Tabaco, “Tabaco: Compiled by El Drag​​​ó​​​n Criollo & El Palmas”
By Phillipe Roberts · June 08, 2023 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

Colombian producer El Drag​​​ó​​​n Criollo and the Barcelona-based label El Palmas have spent years diligently resurrecting the lost stars of Venezuela’s ‘60s and ‘70s golden era via their mind-expanding series Color De Trópico, a threepart whirlwind tour of the country’s explosion of psychedelic jazz, soul, funk, and cumbia. Now the two tighten the spotlight, zeroing in on one of that period’s salsa giants, capturing the maestro’s high water mark as he achieved the dream of leading his own band.

The life of Venezuelan bandleader Carlos “Tabaco” Quintana is a testament to counting your blessings and biding your time. His early rise is due in no small part to his chameleonic vocal abilities—his skill in channeling legendary Puerto Rican singer and songwriter Ismael Rivera landed him in front of the microphone for Sexteto Juventud, his first band. He spent a decade as the outfit’s powerhouse vocalist, flexing his now-vast musical vocabulary and technical prowess on songs like the smoky, hypnotic “Guasancó.”

As his fame grew, so did his ambition, and after filing his resignation with Juventud, Quintana launched his own sextet, Tabaco y sus Metales, kicking off a second decade of devotion to the heavy-hitting, roots-oriented salsa that first drew him to music in his youth. From the first notes of “El Tren de Porky” to the compilation’s closing salvo “Casamiento,” Tabaco punches deep into the rhythms, punctuating the band’s unimaginably deep pocket with a smoky, haunting voice that leaves behind the theatrical mimicry of his youth for a more mature, jazzy flow, gliding across the beat with time-tested fluidity. It’s most clearly felt on the roiling “Arollando,” where Quintana tumbles out of the band’s opening vamp to play a dazzling call-and-response with himself in every register, crooning and teasing, before letting out a shriek that sets the band soaring. “La Libertad” is entrancing, a well-oiled machine of criss-crossing melodic snippets that build to a dramatic flood of rhythm. The sauntering “Imolle” indulges in a flair for the cinematic, riding luxurious spirals of horns that punch well above their weight in brass as Tabaco crosses into the ‘80s with a sextet that hits as hard as an orchestra.

When Quintana passed away at the all-too-young age of 51 in the mid-‘90s, his death was met with a national outpouring of grief as thousands swept into the streets, mourning a hero whose eloquence extended far beyond the borders of the stage. At the height of his fame, Tabaco was known for performing in prisons, and his sensitivity to the egregious injustices of his day power two of the compilation’s strongest works, “Una Sola Bandera” and “Cuando Llora el Indio”—both of them forceful, insightful denunciations of racial ills that demand to be heard alongside his “softer” populist material. Collected alongside each other with such impressive vision, every shimmering facet of one of Venezuela’s most astute and dedicated musical geniuses takes on a deeper, more brilliant shine.

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