Tag Archives: Salsa

Barbès Records Mixes Folk Traditions From Across Latin America


Illustration of The Wemblers

“One thing that I’ve always been obsessed with is ‘impurity’ in music,” says Olivier Conan, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and founder of Barbès Records. Speaking from Paris—the city in which he was raised—and from within the confines of the venerable Opéra de Lyon, where he currently directs and curates their Opéra Underground program, Conan describes the musical focus of the label he founded in 2004.

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Hidden Gems: Sean Bellaviti & Conjunto Lacalú, “Toronto Mambo”

Sean Bellaviti, Conjunto Lacalu

In our new series Hidden Gems, writers share their favorite Bandcamp discoveries.

Toronto may seem like an unlikely city to have a thriving salsa and Latin jazz scene, but as a line from the title track from Sean Bellaviti & Conjunto Lacalú’s debut album says, “En Toronto, el mambo es pegajoso, porque es un baile bien sabroso.” Toronto’s mambo is catchy, because it’s so tasty for dancing. Continue reading

Forty Years Into His Career, Rubén Blades is Still Building Bridges & Inspiring Change

Ruben Blades

Rubén Blades is one of the biggest names in Latin music, whose songs for social justice speak just as loudly today as they did when he first earned his rebel image in New York in the early ‘70s. At the same time, his constant innovations—whether adding synthesizers to salsa or mixing Cuban music with reggae—have marked him as a true pioneer.

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Humans and Robots Collaborate on La Mecánica Popular’s “Roza Cruz”

La Mecanica Popular

Pay close attention to the polyrhythms that crawl and skitter through Roza Cruz, the second album from La Mecánica Popular, and you’ll hear things that sound like salsa—or feel like salsa—but aren’t quite salsa. You’ll hear other rhythms that feel like the familiar, traditional rhythms of cumbia, or the Andean folk style Huayno, or Peruvian chicha. But often, what you’re hearing are new rhythms entirely, suggesting new kinds of music, new dances. When it came time to follow up his band’s 2013 self-titled debut, finding the untapped potential in polyrhythmic music was bandleader Efraín Rozas’s chief mission. “I think we have a responsibility to invent new futures and new possibilities as artists,” Rozas says. Roza Cruz does a credible job of exactly that.

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The Puerto Rican Punks in Orquesta El Macabeo are Shaking Up Salsa Traditions


Orquesta El Macabeo is an anomaly in the dwindling salsa scene in Puerto Rico. The group’s lack of pre-existing requirements—formal musical training, paying dues for years in traditional salsa orchestras, and a strict adherence to the 3-2 or 2-3 clave—puts it at odds with the traditional orchestras dominating the island’s festival circuit. For the older generation of Puerto Rican salsa musicians and fans who revere artists like Héctor Lavoe, Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz, El Gran Combo and, to a certain extent, Marc Anthony, Orquesta El Macabeo’s music is an affront to “good taste.” The band has weathered every slight under the sun: It’s not music for the bailador and the singer goes off key. The group can’t keep time, is too brazen, and is most definitely not salsa. Throughout its eight years of existence, its critics’ complaints can be summed up in three words: “How dare they!”

If any of these critiques sound familiar, it’s because they’ve been used throughout music history to discredit those who break with the paradigm and flourish against all odds. With every performance and new record, Orquesta El Macabeo topples the rigid standards that hinder Puerto Rico’s salsa scene. The group’s wild success has taken them on tour across Europe, and its records have made it into shops as far away as Japan. Since the release of its first album, Salsa Macabra, band members have acknowledged that they are, in every sense, punk rockers who play salsa. Most of the 11-piece orchestra’s musicians come from punk and ska bands—with José Ibáñez, the band’s bassist, owning a small punk label, Discos de Hoy. Some of them are into hip-hop; others do theatre and teach. Some have formal musical training, but none of them really care if you think their music is salsa or not. “I like that we created our own sound,” Ibañez says. “For better or for worse, it sounds like us, it has its own identity and that’s pretty cool. I think that’s worth more than playing something that sounds like something else.”

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Album of the Day: Various Artists, “DJ Amir Presents Buena Música Y Cultura”

While salsa fans will be justifiably intimate with the mighty Fania Records catalog, which virtually defined the genre, DJ Amir’s debut compilation unearths forgotten salsa gems from Brooklyn and Detroit. Amir focuses on the hard, masculine salsa dura that dominated the New York scene in the late 1960s and early ’70s (salsa became known as such after 1972) with pounding piano grooves, potent trombone blasts, and tightly wound Afro-Cuban percussion.

Detroit’s Fito Foster (AKA La Palabra) would eventually become known as the godfather of the slower, gentler salsa romántica (as often happens in music, what starts hard often ends soft). But the two-part “Salsa” workout Foster leads here—with its wild timbales break and innovative Moog synth vamp—is a wild ride that threatens to never let up. Foster was originally from Cuba, and music from all around Latin America fueled salsa’s ascent, including bands like Venezuelan saxophonist Johnny Sedes and His Orchestra and the Puerto Rican-fronted groups Chino y Su Conjunto Melao and Cortijo y Kako y Sus Tambores (with Rafael Cortijo recreating the neighborhood drumming fiestas he loved as a boy.)

Buena Música y Cultura’s other pleasures include boogaloo star Joey Patrana’s eight-minute “El Pulpo” (Octopus), a dramatic arrangement with an exceptional three-man chorus, ominous horns, and otherworldly underwater vibe. Cautionary cries of “Policía!” punctuate  the looping horn part in Louie Colon’s “Tembleque” (Wobbly). And the pair of tracks from the Dax Pacem (Give Us Peace) orchestra’s sole release (on Brooklyn’s Amaral label), with their funky Farfisa organ and triple-threat trombones, provide a master class in hard-driving, soulful salsa that more than stands the test of time.

Richard Gehr