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Aníbal Velásquez Y Su Conjunto - Mambo Loco

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Artist: Aníbal Velásquez Y Su Conjunto

Album: Mambo Loco

Label: Analog Africa

Review date: Jun. 16, 2010


Anibal Velasquez y Su Conjunto - "Carruseles" (Mambo Loco)


The tastemakers at Analog Africa and Soundway have taken note of the life lessons provided by sharks and economies: if you aren’t moving, you’re dying, and if you aren’t going up, you’re going down. Both labels have detoured away from their usual African environs and headed to Colombia for their latest releases. But in other respects, nothing has changed; both Mambo Loco and Soundway’s Palenque Palenque have been assembled with a swaghound’s love for the physical object and a DJ’s instinct for the killer cut. And each record sustains the labels’ tradition of unearthing great, accessible sounds that, until now, has flown under the radar of North American and European music fans.

If you come from the northern end of South America, Anibal Velasquez’s name won’t make your obscurometer’s needle quiver. Born in 1936, he’s recorded over 300 albums and scored hits in Colombia and Venezuela; to this day, he’s a big draw at the Carneval in Baranquilla, which is one of Colombia’s premiere cultural celebrations and has been designated by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Like the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, the subject of other Analog Africa volumes, he’s been sufficiently successful in his own land that he never needed to solicit interest in ours. But his relationship to his homeland’s culture is an ambivalent one. Since his main instrument is the accordion, he was a natural beneficiary when vallenato, a squeezebox-based musical style typified by lyrics dramatizing the drug business, hit it big in Colombia’s Costeño region in the late 1960s. But a disenchanted Velasquez swam against the stream; as vallenato got slower, he sped his music up.

It’s that breakneck velocity that makes the 12 tunes on Mambo Loco so great. Compiler Samy Ben Rejeb has eschewed completeness in favor of impact; although the record only lasts 32 minutes – which may seem stingy when you have hundreds of LPs from which to select – every song on it could save a flagging dance party. Velasquez may play in styles that are familiar around the rim of the Caribbean — mambo, cumbia, corrido, and so on — but he makes them rock. There’s a piano lick at the start of “Carruseles” that sounds like Jerry Lee Lewis on a good day, and the breakneck drumming on “Cecilia” (partly played on an instrument called “La Caja” which is made from x-ray film canisters) could overtake your favorite techno on the open highway.

Velasquez’s short, nimble accordion runs dominate some tracks, but a Cuban-sounding piano takes over on others in a feverishly paced, telegraphic call and response. A similar dynamic manifests in the singing; on the title track the band hollers out the ragged chant of “Mambo loco,” and Velasquez simply cackles back.

When you boil stuff down, it gets strong, and Mambo Loco is as distilled as it gets.

By Bill Meyer

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