Title: Diablos del Ritmo: The Colombian Melting Pot, 1960-1985
Label: Analog Africa
Formats: 2CD, 4LP
Release date: November 20th, 2012
After seven years of travelling to Colombia’s Caribbean coast and delving into the intense social intricacies of local record collectors’ culture and music history, Samy Ben Redjeb, founder of Analog Africa, put together this refined compilation of obscure tropical Colombian music jewels from the 1960s to 1980s. He also discovered that the transatlantic music trade between Africa and the Caribbean had a big impact, and that Congolese, Kenyan, and Nigerian popular music from the 1970s was fully integrated into the local musical culture. Not only were African records purchased and listened to, but many local musicians adopted stylistic features of such musics, generating a period of intense innovation in Colombia’s tropical music scene. Redjeb gives us a glimpse of his collecting enterprise through this 32-track, double CD compilation, which features 29 of the finest artists of this time and place.
Structured in two parts (one per CD), the first part of this production presents heavily African-influenced music: genres labeled as afrobeat, Palenque sounds, tropical funk, and terapia. Many of these songs, nonetheless, have a particular Colombian sonority: tinted with rhythms such as cumbia, or instruments like the diatonic accordion, or by the melodic contour of certain arrangements. The second part represents Caribbean Colombia’s own musical heritage and features the cream of the coastal musical scene, with musicians like Juan Piña or La Sonora Dinamita performing styles such as puya, gaita, cumbiamba, mapalé and chandé. Salsa and Afro-Antillean sonorities, like son or descarga, also feature in both parts of this production since they have been part of Colombian musical landscape for many decades. In fact, Colombian music has been influenced by African aesthetics since colonial times, centuries ago.
The opening track, “El Caterete” by Wganda Kenya, is characteristic of part one, displaying a heavy bass line with funky guitar and piano riffs on top of a Caribbean/African afrobeat groove sustained by drumkit, congas and plenty of other percussion instruments, along with call and response vocal parts. Other songs, like “Quiero A Mi Gente” (track 12), more clearly feature a Colombian connection, with upfront porro and cumbia mambos performed on the electric guitar. On part two (CD 2), the uplifting and lively sounds of songs such as “La Veterana” (“The veteran lady”), by Peyo Torres y sus Diablitos del Ritmo (track 2), are an aural reminder of popular celebrations in Afro-Colombian contexts. This track is a fast cumbia rhythm, where a background brass section sustains a consistent mambo while timbales follow the improvisations of the solo clarinetist, who not only delineates the melodic lines of the theme, but also explores extensive modal improvisations, which are so characteristic of the cumbia style.
“Shallcarri” (track 5/CD 1), performed by Grupo Abharca with master Abelardo Carbonó on a priceless electric bass solo, is representative of part one:
And “Busca La Careta” (track 5/CD 2), by legendary cumbia ambassador Andrés Landero, is representative of part two:
Musically and stylistically speaking, this CD is full of substance and provides a rich aural landscape to keep our ears attentive and make our feet move.
The compilation includes a substantial 60-page booklet with a firsthand account of its creation by Samy Ben Redjeb, who shares a chronicle of his travels through the Colombian coastal cities. Prestigious British anthropologist Peter Wade also contributes by providing an account of the development of Colombian Caribbean music in the past century, including the development of the music industry and issues of modernization, race, and politics. The booklet also includes a contribution by DJ and producer Lucas Silva about the transatlantic music trade in the twentieth century and the influence of afrobeat on Colombian music. The remaining forty pages feature reviews of record labels from the period (Discos Machuca, Tropical, Felito), and biographies of the artists and some of the producers that are included on the CD, such as Myriam Makenwa, Calixto Ochoa, Wasamayé Rock Group, La Sonora Dinamita, and Los Curramberos de Guayabal.
Diablos del Ritmo: The Colombian Melting Pot is a thoroughly constructed musical production, which puts within our reach hidden treasures of music belonging to the African diaspora. The compiler’s concept allows for the recognition, not only of Colombia’s already well-known autochthonous musical traditions, but also the intercontinental contact with music scenes in Africa—a region that still remains in the imagination of Afro-Colombian communities as the “motherland.”
Reviewed by Juan Sebastian Rojas