The Americas

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ZZK Records first started to whip the cool kids into a frenzy at its regular Buenos. Aires club night. The pioneering label has defined itself by taking electronic ...


The Americas anything from the singular effects they bring to their craft. Our Lady of the Tall Trees is one of the best examples of youthful moxie and imagination among today’s Americana ranks. TRACK TO TRY: All I Can Do Doug DeLoach

Los Texmaniacs Texas Towns & Tex-Mex Sounds Smithsonian Folkways (53 mins)

HHHH Chicano quartet from deep in the heart of Texas The rise and rise of the Mexican population in the US is a hot political topic but it is very rare that the music made by and for what will soon be that nation’s largest ethnic minority is ever featured. Largely this is to do with said music being sung in Spanish and relying on a polka rhythm, one so different from the African American rhythm that powers US rock, pop, rap, blues, jazz and country. Conjunto is the music of working class Mexican Americans across the south-west. Los Texmaniacs are four Texan veterans who have come together to deliver a classic conjunto sound, using bajo sexto (12-string guitar), accordion, guitarron (the large Mexican acoustic bass), drums and fiddle. There are hard driving polkas (or polca, as they spell it) like ‘Viva Seguín’, gorgeous boleros (‘Se Quieres Verme Ilorar’) and American country standards (‘El Paso’, ‘Waltz Across Texas’) sung in Spanish and English. There is a lovely reading of the late-Lydia Mendoza ballad ‘Amor Bonito’ and even a redova (a song of Czech origin that has remained popular in northern Mexican music), ‘El Aeroplanito’. Several tunes are instrumental which show off Los Texmaniacs fluid musical interplay. Well recorded, with excellent liner notes introducing the band, songs and musical tradition, this is a fine album. TRACK TO TRY: Se Quieres Verme Ilorar Garth Cartwright

Los Texmaniacs deliver a classic conjunto sound

Real Vocal String Quartet Four Little Sisters Flower Note Records (43 mins)

HHH Impressive four-piece bring classical nous to world and pop This all-female band is part of a vibrant, alternative string music community in San Francisco that has turned out new groups, such as the Musical Art Quintet (reviewed in Songlines #85), able to follow in the footsteps of the big beasts of the scene: the Kronos Quartet and Turtle Island Quartet. Violinist Irene Sazer was a founding member of the latter ensemble and she brings their spirit of improvisation-based genre-crossing to Real Vocal String Quartet, which she formed seven years ago. On Four Little Sisters, their second album, RSVQ perform a diverse array of tunes, from Regina Spektor and Gilberto Gil covers to a Louisiana Cajun tune ‘Allons à Lafayette’ and an 18th century hornpipe. The group and solo performances throughout are impressive and the arrangements are impeccable. Spektor’s ‘Machine’ is given a tightly wound, dramatic rendering using plucked strings and extended string techniques. Both of the album’s two original songs have vim and vigour. ‘Homage to Oumou’, a song for Malian singer Oumou Sangaré by Sazer, balances four-part vocals on a rich string sound with stylish soloing by individual players, while ‘Elephant Dreams’, by second violinist Alisa Rose, is a piece of classical swing. But the sheer polish of this set supports the nagging feeling that RVSQ are at heart a sophisticated session band (a role they have indeed played, for Canadian singer-songwriter Feist). The band’s sound isn’t as well developed or rooted as their more senior contemporaries and their signature layered voices-and-strings sound has its limits. TRACK TO TRY: Homage to Oumou Tim Woodall

VARIOUS ARTISTS Cumbia Beat Vol 2 Vampisoul (2 CDs, 100 mins)

