Ebirac All-Stars Featuring La Calandria & Ramito - "Plena Matrimonial" (Cult Cargo: Salsa Boricua de Chicago)
Latin music aficionados living in the Midwestern portion of the United States live double lives: on one hand, they know full well that the focal points for Latin music are on the two coasts (New York, Miami, and Los Angeles); on the other hand they know that the third coast has its own scene, smaller and less well known but no less creative. Echoes of the Latin music scene in Chicago are audible as early as 1970s funk from the area, as a moment’s reflection on the massive horn sections of groups like Earth, Wind & Fire or Chicago will confirm. These national acts benefited from a hot local scene rooted in the Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Mexican communities that produced numerous labels and hundreds of recordings, the vast majority now out of print and nearly impossible to obtain.
With Salsa Boricua de Chicago, the third offering in the Cargo Cult series (and the first in four years), Numero Group has taken the first step to rectifying this invisibiity. Drawing from the catalog and master tapes of the now-vanished Ebirac label helmed by Carlos Ruíz, the collection presents fifteen tracks by six bands all grounded in the local community and its nascent identity politics. Stylistically, the collection primarily features straight-ahead Latin genres, such as Puerto Rican plena (Ebriac All-Star’s “Plena matrimonial”) son-montuno (Justicia’s “Bwana Tambula” and La Solución’s “A Bailar son montuno”) and Cuban guaguancó (Justicia’s “Guaguancó corco”). However, there are excellent examples of Latin jazz (Under the Sun Orchestra’s eponymous instrumental, which features a Santana-like electric guitar solo), as well as several examples of Afro-Latin jazz fusion, such as Juventud Típica 78’s “Afro Theme” and especially La Solución’s “Mozambique.” This last features the legendary Mongo Santamaría on congas that begins as a bare guaguancó (percussion and voice) telling the history of Mozambique, but then swings into a full orchestra treatment and montuno lyrics about the girls of Mozambique.
Filled with photos and informative text, the massive booklet included with the release is a valuable addition the history of Latin music in the United States as well as the Puerto Rican community on Chicago’s southwest side. Even for someone growing up in the area, this is a largely hidden community, overshadowed by the larger Cuban and Mexican immigrant populations, not to mention the overwhelming presence of African-American jazz, blues, house, and hip-hop. Numero Group’s latest offering is thus not only a great listen but an important contribution to the growing awareness of the importance of Latin communities to U.S. culture and society.