This special mix of rare tropical dance music from the 1950s, '60s and '70s was recorded from original LP and 45rpm records collected in hot, dusty bodegas across Latin America. Listen close and you'll hear the telltale sounds of needle on vinyl, along with that era's warm recording values.
The mix was compiled by Roberto Ernesto Gyemant, who has published articles on Latin dance music in Wax Poetics Magazine, Latin Beat Magazine, on herencialatina.com and descarga.com.
Roberto also co-compiled the Soundway Records (UK) Colombia!, Cartagena! and Panama! Releases (vols. 1-3). Check them out at: www.soundwayrecords.com
Felix Del Rosario y sus Magos del Ritmo – Sabroson
The Dominican Republic is justly known for it's delicious Merengue and Bachata, but it also created some heavy Guarachas, Guaguancos and Boogaloos in the 1950s, ´60s and '70s. Few Orquestas were heavier than that of Felix Del Rosario´s, with his two-sax front line. Most Dominicanos will know him for his famous Merengues, but his LPs are in high demand for songs like "Sabroson," where the coro says "Let the Puerto Ricans and Cubans come, so they know how a Dominican conjunto sounds."
Las Estrellas Latinas – En Borinquen
Las Estrellas Latinas were a solid Venezuelan Salsa group in the fertile era of the late 1960s to early 1970s, and featured a young Joe Ruiz on vocals. An excellent sonero, Ruiz had one of the richest voices in the Caribbean, and unfairly, is little known outside of Venezuela and Salsa-crazy Colombia. In "En Borinquen," Las Estrellas pay homage to La Isla del Encanto, which has been such a strong root for the tree of Afro-Latin Jazz and Dance music. Similar homages were sung throughout the region, especially in Peru, Colombia and Panama, many by groups who may had never visited Puerto Rico. Even so, they learned a lot from early recordings by Boricua and Nuyorican legends, from Cortijo through Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri and Daniel Santos, Joe Cuba and El Gran Combo - the list goes on and on.
Los Kintos – Orgullosa Mujer
This beautiful little song bears witness to some of the amazing Latin dance recordings done in Peru during the 1960s, as well as to the virtuosic guitar skills of the era´s Peruvian guitar players. The guitar often stands in for piano in regions where access to and training on a piano were limited - both were far too expensive propositions for the majority of popular musicians - but, the piano is not missed in this lovely song by Los Kintos.
Conjunto Sandumoro – Negro Bembón
Mexico was a dominant center in entertainment production from the 1940s through the 1960s, and indeed, continues to be to this day. Many famous Cuban musicians, both pre and post Castro, sojourned in Mexico or moved there permanently, including Perez Prado, Celia Cruz and La Sonora Matancera, Beny More and Silvestre Mendez. Among these greats, was Francisco Fellove of "Mango Mangue" fame, a fantastic showman who brought a doo wop/jazz scat sensibility to his recordings and to the Mexican youth inclined to Afro-Cuban dance music. Fellove's young Mexican acolytes included the excellent Lobo y Melon and the group, El Conjunto Sandumoro, who use Fellove's doo wop-style harmonies to stand in for horn mambos, allowing one trumpet to focus on its powerful solos.
La Lupe con Mongo Santamaria - Este Mambo
Both Mongo Santamaria and La Lupe were Cuban expats - La Lupe was fresh off the island when this song was recorded, I believe in 1963 or thereabouts. Mongo had already been accepted into the Jazz scene in NYC and San Francisco, where he played with Cal Tjader. Many North American Straight Jazz horn players joined in on his recordings, such as this lovely piece, a dancefloor favorite. La Lupe later did a cover of "Fever" that, in many people's estimation, ranks neck and neck with Peggy Lee's version.
Lito Barrientos y su Orquesta – Oye Mi Cumbia
It's a little know fact about Big Band Cumbia´s history that one of the heaviest outfits of all time was not Colombian, but Salvadorans, led by sax player Lito Barrientos. Though they played a lot of big band versions of rock and roll and other genres, which don't quite hit the mark, their Cumbias (look for "Cumbia en Do Menor", which almost sounds like big band Latin Ska) are always deep, dark and impossible not to move to. After their overwhelming success in Colombia, many of Lito's musicians settled on La Costa and played with many of the young bands that came up on the late '60s and early '70s.
