CD reviews (July/August 2008)

Reviews of some new Caribbean CDs

Caribbean Party. CD cover courtesy PUTUMAYOFrench Caribbean. CD cover courtesy PUTUMAYOLatin Jazz. CD cover courtesy PUTUMAYOLatin Reggae. CD cover courtesy PUTUMAYOThe Caribbean. CD cover courtesy PUTUMAYOWorld Hits. CD cover courtesy PUTUMAYO

Good music in any language

Handed a clutch of Putumayo CDs for review earlier this year, I was excited, as Putumayo has a reputation for producing great world music compilations—according to most reviewers. The 15-year-old company distributes its CDs in more than 100 countries. Promisingly, its products come with what it calls its “Feel Good Guarantee.” This says if you’re unhappy with any Putumayo CD you’ve bought, you can return it to the company for a full refund.

My package included Latin Reggae, World Hits, Caribe! Caribe!, Caribbean Party, Latin Jazz, French Caribbean, Caribbean Playground, and The Caribbean.

As I always do, I glanced at the track listings for each of the CDs and was happy that I recognised some of the names—although my heart did sink a little when I noticed that the most recent Carnival/festival/party tracks on the Caribbean Party album were recorded in the early 90s. While all the tracks were certainly good enough to be on the set list at any Caribbean party, I wondered why newer material wasn’t sought. It sounded like a Caribbean party for an “adult contemporary” audience. I wondered too why there weren’t any artists from Trinidad and Tobago—not because I’m Trinidadian, but because with a title like Caribbean Party I was expecting at least one of our festival songs to make the cut, though Militant did make it onto The Caribbean with Hot & Groovy.

The Putumayo website says this is the formula for deciding what goes on a CD: once a theme is picked, Putumayo’s in-house researcher and ethnomusicologist Jacob Edgar starts collecting material. These initial selections are reduced to a semi-final round by company founder Dan Storper, and then employees are invited to listen and offer their opinions before the final selections are made and rights are secured.

Having worked through the doubts stirred by Caribbean Party, I settled on Latin Reggae and Latin Jazz as my favourites. I’ve always loved Latin jazz, and was captured by the opening congas on Congo Mulence by Machito with Cannonball Adderley. The classic horns and congas infuse drama, mystery and seduction.

Bassist Tomas R Einarsson, from Iceland, followed his passion to Havana in 2003, where he recorded an album with Cuban musicians. He keeps the tempo nicely in Rumdrum, which is from that Havana album. Tito Puento’s Cha Cha Cha follows at track four and I already know this album is a keeper. I’m still dancing to Chico Alvarez’s La Clave, Maraca Y Güiro and swaying to Ray Barretto’s version of George Gershwin’s Summertime, rising through my speakers like smoke.

I didn’t know any of the artists on Latin Reggae and have barely a working knowledge of Spanish, but the language and the rhythms blended like old friends, comfortable in each other’s company. There is no rapping and no reggaetón. Most of the music has a classic roots-reggae feel, among the best being Radio Malanga’s Charito Va. The group, which is based in Spain, blends a jumping bass guitar with Latin trumpets and the singing is good. Puerto Rico’s Cultura Profética takes another route with Reggae Rústico, with salsa and reggae coming together through the drums and guitars. The result was surprisingly smooth and groovy.

The Caribbean CD is a great introduction to the variety of musical styles to be found in the region, and World Hits does not disappoint, as a collection of chart-toppers from respected artists from every continent.

The kids on whom I tested Caribbean Playground found something to like on the album, and my favourites on Caribe! Caribe! were Andy Palacio’s Nabi and Beethova Obas’s Lina.

Good music is good music in any language—and you can’t beat that Feel Good Guarantee.

Latin Reggae, World Hits, Caribe! Caribe!, Caribbean Party, Latin Jazz, French Caribbean, Caribbean Playground, The Caribbean

Putumayo

Tracy Assing