Ondatropica – Tropical Colombian music

Title: Ondatropica

Artist: Ondatropica

Label: Soundway Records

Formats: CD, 3xLP, MP3

Release date: July 27, 2012

Conceived by Mario Galeano (of Frente Cumbiero, Colombia) and Will Holland (of Quantic, UK), sponsored by the British Council, and released by the British label Soundway Records, Ondatrópica is probably the most important album in Colombian music to come out in 2012. This project is a carefully selected gathering of “Golden Era” tropical Colombian music legends and the finest “fresh bloods” of contemporary Colombian music. Recorded and mixed in the mythical Discos Fuentes studios using live and analog recording techniques, Ondatrópica establishes a generational bridge that binds musical genres, arrangements, and performers from two very different eras.

Clearly inspired by the classic sound of tropical Colombian music from the latter half of the 20th century, Galeano’s and Holland’s compositions reframe popular musics from that era into a new hybrid sound. Rhythms like porro and different kinds of cumbia, descarga, bomba, ska, Afrobeat, guaracha vallenata, boogaloo, hard rock, and hip hop, among other genres, are blended together by an all-star ballroom orchestra, who put the energy and warmth of live-recorded sound at the forefront.

Featured on the album are many of the biggest names in Colombian tropical music from the 1950s through the 1980s, like Michi Sarmiento, Fruko, Markitos Mikolta, Aníbal Velásquez, Alfredito Linares (Peru) and Pedro “Ramayá” Beltrán, who join top contemporary musicians such as Eblis Álvarez, El Chongo, Nidia Góngora, El Profe, Pedro Ojeda, Marco Fajardo, and Esteban Copete. They define anew the relevance of this musical tradition by showing the common threads that link the present day generation to musicians who started recording sixty years ago.

This nineteen-track album opens with “Tiene sabor, tiene sazón” (“It has taste, it has spice”), a kind of Colombian Afrobeat-rumba, driven by a twelve-piece ensemble which includes multi-layered vocals, percussion, bass, a brass section, two electric guitars and a Wurlitzer piano.  “I ron man” (track 3), a cumbia rendition of Black Sabbath’s “Iron man,” is one of the most interesting songs. “Ron” is the Spanish word for rum and the chorus repeats “El ron se acabó!” (“The rum is over!”) as a kind of fatalistic celebration of the party spirit that this music inspires. “Rap-maya” (track 15) is a masterful cumbia/hip hop duet of traditional caña de millo flute and beat boxing, performed by Pedro “Ramayá” Beltrán and El Chongo.

Following is the official video for track 4, “Suena” (“It Sounds”), with a guest performance from French/Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux:

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Ondatrópica was recorded in January 2012, using quarter-track open reel tapes at Discos Fuentes studio in Medellin, under the supervision of Mario Rincón, master engineer and developer of the Fuentes sound. During the production process, only minimal overdubs were used in order to maintain the fidelity of a live recording, the primary method used in the early days of the Colombian recording industry. For live recording to sound professional, though, top-notch musicians are required since every mistake requires starting the recording process all over. But excellent performers are what this record has plenty of. Here is the “making of” album trailer:

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The album comes in a lively and colorful case with a 30-page booklet, which includes plenty of photographs, as well as bios of 24 of the 42 musicians that participated in this production. Ondatrópica represents a whole new chapter of Colombian music, not only by reminding us of the mastery of old-school music innovators, but also taking it further into a modern Caribbean/global sound. It is an opportunity for younger generations to recognize and understand that Colombian and Caribbean cultural heritage is not a thing of the past, but is alive, vibrant, and in permanent renovation. This is a must-have for Latin American music fans.


Reviewed by Juan Sebastián Rojas

Hijos de Agüeybaná – Agua del Sol

Title: Agua del Sol

Artist: Hijos de Agüeybaná

Label: Tumi Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 25, 2012



Bomba is one of the most internationally renowned of Puerto Rican traditional musics and dances. It is a style highly influenced by the African diaspora in the Caribbean, and typically consists of a multitude of hand-drums, shakers, call and response vocals, and dancers. This music is the specialty of Hijos de Agüeybaná, an experienced Puerto Rican band whose first release, Agua del Sol, is a collection of bombas composed by its musical director, Otoquí Reyes.

Most of the tracks on the album portray a traditional sonority with chants and percussion. Some others, though, employ a wider range of instruments and arrangements. For example, the opening track “Saludo al Sol” (“Greetings to the Sun”) uses plenty of synthesized sounds, while the title track, “Agua del Sol” (“Water of the Sun”), features a classical salsa orchestration with guest vocals by the legendary sonero Andy Montañez (El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico).

In the following video the group offers a brief bomba demonstration:

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Agua del Sol
 is published by Tumi Music and comes with a 16-page booklet, which includes a short historical overview of traditional bomba and plena music, as well as lyrics for the songs. In general, the album is a good manifestation of how newer generations assimilate and represent traditional musics: by paying homage to the ancestral sonorities where they emerged while also experimenting and blazing new musical paths.

Reviewed by Juan Sebastián Rojas

Quetzal – Imaginaries

Title: Imaginaries

Artist: Quetzal

Label: Smithsonian Folkways

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 28, 2012



Imaginaries is the latest release from Los Angeles Chicano band Quetzal. A balanced and well produced mix of different musical traditions—Mexican son jarocho, rock, R&B, jazz, and various Afro-Caribbean genres like son montuno and salsa—constitute the band’s signature sound. In this album, though, this mix is represented in a more mature and integrated form of fusion, where the jarocho elements are slightly less preponderant and meld evenly with sounds from other parts of the Americas.

Quetzal was founded in 1992 in East Los Angeles by guitarist Quetzal Flores, who was inspired by the racial uprisings and social movements in the area at that time. Quetzal East LA (the band’s full name) engages in political activism, writing lyrics that serve as a social critique and championing multiple ethnically based musical traditions that represent various aspects of Chicano cultural identity.

Quetzal’s latest release, Imaginaries, is a twelve-song album, which is put together using a variety of musical instruments that provide rich sonorities and a broad aural landscape. Besides the conventional rock band format (electric guitar, electric bass, and drumkit), the listener will enjoy other musical instruments that originate from local contexts, like jaranas (different kinds of typical Mexican lutes), cajon (a wooden percussion box, from Peru) and other kinds of Latino percussion, along with musical flourishes from bowed strings, keyboards, and a moderate use of sound effects, not to mention the incredibly soulful voices of Martha and Gabriel Gonzalez.

While the opening track (“2+0+1+2=cinco”) is a 5/4-time jarocho based song with Spanish lyrics, other tracks, like “Time Will Tell” and “Witness,” are straight-forward rhythm and blues songs with English lyrics. Others, such as “Por eso,” include a more complicated mix of funk, Cuban timba, Mexican jarocho, and salsa, which is paired with Spanish lyrics that praise difference, freedom, autonomy, and personal inspiration.

Following is the trailer for the album:

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Quetzal’s Imaginaries is high quality production that reflects contemporary life in Los Angeles and many other parts of the world. It reminds listeners that national, regional, and local cultures cannot be separated anymore, and that ethnic diversity and multiculturalism should be understood in terms of richness, productivity, and vibrancy.

Reviewed by Juan Sebastian Rojas