Sofrito, Sofrito: Tropical Discotheque

Joe Muggs

By Joe Muggs

on 01.19.11 in Reviews

21st-century club music has been repeatedly re-invigorated by the adoption of new rhythms from across the planet, whether that be Angolan kuduro, Brazilian baile funk, Mexican tribal guarachero or South African kwaito and house music. It feeds DJs' and dancers' insatiable appetite for fresh grooves, and it helps feed the feeling we all love to experience that there is something unifying about the dancefloor, a shared musical vocabulary that doesn't deny cultural difference as such, but which makes boundaries seem much more porous.

A global party that hearkens back to when “disco” meant anything, as long as the DJ played it

This instinct to encourage rhythm incursions goes back to the very birth of club culture as we know it, to the New York Loft parties of the early '70s where disco was born. Before disco became a genre in itself, it was simple shorthand for anything DJs wanted to play — from deep soul to Nu Yorican salsa, psychedelic rock to African jams. Indeed, the record often cited as the first ever true disco single is the "Soul Makossa" by the Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango.

It's to this moment in time and this attitude that Sofrito Tropical Disco, compiled by the London-based but avowedly internationalist Sofrito label and party collective, looks. Though there is music old and new here, it is all suffused in the anything-goes feeling of the first days of club culture: the sense that any style, no matter how raw or how alien, is fair game as long as it hits that sweet spot on the dancefloor. So we have Carribean carnival calypso from Grenada's Mighty Sparrow (born 1938) and Trinidadian Roaring Lion (born 1908!) rubbing up against brand new hip-swinging cumbia from Brit-in-Colombia Quantic and Victor Uwaifo's spirited Afrobeat given a modern gloss by Londoners Simband and Sofrito's own Frankie Francis — all sounding as if they were written to be heard together.

We could dig through the mongrel styles of these records at great length, write international cultural histories about each track, tell tales of colonialism and rebellion hidden in all the rhythms, pick out drum patterns that run throughout — and for sure that stuff is important. For those of an analytical bent, any given track is an amazing jump-off point for investigation in many directions. But always, always, the stories and cultural specifics are secondary to the fact that these tracks work together as a whole to give the impression of the best, most hedonistic, yet most welcoming party you can imagine — all sense of "world music" worthiness, political earnestness or dusty collectors' mentality subsumed to the immediacy of the mischievous, capricious, many-splendoured global funk.