Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Concert: Spanish Harlem Orchestra

Spanish Harlem Orchestra Live Concert Handelsbeurs Ghent Salsa Rumba Latin Music
Spanish Harlem Orchestra at Handelsbeurs, Ghent (April 20th 2008)
Click pictures for originals. © Handelsbeurs/Wannabes 2008

Last sunday, the temperature rose above 20°C in Ghent for the first time this year, and I bet the Spanish Harlem Orchestra had something to do with that. The 14-member salsa outfit set the beautifully restored Handelsbeurs on fire with an afternoon of infectious rumba and salsa del Barrio. Maybe you remember SHO from their 2007 album United We Swing, a timewarp into salsa discotheques from the 50s to the 70s (read our review here!)

Lead by pianist/director Oscar Hernandez, the orchestra performed like a well-oiled machine - even a little too routinely at the beginning, when the songs lacked soul. Hernandez himself didn't really have his mind set on the concert, sitting passively behind the piano as if he was more concerned about his wife and kids back home. But all that was more than compensated by the fire and enthusiasm of the three vocalists, Rey de la Paz (in the picture above), Willie Torres and Marco Bermudez, who took turns in impressing us with vocal improvisations, cheesy dance steps and charismatic audience encouragements.

Spanish Harlem Orchestra Live Concert Handelsbeurs Ghent Salsa Rumba Latin Music
The concert started off politely with a formal introduction of all 14 band members, exactly how United We Swing starts too (here's the line-up: 4 horns, sax, flute, congas, timbales, bongos, bass, piano and 3 vocals). But from "El Tiempo Del Palladium" - about a well-known venue in Harlem - the tone was set: nostalgic but steamy salsa, rumba and guaguanco, uniting the best of decades of Nuyorican music.

"Se Formó la Rumba" was the kickoff for the numerous dancing schools and salsa couples to take over the dancefloor - a very suitable wooden floor by the way. And we were quite bummered that our dance partner couldn't make it :)
We caught a first glimpse of the impressive musical abilities of the band during "Pa' Gozar", when each member was allowed some solo time. Especially the percussionist trio was tight as hell during the whole concert, not missing one beat while chatting and laughing away.

Spanish Harlem Orchestra Live Concert Handelsbeurs Ghent Salsa Rumba Latin Music
After an hour of intense swinging, the vocalists took a break, and the fierce salsa dura was replaced by jazzy instrumentals. "Danzón For My Father" started with a stirring solo by Hernandez himself, and made us think of the legendary Rubén Gonzales (of Buena Vista Social Club fame). The weak bolero "Espérame En El Cielo" was the only flaw in the two-hour set, but was soon forgiven: the careful tempo building in "Salsa Pa'l Bailador" and the rhytmical rapture of "Ariñañara" brought the concert to an explosive height. Only one bis song ("Sacala Bailar"), but when that bis lasts more than ten minutes and makes everyone go out of their minds, nobody minds!

Thanks to Greenhouse Talent!

Spanish Harlem Orchestra - Se Formó La Rumba mp3 buy@iTunes buy@Amazon
Spanish Harlem Orchestra - Danzón For My Father mp3 buy@iTunes buy@Amazon

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Alternative/Indie: La Casa Azul, El Guincho, Los Punsetes, Sr. Chinarro

Spain has a very vibrant indie rock scene, many artists quickly gain an underground audience by performing a lot and networking through MySpace. There's much talent to be discovered: check out only four examples below!

La Casa Azul Revolucion Sexual Eurovision Barcelona Spanish Indie Disco Pop Latin Music
La Casa Azul is one of the more mainstream indie bands. Specialized in catchy discopop, the Barceloneans even tried their luck in the pan-European camp fest Eurovision. "La Revolución Sexual" can only be enjoyed with attributes like an afro wig, a white costume, huge sunglasses, and a smile from ear to ear. The delicate rock touch in the chorus, and the beautiful piano intermezzo, separates them from other, more clichéd feelgood disco acts (Miranda) . As you all know by now, the Spanish public decided La Casa Azul doesn't match up to übercamp like Ireland's Dustin The Turkey, so they decided to send the already infamous Rodolfo Chikilicuatre. For which I'm kinda glad - La Casa Azul deserves an audience that truly appreciates their sexy grooves, not a YouTube hype based on superficial traits.

La Casa Azul - La Revolución Sexual mp3 myspace buy@iTunes buy@Amazon

El Guincho Alegranza Palmitos Park Barcelona Spanish Indie Percussion Afro Pop Latin Music
Talking of hypes, Barcelona indie producer El Guincho recently racked up a bunch of new fans in the US thanks to a raving Pitchfork review of his 2007 debut Alegranza!. Pablo Díaz-Reixa (his real name) makes rhytmical collages of repetitive tropical sounds, drowned in unintelligible chants and harmonies. Not really an easy accessible concept, right? This really is a hate-it-or-love-it type of music, and though I love the afrobeat-meets-sambadrum percussion, I'm having a real hard time with the repetitive character. But surely you'll have to decide for yourself! Listen to "Palmitos Park" below, it's the opening track of Alegranza!, and one of the more easily digestible songs.

