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V/A - The Afrosound of Colombia, Vol. 1

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Artist: V/A

Album: The Afrosound of Colombia, Vol. 1

Label: VampiSoul

Review date: Apr. 22, 2010

North American funk and soul influences were and continue to be ubiquitous global agents in shaping musical expression. The Afrosound of Colombia Volume 1 localizes their reach to a specific time and place through the output of the Discos Fuentes label during the late-Sixties and early-Seventies. Operating much like a counterpart to Cuban-centric Fania in New York, Discos Fuentes was home to the major and minor purveyors of Colombian popular music over that time period. This set digs deeper than an earlier worthwhile single-disc Soundway collection by comprising two full discs of music and 43-tracks with no overlap in content with that earlier survey.

Funk and soul served pervasive ingredients in Colombian popular music of the era, but as the package’s cover art delineates the idiomatic diversity coursing through Discos Fuentes (DF) sizeable catalog also encompassed a host of Afro-Latin elements. Salsa and descarga from Cuba. Boogaloo from Spanish Harlem. Afrobeat from Nigeria. Bomba from Ecuador and Puerto Rico. The indigenous cumbia. All served as nutritive sources for the repertoires of the numerous bands under the label masthead. Tapped with the task of distilling this rich history into a manageable summary, compiler DJ Bongohead keeps the emphasis squarely on cuts that target the dance demographic as audience.

One group in the DF stable shared its name with the signifier that came to encapsulate the voraciously cross-pollinating style, Afrosound. That band and the work of two others, Fruko y Sus Tesos and Wganda Kenya, represent well over half the tracks in the set. All three along with handful of others were the province of one Julio Ernesto “Fruko” Estrada, A&R man for DF as well as a primary architect of the label’s sound also described affectionately as its infant terrible. Afrosound’s “Ponchito de Colores” exhibits an even more pronounced Peruvian chica influence in the revolving Andean rhythm at the song’s core. “Carruseles” balances fuzzy, Santana-rooted guitar and keyboard riffs against vibrant acoustic beats while the comical “Dog, Cat” threads invasive commentary from the eponymous animals over a driving percussion groove.

Fruko’s strong Cuban preoccupations found an outlet through the slick piano & horn section-driven club salsa of Fruko y Sus Tesos. Their “Flores Silvestres” adheres to that virile urbane style, but surprises with a concluding blast of fuzz guitar. Other tracks like “Lamento Cubano”, “Mayoma” and “Cachumbembe” work from a similar bag. Arguably the most musically voracious in the stable, Wganda Kenya brings together wah-wah guitar, funk bass, swirling keyboard fills with a pervasive afrobeat influence on cuts like “Fiebre de Lepra“ and “Yoro“. Along with original numbers there are also cash-in covers of stateside hits like Wganda Kenya’s transliterate take on Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting” (“Combate a Kung Fu”) and Afrosound’s rundown of The Chakaracha’s “Jungle Fever”, replete with histrionic erotic exhortations. South American hits get the treatment too with interpretations of the Brazilian “El Caterete” and Peruvian “Tihuanaco” among others.

The sets other tracks deliver a cross-section of the work of other DF bands and frequently feature song-smithing of a more experimental vein. Cumbia en Moog tests the possibilities of their titular combination, laying the instrument over an undulating bed of propulsive percussion. Los Golden Boys” arrive at similar positive conclusions about the efficacy of electronics in augmenting traditional accordion and percussion components of the idiom on the brief but infectious “La Negra Celina”. Humor reigns in the accordion and slide-whistle antics of “El Vampiro” by Los Corraleros de Majagual, playing out over a bobbing bass anchor that wouldn’t be out of place in a Norteño cantina band. Sexteto Miramar serves up a stripped down street salsa variant on “Sabor”, one which abstains from horns in favor of percolating timbales, conga and electric guitar. “Chenchudino” by Peregoyo y su Combo Vacana yields a weird, slightly out-of-tune guaracha admixture of throbbing electric bass, horns and percussion.

Vampi Soul’s customary standard of comprehensiveness comes across in the extra-musical aspects of the set, which edify in equal measure with the sounds. A thick accompanying booklet contains a gallery of sampled LP cover facsimiles guaranteed to set DJ jowls to salivating along with detailed essays and photos outlining the history of DF. And specifically for the DJ set, a separate 3LP edition, limited to 1000 copies, packages the music in club set-friendly form. Consumed in a single sitting, the formulaic and commercial aspects of the DF output invariably become obvious and wear a bit against its charms. Sampled in less ambitious installments, this set is joy and a boon for amateur and professional party DJs alike.

By Derek Taylor

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