Sometimes I think that Joe Arroyo’s crazy versatility is one reason why he was not even more famous outside of Colombia. He was a massive salsero, but he was so much more than that! Hardcore salseros often like their music a bit more predictable. You never know where El Joe is gonna take you, or how you’re supposed to dance there. (But that won’t stop you – who else can get a bunch of stiff bogotanos to dance mapalé?)
I was thinking about this, and I remembered the stories of the Festival del Caribe in Cartagena in the early 90s where Joe Arroyo got onstage, completely unrehearsed, to trade verses with Haiti’s Rara Machine, Zaire’s Loketo, and a group from Cuba (forget which) one after the other. We thought we were pretty original when we started La Pelanga 3 years ago, to bring all these musics to the same space. But this man beat us by about 15 years! Well, we can still try our best.
Here’s Sheila Degraff with Clifford Sylvain from Rara Machine. (Short attention span? Your patience will be rewarded.)
And Loketo! Superstars of “TGV soukous” (the branch of soukous named after the French high-speed rail system), huge Pelanga favorites, and the only band I know to feature a car-honking solo:
In the comments of Papicultor’s excellent previous post of Ogyatanna Show Band he requested another 10 min African burner. Well this is about hot as they come. The one and only Lita Bembo et L’Orchestre Stukas Mombombo. Known in the 70s as just Orchestre Stukas, they started out in Kinshasa, Zaire as a pure James Brown cover band. Unlike their famous contemporaries Zaïko Lang Langa and O.K. Jazz who played in the downtown clubs they took to the strategy of playing in the outskirt rural areas for those who couldn’t afford to see the big acts in the city. This proved wise as they gained a big following to the point that the government actually had them performing daily on TV as a way to keep kids off the streets. Their popularity even gained them a spot at the legendary 3 day concert event — Zaire 74 (the famous concert that coincided with the Muhammad Ali – George Forman fight “Rumble in the Jungle”, which featured: Miram Makeba, The Fania All-Stars, BB King, Tabu Ley Rochereau, Bill Withers and James Brown.)
I’m not even sure where to begin to describe this song Dina.
If you close your eyes while listening you’ll likely have some strong visions like being in a cramped humid Kinshasa cinder block walled club, or perhaps some alternate world filled inter-galactic travelers who offer you a draw off their colorful hookah pipe. Whatever it is, if you’re anything like us pelangueros by half way through the song you’ll have all your furniture pushed out of the way, the volume up twice as high and be dancing wildly all over the place. Adjoa, I hope you like this one too. Enjoy!
And here they are performing “Mombomo Dominé” from one of their many TV performances. These guys are just nuts!
While we’re on the topic… here is over 12 minutes of bootymoving for your enjoyment. It goes to double time after 10 minutes, so don’t be fooled by any repetition. It keeps changing as it moves along. Watch, try, repeat. Then come to our the Pelanga en La Peña Tonight! Saturday, May 7th
Improving the world by moving more booties at a time,
This is a live recording from the 2nd Festival Mondial des Arts Negro-Africains in Nigeria in 1977. (The 1st was in 1966, the 3rd was two months ago. Anyone out there know if there are plans for a 4th anytime soon?)
We’ve already toldyou that a lot of our favorite “Latin” music from the 70s and 80s was heavily influenced by the records arriving at that time from Africa, and particularly from the Congo. Maybe this is no surprise, given how much Cuban music shaped the Congolese rumba, which was some of the most popular music in Africa in the 50s and 60s. You’ve gotta love how these guys faked their way through the Spanish lyrics and, more importantly, took the classic son cubano to a new level. Here’s a lovely example, a cover of “En Guantanamo” by the tremendous guitarist Docteur Nico.
I feel like I’ve heard several versions of that song throughout the years, but I’d never thought to look up what it sounded like pre-1960. Our visit to Marcos Juarez’s great radio show on KALX prompted me to do a bit of research; clearly, Abelardo Barroso is who these guys were listening to:
What a voice!
Of course the love affair didn’t start or end there. It goes without saying that the early sones cubanos of the 20s and 30s could not have existed without the African influence in the island. And in 2008, here is Colombia’s La Makina del Caribe covering “Sai” by the Congolese soukous star Kanda Bongo Man.
The first merengue CD I ever bought was by Juan Luis Guerra, thanks to my fellow student, known fondly as Copete, who taught me how to dance it when I arrived at college. Little did I know that ten years later I would play “A pedir su mano” (Translation: “To ask for her hand”) during my wedding. It was too appropriate – we couldn’t pass it up.
(The video includes some bad 80s effects and some brilliant footage of the Dominican Republic. I’d never seen it till now.)
Also at college, I was invited to learn and perform a dance to Soukous, thanks to Janet and Kirimania. When people who hadn’t heard it before asked me to describe what Soukous sounded like, I would tell them it was “how you’d imagine Merengue sounded before it crossed the Atlantic”. At the time I didn’t realize that in fact, it really had.
This was affirmed again many years later, when we picked up this little treasure:
And to our surprise, we found this song, Dédé Priscilla, by Lea Lignanzi – the original version of “A pedir su mano”. Since then we’ve tracked down a few other tracks by Juan Luis Guerra that are adaptations of soukous. Maybe I’ll dig those up for you sometime.