El Guincho - Palmitos Park mp3 myspace buy@Amazon

Los Punsetes LP Fondo De Armario Madrid Spanish Indie Power Pop Alternative Rock Music
Los Punsetes are from Madrid, and combine powerful feminine vocals with psychidelic guitars. The two-minute explosion "Fondo de Armario" first builds up the tension with tight drums borrowed from Bloc Party, and then derails completely in a wall of distortion while Adriana sings (or rather, yells) about the perversity of today's spoiled teens. This young band could benefit from some polishing up production-wise, but their raw and energetic self-titled debut LP promises a lot for the future - some are already comparing them to Spain's most legendary indie act, Los Planetas. Oh yeah, the entire album is freely downloadable on the Los Punsetes website!

Los Punsetes - Fondo de Armario mp3 myspace download album

Sr. Chinarro Ronroneando Timidos Sevilla Spanish Indie Pop Rock Country Latin Music
Sevillan artist Sr. Chinarro (born Antonio Luque) is another long-time indie darling. His latest album Ronroneando was released with rave reviews in his home country. Sr Chinarro's brand of indie pop is more comparable with the American or British indie scene: delicate guitar arpeggio's with the occasional greasy riff, and a serene voice telling tales of desolation. "Timidos" could even be on the radio, if the Spanish ondas radiales weren't such a corrupt business. If you're into country-infused poprock, be sure to check out the rest of the album too.

Sr. Chinarro - Timidos mp3 myspace buy@Amazon

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Salsa: Manolito, Adalberto Alvarez

It's been a while since we had some salsa from la isla - and with that I mean Cuba. Two quite important timba albums were released recently, let's have a look.

Manolito y Su Trabuco Cuban Salsa Timba Music La Habana Me Llama New Album
Manolito y su Trabuco are still only gaining popularity in Cuba, thanks to an impeccable live reputation. New CD La Habana Me Llama might not capture the essence of the whirling live shows on tape, the production is however crystal clear - I dare to say a salsa record from the island never sounded better. Manolito likes to use unusual instruments for his own style of timba - violins, acoustic guitars, cello, flute - and they especially come out great thanks to the production. Singer Sixto 'El Indio' Lorente puts his heart and soul in the songs, alternating between a painful love for his girl and a melancholic yearning for his capital city, La Habana. The innovative use of intrumentation makes this a quite varied album, and musically Manolito still finds the perfect balance between traditional son and the raw Afro-Cuban energy of timba.

Manolito y su Trabuco - La Habana Me Llama mp3

Adalberto Alvarez Cuban Salsa Timba Son Music Gozando En La Habana New Album
Adalberto Alvarez is already a bit older, so leaning more towards the son sound, but on Gozando La Habana he shows Adalberto y su Son are still one of the most relevant salsa outfits in Cuba. The horns blare furiously and the virtuous piano play is quite promintent on most of the tracks, making clear this album is made for dancing ("Si No Vas A Bailar"). Although rhytmically varied, Adalberto stays close to his trademark slower-timba-with-son-elements, leaving room for descarga-like improvisations ("Aprende Muchacho") and even a true ballad ("Hasta Aqui Llegó Este Amor").

Adalberto Alvarez - Gozando En La Habana mp3

Also, both a helpful commenter and salsa blogger Billy Bryans got me onto Roberto Liñares Brown, an ex member of Adalberto's band that now lives in Canada. After weeks of intensive internet searching and record store browsing, I still haven't managed to listen to even one song, so I have to believe them on their word that his latest record Que No Se Pierde La Esencia is "just fabulous". Read this review over at Descarga to make you mouth-water even more.

Where to get these albums? Check your local latin music store, or fly to Cuba and buy them there! ;) Here in Europe it proved to be almost impossible, so I imagine in the US you'll certainly miss out on this great music...

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Concert: Mayra Andrade

Mayra Andrade Live De Roma Antwerp BBC World Music Award Best Newcomer Cape Verde Morna Batuque Jazz Acoustic World Music
Mayra Andrade at De Roma, Antwerp (April 4th 2008)
Click pictures for full size.

You might remember the beautiful music of Mayra Andrade from this post by El Guiri back in 2007. Last week both El Guiri and myself had the opportunity to see her live, which we couldn't let pass of course. The Cape Verdean beauty is nominated for won the BBC World Music Award for Best Newcomer this year, and after a previous concert experience we were anxious to hear new material.

The setting - an old cinema transformed to cosy jazz club with tables and candles - fit the music very well: her acoustic mix of typical Cape Verdean rhythms (morna, batuque), the multicultural eclecticism of Paris, and Afro-Brazilian elements is best enjoyed leaning back and sipping a glass of quality wine. Though a little more enthusiasm from the audience, consisting mainly of bald fifty-somethings, would have been welcome.

We were sold from the first note, impressed by Mayra's enchanting voice and - let's be honest - stunning beauty. Opening track "Dimokransa" might be a harsh sketch of the failure of democracy and its ideals, she presented it like a soft sea breeze on a sunny day in Cape Verde. Next was the sparkling "Nha Sibitchi", one of the best songs off her 2006 debut Navega. And a little later she charmed the whole audience with the story behind "Comme S'il En Pleuvait", about an old beggar she passed on her way to school every day, who told her about how she used to get everything she wanted, comme s'il en pleuvait (as if it fell from the sky).