HHHH Groovy, garish and far-out: Peru at its most hippyish The garish cover looks like the sort of bootyshaking bootleg you might pick up at the massive black market opposite Lima airport. But it’s an intriguing nostalgia trip to 19661983, when cumbia in Peru took on a psychedelic mantle and imbibed a musical cocktail of Doors-style keyboards, spooky chimes, moogs, wah-wah, fuzz, drowning fish noises and spiralling guitar solos. The genre is known locally as chicha and some of its most celebrated exponents, including Enrique Delgado, Berardo Trujillo Hernández (aka Manzanita), Los Ilusionistas, Los Ecos (you’ll be getting the gist from the far-out band names) are given a single track, sometimes more. Some tracks have words, most don’t. But all conflate Peruvian influences – whether it’s via a cumbia backbeat, a salsa rhythm or a provincial criollo or Andean huayño treatment – with what was at the time the worldwide phenomenon of acid-inspired hippy music. The tracks often feel live or at least rawly recorded in a single shot (and the masters are scratchy and imperfect), and for all the playful instrumentation there’s always a hypnotic, insect-like beat and a sunny but sassy attitude. It’s the sound of a Peru that predates the Shining Path atrocities and Fujimori’s narrow populism, and it’s cooler and more cosmopolitan – bridging the traditions of the mountains, the jungle and the coast – and more open to foreign ideas than the present Peru. A really great album: it’s a pity that Europe and the US weren’t as receptive to global cool back then as Peru clearly must have been. TRACK TO TRY: Mi Choza, Mi Chacra y Mi Mujer by Manzanita Chris Moss

Diablos del Ritmo: The Colombian Melting Pot 1960-1985 Analog Africa (2 CDs, 98 mins)

HHHH Throbs from Colombia’s African heartbeat Africa collided with Latin America in myriad ways, from the complex rhythms of son, the Yoruba pulse underpinning cumbia to the funereal sway of tango. Barranquilla, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast is the ‘melting pot’ of the title of this 32-track sampler of 70s tropical music, which ranges widely through puya, porto, 72 Songlines

gaita, chandé and plenty of other genres you’ve almost certainly never heard of. All come from the same broad root and are built on a syncopated melodic line dancing round and round a throbbing beat. For non-musicologists a lot of Diablos… will sound like moody proto-cumbia, with the percussion subdued and the accordion often plangent and searching. All-male choruses are a key part of the mix and the yearning but intimate vocals of the leads remind you it’s only a small stretch of sea between Barranquilla and Cuba. Songs like Andrés Landero’s ‘La Pava Congona’ possess a soulfulness rarely found in contemporary cumbia and J Alvear’s ‘Cumbia Cincelejana’ (which should be ‘Sincelejana’) has a swishy, old-school glamour that evokes al fresco, riverside fiestas beside the Magdalena. Ramiro Beltrán’s ‘Agoniza el Magdalena’ tells the tragic story of this iconic river, where the country’s trials and tribulations silt up with nowhere to go. The combos and sextets that perform these songs are made up of supremely talented brass and percussion players and even the vocal numbers usually find space for crazy little solos and gutsy improvs. Africa is there all the time in the clamorous rhythms and in the transformative force of the music. If you thought Colombia was a Spanish colony, think again; as far as Wganda Kenya, Los Salvajes and Fuentes All Stars are concerned, the white guys only provided the boats. TRACK TO TRY: La Pava Congona by Andrés Landero Chris Moss

Future Sounds of Buenos Aires ZZK Records (47 mins)

HHHH Eclectic stuff: the electronic sounds of today’s Argentina It been several years – six, in fact – since ZZK Records first started to whip the cool kids into a frenzy at its regular Buenos Aires club night. The pioneering label has defined itself by taking electronic music and mixing it with everything from cumbia (the mainstay of the imprint in the early days) to música folklórica. The result is a wonderfully unpredictable mash-up yet, while many a ZZK tune has featured in the record bags of Latin DJs from London to Lima, this is the first time that a full-length release has come out in the UK (and the rest of Europe). Future Sounds of Buenos Aires, despite the generic name, is actually a ZZK sampler, featuring a diverse roster of artists. This is music from a cut’n’paste generation who have grown up with the internet and computer game sound affects (a song by Super Gauchin, for example, is January/February 2013

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