Sunday, 31 May 2015

Smiley music

I might have said this here before, but anyone who was ever round to our house in Cardiff to eat was more than likely played Sidestepper on a repeated basis. More Grip was one of those Colombian records that managed to find its way across the Atlantic into our CD player, and then rarely left it.
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The story behind the formation of Sidestepper is a testament to cultural cross-fertilization. The legendary Colombian folk singer Totó la Momposina was in Real World Studios recording her landmark album La Candela Viva. There she met Richard Blair, an engineer in the studios. Blair was seduced by the sounds of Totó's band, and subsequently journeyed to Colombia for a couple of weeks to find out more about the musical background. That was in 1992, and fortunately he's still here! In between producing many of the seminal works of recent Colombian music (spanning quite a variety of genres), he launched Sidestepper, a shifting collective of musicians that has seen some of the biggest names in the local music scene pass through its ranks.

The project seemed to have run out of steam, given that the last album was released in 2008, but just when you thought it was safe to unplug the sound system, they're back. Released only last month, "Supernatural Love" is the first Sidestepper record for nearly 8 years, but it doesn't disappoint. I only got to see Sidestepper for the first time live before Xmas, and one of the things that hit me was that as soon as they started to play, the faces of everyone in the audience lit up with big smiles. The classic songs are still stonkers, and the new songs are a delight. This record has a happy vibe that borders on the unreasonable - at times it come across as so exuberantly carefree that you wonder how they get away with it. Check out the whistling that runs through "On The Line". But the song that takes the prize for happy music is "Come See Us Play", with jaunty pipes riffing through the verse, while the voice of Erika Muñoz drips honey as she invites you come and watch them play, play like children. I defy you to stay grumpy while you listen to this. I can't, and I've had a lifetime's practice at being grumpy.

The band launched the album with the most successful Colombian crowd-funding campaign to date, on the Uonset platform, which saw me making my first every foray into the world of crowdfunding to buy tickets for the launch party. They let children in. How cool was that? As soon as they started to play, Oisin elbowed his way up the front and danced his little socks off.

Check the rest of the album out here:

Sunday, 29 March 2015

La Mambanegra bites again

Photo: Karol Pico

My little brother, who is wise in many matters, recently suggested to me that I should write a music blog so he could keep up with what I'm listening to here these days. I was a bit miffed, cos I thought that I do have a music blog. But I suppose you have to write blog posts about music if you want to consider your website as a music blog, rather than a dustbowl with virtual tumbleweed blowing across the screen for the benefit of the bots and crawlers who land here from Romania.

This suggestion of his popped up in a coversation about La Mambanegra, who I went to see on Thursday night. I've mentioned them on here before, but what surprises me now as I scroll back through the previous blog posts to see what I wrote about them previously, is that is from more than two years ago. These guys take their time to get their stuff down in the studio, but now it is finally here, the long-awaited album from Jacobo Velez's new group.

And what is it? Notionally it is salsa, but I watched them play a show in Cali a year or so ago, and the audience seemed cool to the band's vibe. The reason? Caleños are purists when it comes to their salsa, and La Mambanegra certainly don't play by the rules. There are a lot of ingredients in this particular mix, and the Caleños weren't impressed (and hence refused to dance!) with someone messing with their favourite genre. To my ears there is a powerful funk bass driving this monster, and the brass flourishes more often make me think of Motown and Stax than Cali or Puerto Rico. Judge for yourselves.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Rockstar potential

Tricky one, this blog. The challenge is how to write about a female performer who blew everyone in the venue away without turning the blog into a piece of voyeuristic male drooling. I suppose the answer is to write about the music.

I recently had the the pleasure of receiving a link to the latest single from local group La Mákina del Karibe. If you have any grasp of Spanish, you’ll spot that they have very punk-ily replaced the “C”s and the “Q”s in their name with “K”. That marks them out as linguistic rebels, fellow travellers with Barcelona squatters, graffiti artists and opponents everywhere of the Spanish Royal Academy. “Why?” you might ask. I’m not quite sure, but there’s a general sense of unhingedness with La Makina, things turned upside down in a frenetic search for a new beat. I got their album “14 Chankletazos Terapéuticos” last year (don’t overlook the provocative “K”). A “chancletazo” is a whack from a “chancleta”, a sandal or a slipper. So in translation the album title is basically “14 Therapeutic Slipperings”. Suck it up, this is good for you. The album artwork is fabulous. There’s not a “C” in sight that hasn’t been swapped for a “K”, and there’s a whole faux encyclopaedia entry quoted that explains that the group is from “Champetesburgo”. Yeah, they’re taking the piss out of “St. Petersburg”, but the Colombian twist on it is the mash up of the name with “Champeta”. That is a musical genre from the Caribbean coast, centred on Cartagena, which is a very very close relation to the sort of guitar-based African music that first came to my attention when John Peel began playing the Bhundu Boys. The guitar sparkles through this style of music, and the Makina do the same.  The album starts off on a blinder and then, inevitably, slows a little with more variety in the pacing of the songs. There’s an absolute cracker of a slow number that sounds like it should have been first recorded about a hundred years as a southern gospel song, revamped by the Makina with steel drums and African guitars (but no, it’s their song, “Ke Pasó”).

