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.

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.