Rumba Flamenco

Most North American music fans know of rumba flamenco through the Gypsy Kings. A fusion of Andalucian flamenco, AfroCuban and salsa rhythms, rumba flamenco is lighter and poppier, as opposed to traditional flamenco with its dramatic and heavy interpretation of the human experience.

Rumba Flamenco is a ravishing collection of 13 songs performed by talented but lesser known Spanish flamenco groups. The music meanders from reflective, beautiful melodic instrumentals such as De Madera’s “Canaveral,” to upbeat tracks such as Gitano Family’s “Hommage Aux Marquises” and Energipsy’s “Joselito.” “Tengo Tengo”, performed by Chico and the Gypsies, is a driving Gypsy King-style track. The Barcelona-based experimental flamenco group Ojos de Brujos’ rousing “Vacileo” and subdued, bluesy “Tesero” are alluring subtle rumbas that incorporate other instruments, such as electric base and bongos, traditionally not used in flamenco. “Lel,” by Wafirs, creates an interesting chemistry between Spanish flamenco, Cuban and Arabic rhythms.

Rumba Flamenco reminds us that a whole other musical world of talented rumba flamenco groups exists outside the Gypsy Kings and deserves to be heard.

Congo to Cuba

This is a fascinating exploration of the musical connection between West Africa and Cuba. When African slaves were first brought to Cuba to work on the sugar plantations they fused their traditional music with Spanish rhythms to produce new musical styles such as son, guaguanco and guajira. During the 1930s, Afro-Cuban music was exported to Africa. African musicians, enamored by Cuban musical imports, began to blend Cuban rhythms with their own styles, leading to the emergence of new musical forms in Africa. In subsequent decades Cuban musical penetration of Africa deepened and, starting in the 1970s, Africans traveled to Havana and New York to record with Cuban musicians and producers

Congo to Cuba largely highlights West African music. The Guinean, Beninian, Congolean, Malian, and Senegalese performers present the lush sounds that evolved from Africa’s fateful encounter with Cuban music. Cuban son, guaguanco, guajira and salsa swirl with African melodies, creating a wonderful and joyful musical fusion. Of the 11 songs appearing on the CD, four are from Cuban groups, permitting the listener to trace and recognize how Cuban music influenced west African music.

Latin Groove

Latin Groove testifies to Spanish music’s ability to surmount the most obstinate cultural boundaries and embrace other musical styles. This innovative CD showcases artists and groups from Cuba, Columbia, the USA, France and Germany. Its 11 songs – largely consisting of salsa and Cuban rhythms – incorporate a range of musical influences, from funk to hip hop and electronica to flamenco, rock and reggae.

The performers skillfully blend these two seemingly irreconcilable musical genres – Latin music and modern western music – into slick, well crafted songs, with hints of a keen sense of whimsy. Barrio Cubano de Ronald Rubinels’ gritty “El carretero” successfully blends Cuban guajira and hip hop and infuses it with a contemporary funky electronic beat. “Chan Chan” is a funky, infectious rendition of Francisco Repilado (better known as Compay Segundo) Cuban son by France’s El Conjunto Massalia.

Columbia’s Los Aterciopelados’ cutting edge “el estuche” artfully mixes Cuban son with funk. “Salsita,” by Cuba’s Sin Palabras, is an excellent slow-paced funk-laden salsa track.

New York-based Si Se’s sensual “bizcocho amargo” fuses hip-hop, Afro-Cuban and flamenco rhythms. The song’s periodic lapses into a Cocteau Twin’s dreamlike state add a degree of complexity and originality that makes this song stand out. “Sensemayo,” by the French group Carlos de Nicaragua & Familias, alternates between reggae and salsa, with flourishes of funk and rock, resulting in a very danceable track. The other tracks on the CD are also delightful.

An Afro-Portuguese Odyssey

When the Portuguese colonized parts of Africa, they not only imparted their language but their music. An Afro-Portuguese Odyssey is a striking compilation of contemporary music from the former Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde.

As a result of their colonial heritage, musicians from these countries adopted Portuguese music, blending it with their own African music and instrumentation. They also embraced the musical traditions of Brazil, another former Portuguese colony. At the same time, as the CD’s promo sheet states, “the music was used as a tool of revolutionary expression, as artists sought to recreate and adapt styles that had been suppressed for centuries.” As An Afro-Portuguese Odyssey demonstrates, the mix they created is entertaining, alluring and sophisticated.

The CD previews a range of different styles that have emerged in these countries. While distinguishable from Brazilian music, they share the cool breeziness of Bossa Nova and Samba. An Afro-Portuguese Odyssey showcases the rich musical styles of the Portuguese-speaking African countries.

(The listeners’ appreciation of these CDs will be enhanced by the beautiful, colorful cover art and the booklets glued to the back of the covers that provide extensive information and history of the musical genres dealt with, the songs and the performers.)

All the CDs reviewed are from Putumayo World Music, 2002.

– Tim Pelzer (