Lucho Bermudez y su Orquesta – Puerta de Oro
When definitive histories of Popular music in the Americas are written, which will take a look at the region as a whole - and don't draw the line for Jazz at the US border, for instance - Lucho Bermudez will be listed up with Duke Ellington, Chick Webb and Benny Goodman as one of the all-time, great bandleaders. Lucho is credited with bringing the Colombian coast´s sun and sea to the chilly highland interior, and for making Cumbia a national rhythm. Listen to the sublime vocal and horn harmonies he interweaves in this song, an ode to Barranquilla. Stunning.
Joe Valle con Cesar Concepcion y su Orquesta – A Mayaguez
Big band Plena from Puerto Rico, courtesy of the great Joe Valle backed by Cesar Concepcion, an excellent orquesta. Concepcion's outfit was very popular, playing among the beach resorts in Puerto Rico in the 1960s - definitely a prime destination if anyone ever invents a time machine. Check out the almost boogaloo passage halfway through the song, when the band starts yelling and things really get swinging.
Orquesta Aragón - Los Pescadores de Varadero
What's a Latin dance mix without a taste of classic Cuban Charanga? Orquesta Aragon was arguably the purest practitioner of this form, which descends from European chamber music tradition´s reliance on violins and flute, within an Afro-Cuban musical construct. They may look fancy, but Charangas are not soft - when the violins and flute start swinging, the groove is unstoppable. Remember that in most 50´s song versions you will hear, their recording length was restricted to around three minutes, whereas live, they could go on for eight to ten minutes or longer, leaving the dancers soaked and totally thrilled.
Los Lobos – Elsa
This haunting love song is a beautiful example of Peruvian "Chicha," a guitar-led cumbia and guaracha. Since the moment I heard it, I had to find a copy on vinyl; only recently did I do so, thus able to include it on this mix.
El Brujo Licas – Salsa Pa Ti
Panamanian Salsa from the early 70s has a very particular feel, a bit rough around the edges, but always insistent and full of flavor. Note the long drop out while the vocal continues in clave until the band rejoins.
Michi Sarmiento y sus Bravos – Se Apagó
This, damas y caballeros, is Colombian dance music par excellence. Michi Sarmiento's hot Combo Bravo absolutely kills this one, driving the rhythm on and on. Dancefloors explode when the needle hits the groove to this song; and, it's a birthday song as well!
Coco Lagos y sus Orates – Me Voy Pa La Capital
Coco Lagos' "Me Voy Pa La Capital," is a perfect example of the amazing Latin dance music being created in Peru in the late 1960s. All the musicians are top notch (including brilliant Jazz Sax by Nilo Espinoza, Mario Allison on Timbales and pianist/arranger Alfredito "Sabor" Linares) and the recording quality is among the best in South America. Coco made two LPs in this time period, and both are top to bottom winners.
Lord Panama – Joann
Panama has a rich Calypso history to go along with its deep creativity in Afro-Cuban music, musica tipica, Jazz, Soul and Funk. Many Afro-Antilleans who came to build the Canal in the late 19th and early 20th centuries stayed afterward, and their descendants now make up around 1 in 5 Panamanians. Their impact on this tiny nation´s music was deep, and many Calipsonians - like Lord Panama - as well as Salsa and soul singers, could sing comfortably in English, Spanish and Patois.
Vladimir y su Orquesta – Lo Que Voy a Tocar
Vladimir Vassilief was - get this - a Russian raised in Belgium, classically trained on piano, who came to NYC in the late 1960s and recorded one ridiculous Afro-Cuban dance record that went on to be a classic among young musicians throughout Latin America. He composed and arranged all songs (!), and the record has no soft material of any kind whatsoever. Scholars of Latin dance music tend to just shake their heads in disbelief at this LP and Vladimir's genius.
Canelita con Las Estrellas Latinas – No Le Diga Na
Canelita was another unjustly, under-recognized voice in the Afro-Cuban canon. Many Venezuelan musicians - unlike many Cubans, Boricuas and Panamanians, for example - found the ambiente so rich in their own country that they rarely went on tour, leading to their relative obscurity within the larger Salsa community. What a shame in Canelita's case - for us, the publico oyente anyways - because I am sure you will agree, she is not far behind Celia Cruz in the power of her delivery, and that can't be said about many singers.