Various Artists, Diablos del Ritmo 1960-1985: The Colombian Melting Pot

Chris Nickson

By Chris Nickson

on 12.18.12 in Reviews

The city of Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast of Colombia is the place where Latin America and Africa meet. The Spanish brought slaves here in hundreds of thousands, and over the centuries Barranquilla has grown into a melting pot where cultures, and music, blur.

A weird and wonderful journey where every twist and turn opens up colorful new vistas

This compilation celebrates a time of glorious musical experimentation in the 20th century, when the sounds of native cumbia and vallenato swirled together with funk and psychedelia from Europe and the United States, all underpinned with the rhythms of Africa. Half of this double-album focuses on the African side of Colombian music, half on its indigenous (Indian) styles, but what’s fascinating is how they come together. Try the Colombian dub experience of “Eco En Stereo,” or “Quiero Mi Gente,” a song aching for a Talking Heads cover, to hear how beautifully the fusion can work.

Two tracks by Wganda Kenya stand out on the African side. “Shakalaodé,” clocking in at nearly eight minutes, is a steaming slice of Afrobeat that would make Fela Kuti proud. But “El Caterete” is more twisted. A Latin piano line dances around African percussion and funk guitar, before a singer with operatic ambitions jumps into the fray. It’s a startling combination, especially when a fractured piano solo seems to pull ideas from the Cecil Taylor free-jazz songbook. Welcome to the new, transatlantic Colombia.

Andrés Landero represents the campesinos with his raw country style, shaped by Colombia’s indigenous music. Championed by both Joe Strummer and novelist Gabriel Garcia Márquez, his music starts out as a gleeful, anarchic mix of accordion, percussion and off-key brass, fighting for control of “Busca La Careta,” a compelling car wreck of a track. But on “La Pava Congona,” he mixes things up. The accordion and vocals are still heavily rhythmic – pure Colombian cumbia — but the drumming that underpins everything is straight out of the Congo. The funk comes to the jungle.

Lovingly assembled over five years by Analog Africa head Samy Ben Redjeb, Diablos del Ritmo is a weird and wonderful journey through a landscape where every twist and turn opens up colorful new vistas.