Anyway, the single is a progression from the album. “Vuelve… si quieres!” is a tease (“Come back… if you want to!”), just like the performance of the rather astonishing Monica Castillo. This tall, beautiful woman strides out on stage and takes control of the gig like she was born to be in front of a microphone. She pulls the shoulder of her blouse down and drives the blokes wild with a glimpse of what is underneath. She pouts, laughs, points, leaps, wriggles, and above all, sings her guts out. Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be talking about the music. Well, the single is great, with the madness of Richie Arnedo, with the talking bits, in the background, and the guitar stomping its way across the whole song, while the bass just doesn’t stop insisting you get up and dance. There’s even accordions, and a spacey keyboard break in the middle.  It might be a change down in gear from the first album, but the melody doesn´t let up. Give it a whirl. And Monica, well, believe me, she has rockstar potential. Fernando couldn't help himself. He had to ask for a photo as she walked past us on the way out.

Check out the single here:

And here's a taste of what happens on stage:

Monday, 19 May 2014

Little guys, big noise

I don't really think it's on to write about the same band more than once, especially seeing as there's so many great bands here that I haven't got round to telling you about yet. But on Sunday we went to see Los Petit Fellas in an afternoon gig at a hamburger restaurant that opened its doors to an all-ages public. Yep, we used to like all-ages shows when our friends were straight-edgers and listened spellbound to Dag Nasty. Nowadays things have changed, and we likes all-ages shows cos we is parents and want to bring our child up as a rocker.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Shop names

There's probably a whole swathe of blogs dedicated to inappropriate words in English being used for shop names. I don't know where they are or how to find them, but here's my own little contribution. We just drove past this gem. It's a sports shop, just in case the name left you in any doubt.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Carranga time

We came up north to Tunja this morning, to celebrate Colombia's Mothers' Day with mother-in-law Nydia. More or less as soon as we got here, we headed off to Sáchica for a lunch of fried chicken, fried yuca, fried plantain and boiled potatoes. With spicy sauce (that's where they hide the vegetables - a teaspoon of chopped tomatoes and onions, mixed with vinegar and a bucket of chilli peppers). I had the vegetarian option - a fried egg. We then landed in Raquira, the multi-coloured home of Boyaca's handicraft industry. The streets are lined with shops selling mostly exactly the same things: earthenware pottery, hanging mobiles, wool knits, hammocks etc. Raquira is also famous, at a national level, for being home to carranga, a "traditional" music that bizarrely evolved a mere 40 years ago. The prime exponent of the genre is the fabulously grumpy, qualified vetinary surgeon, Jorge Velosa. We've seen him in concert many a time, indeed, I've danced drunkenly round the Plaza de Bolívar in Tunja with my mother-in-law Nydia to Jorge Velosa in the Christmas concerts. Today, in Raquira (his home town), we didn't meet him, but we did stumble across a crew from Radiolem, an archival project dedicated to documenting the musical heritage of the country. They were busy recording a group of carrangueros, five 'campesinos' who were playing for the archive in Raquira's central square. The sound isn't great on the video, but it'll give you a flavour of the chance encounter.

And for a bit more context, here's a ropey video of Jorge Velosa:

Thursday, 1 May 2014


The first of May, the day to commemorate the Haymarket Martyrs, and a welcome day off work. So what do we do? Head out to the country to look for somewhere nicer to live than Bogotá. We went west, out on 80th Street, and for the second time in a year and a half ended up in Subachoque. Subachoque would seem to be a slightly weird place – can anyone explain to me why there is a rusting hovercraft parked up on the side of the road in the middle of the Andes, about 2700m above sea level and a long way away from any sizeable water feature that could possibly require its employment? (Reminds me of that story when the police discovered a submarine being built in a warehouse in Bogotá.)