Her voice was notably rougher than on Navega, which gave the songs a little more soul. Mayra's sound of voice is something between that of a strong jazz diva and a small girl-with-guitar, sometimes sultry and powerful, sometimes of a melancholic beauty. On "Destina Maior: Amar" (originally by jazz saxophonist Carlos Martins, but perfectly adapted for two guitars tonight) she showed her vocal skills again by improvising like a true muse.

Mayra Andrade Live De Roma Antwerp BBC World Music Award Best Newcomer Cape Verde Morna Batuque Jazz Acoustic World Music
Also a special mention for her Brazilian percussionist Ze Luis Nascimento, who managed to create spectacular sounds out of his impressive drum kit, consisting among others of some kind of amphora, shells, keys, and even his seat (a flamenco instrument called cajón). The two guitarists are also clearly professionals, and their small guitars (cavaquinhos) can recall an illusion of summer sun and sea salt like no other instruments.

Sadly the only new song, "Kem Ki Ben Ki Ta Bai" didn't leave a big impression. "Regassu" - her ode to morna - and "Lua" were the bis songs, but afterwards Mayra returned one more time for a majestic a capella performance (we think it was a cover of that other Cape Verdean legend, Cesaria Evora). We left the venue with goosebumps, a worthy ending for a fantastic show.

Mayra Andrade Live De Roma Antwerp BBC World Music Award Best Newcomer Cape Verde Morna Batuque Jazz Acoustic World Music
Check Mayra's website for upcoming tour dates, this summer she's crossing the ocean for performances in New York, Chicago and Montreal. If you can't make it for the unforgettable live experience, have a look at this video for a nice impression. I didn't manage to find live audio, but I'm sure the two gems off Navega below will manage to fill that void!

(PS: Read our full review in Dutch over at Tropicalidad!)

Mayra Andrade - Navega mp3 buy@iTunes (Europe only) buy@Amazon
Mayra Andrade - Comme S'il En Pleuvait mp3 buy@iTunes (Europe only) buy@Amazon

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Friday, April 04, 2008


La Onda Tropical Facebook Page
As MySpace is becoming more and more like Facebook (photo tagging, anyone?), and Facebook is kinda like the hot twentysomething college sister of the ugly emo teenager called MySpace, we thought: why not create our own FB Page? If you have a Facebook account, click here for the brand new La Onda Tropical Facebook Page! Now you can be our fan, send us stupid college humor videos, and see who our friends are. But beware: stalking will be punished with countless invitations for totally useless FB applications!
Of course if you're so inclined, you can always be our friend on our (still more musical and more informative) MySpace spot ;)

Also, we've updated our blogroll (under 'Links' on your right) to include some fabulous new discoveries. A roundup:

  • Turn That Shit Off A regular in our 'En La Misma Onda' posts, this blog focuses on indie culture in Mexico city. Great layout, nice pictures and some exclusive music.

  • Captain's Crate The captain spoils us with tracks from his seemingly endless vinyl collection. You'll hear funk, soul and latin music from the 1950s to the present.

  • Fat Planet Blogging new world beats (baile funk, kuduro, digital cumbia, reggaeton) from Australia. Check out the recently launched podcast Slang Tang - now we no longer have to drool over the playlist of that radio show we can't listen to anyway.

  • Je Ne Sais Pop A very active and highly informative team blog in Spanish, focusing on indie rock desde España, hip Anglo bands, and other aspects of pop culture (movies, TV, fashion, ...)

Be sure to check them out! Or keep reading La Onda, you'll come across these blogs more than often in our regular link posts.

And finally I'd like to remind you of all the possibilities to keep track of La Onda - you can read our RSS feed, use dozens of platforms (like Google or Windows Live) to subscribe to RSS, have our posts delivered by e-mail, or keep track of comments with a special comments feed.
If you're into social networking and web2.0 stuff, you can bookmark and share La Onda on Del.icio.us, Digg, Furl and countless other sites. And you can be our fan on Technorati, Last.fm, MySpace and Facebook. Whew.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Pop/R&B: Rue Melo

Rue Melo Enamorada Latin R&B RnB Pop Ballad Music
Rue Melo is a true world citizen. Born in Paris, raised by a French mother and Uruguayan father, and now living in California, she is a melting pot of cultures and colours. This is reflected on "Enamorada", a latin-flavoured R&B ballad in which Rue sings in Spanish, English and French. Her brother plays the acoustic guitar part, which - in combination with all those sexy languages - gives the song a sultry summer atmosphere. Rue's voice shifts between the poppy glitter of Alicia Keys and the naughty exoticism of Rihanna, a bold comparison, but if she works a little on the lyrics I'm sure she has a great future ahead. Her self-titled debut album has four more Spanish-language songs, check it out.

Rue Melo - Enamorada mp3 buy@iTunes buy@Amazon

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