs of the Caribbean coast of Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras. The Garifuna are among the first Creoles, products of intermarriage between descendants of survivors of two slave ships which sank off the coast of St Vincent in 1653 and the resident Caribs.

The Garifuna joined with their red Kalinago cousins to mount a guerrilla war against British troops, intent on wiping out the last resistance in the islands. When the Black Carib chief Chatoyer was finally outnumbered and killed, some 2,000 surviving Garifuna were rounded up and dumped on the mosquito-infested but otherwise barren island of Roatan, off the coast of Honduras, in 1797.

Amazingly they not only made their way to the mainland, but have survived the intervening 200 years, maintaining their ancestor worship, the sacred dugu, punta and gunjei rhythms played on the distinctive primera and segunda drums, while developing the Creole Latin-influenced guitar-led parranda form.

The late Andy Palacio emerged in the early 1990s as the young icon of punta rock, a popular dance form based on the traditional punta rhythm, heavily spiced with soca, zouk and other pan-Caribbean flavours. As a teacher and Garifuna cultural activist, his commitment to preserving his people’s language and culture led him to this priceless collaboration with Ivan Duran, founder of the Belizean label Stonetree Records, who received his musical training in Havana.

All the songs are traditional, the lyrics full of searing pathos, or haunting simplicity based on the daily struggle for survival of a marginalised people and culture. The title track, Watina—I Called Out—is the lament of a poorly dressed Garifuna trying unsuccessfully to hitch a ride; Weyu Laigi Weyu—Day by Day—is a supplication asking for God’s guidance and protection, while Beiba–Go Away—is the humorous complaint of a man locked out by his wife after a drunken night out on the town.

What has propelled this album to the heights of world music is tradition and a multi-generational band along with modern arrangements, courtesy Ivan Duran. Paul Nabor, at nearly 80 the grand old man of parranda, lends his vintage voice to the mix along with rising star Aureluio Martinez and the Garifuna women’s choir.

The Garifuna Collective, an informal group of master drummers and traditional musicians, were an integral part of the album recorded in a beachside hut in Hopkins Village, Belize.

This is a major release for the Caribbean and a vital project for preserving what Unesco recognised in 2001 as a part of “Humanity’s intangible heritage,” so expect Watina to go Grammy, but make sure it’s in your collection first.

Simon Lee

Still Grooving

Poser
JWCD

At least they got the title right. After more than a decade in the field of calypso, Poser proves he is still grooving. Produced and arranged by Leston Paul, the disc kicks off with the catchy double-entendre Padlock, written by Chris Morris, the man who wrote Crazy’s runaway hit Coldsweat last year. From here on, the man born Sylvester Lockhart never lets up on his delivery of some neatly arranged tunes that are packed with lyrics. Noteworthy on this CD are No Man Ent Own No Woman, a ragga soca song that puts on new clothes on Poser’s familiar vintage vocals; Hold on and Dance—a Les Slater-penned song that takes Poser down a Latin dance path; and the social commentary If We Had Money. The latter track speaks of money being the solution to all of Trinidad and Tobago’s social ills. As the chorus of this song says: “If we had money, we woulda fix that.” Other tracks on the 12-set disc include Thanks, Fete and what must be the most-used double entendre in the industry, Yuh Mother Come. It’s not listed officially as a bonus track, but fans of Poser will think that the inclusion of his classic Ah Tell She on this disc surely fits the bill. The old but much loved Ah Tell She still sounds fresh and new after all these years. File Still Grooving as a solid calypso effort, and certainly one to add to the collection.

ES

The Best of JW Collections

Various Artists
JWCD

What do you do when you are a producer and you’ve turned out a collection of hits in your career? Compile them all and release them. That is just what Julian Williams (who trades under his initials JW) did with this Best of…collection. A musical trek back into the 90s soca realm, the disc bursts out with a hot and sweaty Mega Mix that features Nigel and Marvin’s Movin’ and Chris Garcia’s Chutney Bacchanal, to name just two. Crazy’s Penelope is also given new life, as is his Nani Wine. Some throwbacks (read retro songs) contained here are Designer’s Rat-i-Ray, which is more than a decade old, Iwer George’s Jock Yuh Waist and Wine, and Machel Montano’s Big Truck. Interestingly, not all the tracks are sung by the original singers. Sister Urie delivers Denise Belfon’s Hard Wuk, while Tony Prescott sings both Nigel Lewis’s Urge and Rupee’s Ice Cream. Natalie Burke, the Bajan singer who experienced a whirl of success with her Patra-like vocals, is also on this set, with her hit Do Weh You Want. Expect 90s feteing memories to flood right back with this one.

Essiba Small

CDs courtesy Cleve’s One Stop Shop, Frederick Street, Port of Spain